Following a career with the FBI that included two years of service in Afghanistan, Lindy Savelle returned to the land of her husband’s roots in Southwest Georgia.
The two of them began looking for a way to revitalize several farm properties in the family. “I knew coming home from working and living in a war zone for two plus years, I would need something to fill that void; something exciting and that would consume my energy and enthusiasm,” states Savelle. “Citrus seemed to hit the spot.” After looking into a variety of specialty crop options ranging from olives to pomegranates, she discovered the opportunity of the emerging citrus industry in Georgia.
NRCS enabled the launch of her operation through technical assistance support by identifying her resource concerns and developing a conservation plan, including a Resource Management Plan (RMP). Based upon this, NRCS then providing the predominant share of funding for a hoop house, two wells, a pipeline, and specialized irrigation equipment. This included a micro jet irrigation system that provides water to each specific tree. This serves not only to keep them well watered, but helps protect against frost damage when activated at the right time.
Savelle sees this type of operation as unique in agriculture in terms of the opportunity for the family interaction it provides. Due to the relatively small acreages involved, she emphasizes that “this really is something a family can do together,” perhaps more than other commodities. “You have the opportunity to make memories, doing things with your hands, working together on a farm.” Her own sons and other family members have been involved at various levels with this new endeavor. Citrus is providing a fresh avenue for the farm to be preserved and functional for future generations of their family.
She notes that citrus is something that people with other jobs or producers of other crops can begin on the side. They can get started with a relatively small investment, and provide a practical way for family members to be engaged with the land.
“We felt like this [citrus growing] was something we could contribute to agriculture in this area. We need an industry that doesn't take [large acreage] to make it work. The potential to bring back young family farms in Georgia [through citrus growing] is great.”
Savelle emphasizes that the key to citrus success is for a producer to diversify across different fruits. This may include cumquats, satsumas, tangerines, grapefruit, navels, lemons, limes, and mandarins that have different bloom times. This helps mitigate any potential losses to frost.
Savelle is currently propagating three specific tree varieties for the University of Georgia as part of a breeding program to maximize cold tolerance. “The closer you get to freezing [without actually freezing], the sweeter the fruit will be.”
From its small beginnings, the increasing number of citrus growers has led to the need for an association. Savelle has been at the forefront of the formation of the Georgia Citrus Growers Association and serves as president. “When we had our first annual meeting [in February 2017], we had to change venues three times because there was so much interest,” she recalls. “We doubled the amount of [citrus] trees this year (2017), and we expect that to double again going into next year.” With help from state congressional representatives, they are learning how to navigate the waters of growing from a niche to an industry. With high demand currently in the market, many farmers currently needing something to diversify their operation, and an emerging grower community, Savelle emphasizes that “It’s the right time” for citrus. “It’s exploding in Georgia.”