Folsom citrus grower finds success despite northern location

Johnny Morgan  |  11/25/2009 2:05:56 AM

News Release Distributed 11/24/09

FOLSOM, La. – Growing citrus on a commercial level is not something you expect to see north of Covington, but one grower is proving it can be done – if the weather is favorable.

Sherwood Loyd from Folsom said he saw an opportunity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that has proven to be a wise decision that’s beginning to pay off.

Loyd said he was in the nursery business for 30 years as a wholesale tree grower. Following that he grew produce on a 50-acre plot of land before operating produce stands in Hammond, Folsom and Covington.

“After the storm, I heard a lot about how bad the citrus industry would be affected by flooding down in Plaquemines Parish, so I went down there to take a look and I began studying citrus production,” he said.

Loyd said he came back and prepared one and a half acres on his land just west of Folsom, and then he went back and bought 300 trees to plant.

He understood the risk of planting citrus that far north where temperatures can dip lower longer. But as with any agricultural endeavor, he said he knew there would be some drawbacks.

“It was just the challenge of seeing if I could do it, and it wasn’t that big of an investment,” he said. “I guess if I had gone fishing 10 times, I would have used that much money and not had that much to show for it.”

Rusty Batty, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Tammany Parish said a few homeowners in the Covington area have citrus growing in the backyard, but nothing to rival Lloyd’s operation.

“You might find a family growing a little citrus for personal consumption, but weather has been a factor even in those operations. Satsumas, the hardiest of Louisiana citrus, can take gradual decreases in temperature. But a cold snap can be devastating to the crop,” Batty said.

Loyd said this year’s crop is the best he’s had after three years of production. The biggest weather event for his trees was the Dec. 11, 2008 snow storm.

“I got really worried when I came out and saw up to 15 inches of snow in places blanketing the trees. I went to work shaking the snow off in anticipation of a follow-up cold front that would have turned the snow to ice overnight,” Loyd said.

Batty said the cold could be an issue for Loyd, but he shouldn’t have the disease pressure and won’t have the saltwater intrusion that growers farther south experience.

“But one advantage they have over me is the length of their growing season. They start greening up in Plaquemines Parish about a month earlier in the spring. And in the fall we don’t get the growth they get down there,” Loyd said.

Loyd said the harvest is labor-intensive because Satsumas have to be harvested by hand with pruning clippers to cut the fruit off the limbs.

“I have my measurements down now. I know that a 5-gallon bucket holds 20 pounds, so two buckets will fill one of my 40-pound boxes.

Loyd said his operation is too small to compete in grocery stores, so he sells to produce stands in the area.

He said he began harvesting satsumas the second week of November and expects to continue picking until mid-December.

So far he has not had any problem with the Asian citrus psyllid or the greening disease these tiny insects sometimes transmit, which has become a problem in several parishes in 2008.

For additional information on citrus production, visit the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com or contact your local LSU AgCenter county agent.

Johnny Morgan
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