The Story of Citrus in the Lower Rio Rrande Valley of Texas

Part VI: The 1940s and 1950s see a mature industry though Mother Nature intervenes

Valley Citrus file

By NORMAN ROZEFF, Special to the Star

9/27-29/43 The Texas Citrus and Vegetable Growers and Shippers Association holds its first annual meeting. Harlingen member are Adams Gardens Nurseries, Collier-Mitchell Produce Company, Cullen and Thompson, and John Morris, Jr. Company. Associate members from Harlingen are Crown-Williamette Paper Co., Food Machinery Co., and Tri-Pak Machinery Service.

12/8-10/45 By this year the area was already holding its third annual LRGV Citrus and Vegetable Institute in Weslaco. The reports were published in a 190 page booklet.

1/1/46 After only a short reprieve Office of Price Administration (OPA)administrator Chester Bowles announces that price controls on fresh citrus will be restored on January 4 after mid-Western congressmen complained over a 50-100% increase in prices. A bumper crop is expected this season. Farmers will be pleased however that tire rationing is to end today.

1946 This year the journal that will become the Subtropical Agricultural and Environments Journal of the Rio Grande Valley Horticultural Society (formed in 1947) starts publication with Proceedings of the Annual Lower Rio Grande Valley Citrus Institute, and in 1948 as the Proceedings of the Annual Lower Rio Grande Valley Citrus and Vegetable Institute. “No issues were published in 1981 or 1993. The final hard copy of the journal was published as volume 56 in 2004, and on-line publication began with volume 57 in 2005. Again, there was no volume issued in 2014 as the society was in the process of changing its name again to reflect a wider spectrum.”

1947 The Citrus Center originated in the mid-1940s when a group of local citizens and citrus growers approached the then Texas College of Arts & Industries, Kingsville, with the idea of establishing a research and training facility specializing in citriculture for the Lower Rio Grande Valley. In 1947 the original campus site and research farm was purchased with funds contributed by the citrus industry and other community institutions. Buildings were acquired from the deactivated Harlingen Army Air Field and by 1948 the Center was in operation. It is located at the intersection of HWY. 83 and FM 1015, Weslaco.

With information provided by Joan Jones the formation of the Texas A&I Citrus Center is clarified. Dr. Ernest H. Poteet was Texas A&I University’s 6th President in the years 1948 to 1962. Just prior to his tenure the university was approached by Valley citrus men with the idea, noted above, of establishing a research and training facility specializing in citriculture for the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Initially the university utilized an established orchard jointly owned by Shelly Hale Collier Sr. and John Jones Sr. The former was a banker at the First National Bank of Mercedes while his business associate, Jones, had banking interests in Mercedes and La Feria and was a regent of the university. The 10 to 15 acre orchard was located on the east side of FM 1015 close to where the citrus center would eventually be. Texas A&I financed experimental work conducted in this orchard. Later John Jones Jr. would be involved in getting the Texas legislature to accept the acreage involved with citrus experimentation.

1/23/48 This date sees the chartering of the United Citrus Growers Association. It is a cooperative marketing association. During the years 1946, 1947, and a major portion of 1948 Texas growers were practically giving away their fruit. During 1947 and through December 1948 growers received an average price of 53 cents per field box (1 3/5 bushel) of oranges and for grapefruit 26 cents per box. It actually cost around 50 cents/box to grow oranges and 35 cents for grapefruit.

In 1952 the association would publish a 48-page booklet titled “Rebuilding the Citrus Industry in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.” It contained 16 relevant articles as steps to return the industry to profitability. At this time J.J. Daniels was general manager of the association.

1947 and 1948 saw peak harvests only to have orchards devastated by disastrous freezes in 1948 and 1951.

1950-74 The Alberti Seafoods Processing Co. selling “King-O-Shrimp” and “Sea Breeze” Brands will pack products in Harlingen. Its owner Lawrence Alberti of Chicago is to die at age 67 on 10/16/60. When, in 1974, Alberti shutters its doors and a year later Western Shellfish at 708 N. Commerce does also, Cecil Carruth is left with his largely useless Harlingen Cold Storage Building at 804 North Commerce. For a time his Texas Frozen Foods Corp. processed frozen shrimp and citrus juice. The large building contained cold storage vaults, a shrimp processing plant, a citrus juice extraction plant, and a citrus peel dehydration plant along with Rio Freezer, Inc., cold storage.

1951 Year of the Big Freeze hurts the agricultural economy of the area, especially citrus. By July 1952 following three bad freezes in two seasons the citrus tree population in the Valley is reduced from 14 million to 3.6 million. The more detailed report of October 1952 state that less than a third of the 11,374,372 citrus fruit trees flourishing several years ago in South Texas are left following three bad freezes in two seasons. The count now is 3,679,173 of commercial value. Grapefruit barely outnumbered orange trees 1,842,279 to 1,807,605 where before the freezes grapefruit roundly outnumbered oranges. 1,165,219 grapefruit surveyed are pink and red.

By 1960 it will rise to 5.75 million on 70,000 acres. The freeze did allow grapefruit growers to switch from yellow grapefruit varieties into the more desirable and attractive Ruby Red variety.

1953 It is this year that the Atchison Citrus Center opens for business. In November 1967, owners Mr. & Mrs. John Atchison Jr. will open a new facility on Business 83 near FM 800. It will be the exclusive supplier of gift fruit for Sakowitz of Houston. He manages 500 acres in citrus and sells under the Key Brand label. Mr. Atchison will die at age 92 on July 25, 2008 in League City. A graduate of Harlingen High School in the early 1930s he attended San Marcos Baptist Academy and Texas A& M University. He returned to the Valley in 1946 with his wife Lorene after serving in WWII. He was a Rotary Club member, past president of the Lions Club of Harlingen, and a deacon of the First Baptist Church. He was survived by a son, daughter, and grandchildren.

1958 The Texas Citrus Mutual is established to assist Valley citrus growers in numerous ways, one important one being the establishment of crop insurance. J. L. Boggus of Harlingen is its first president.

By the following year the USDA reported that the citrus fruit industry had been rebuilt. Grapefruit trees numbered 3,165,932 on 2,299 farms and 2,129 farms were growing 2,428,543 orange trees. Lemon trees with lesser cold tolerance only numbered 31,901 trees on 298 farms.

1/30/59 a severe freeze destroys 3 million of the Valley’s 12 million trees.

1960s The Jones-Collier Foundation helps to finance the purchase of the 200 acre South Research Farm for the Citrus Center of Texas A & I. In 1974 and 1977 a total of 62 additional acres adjacent to the South Research Farm are purchased through the A&I Development Foundation.

The decade opened with the discovery that the Mediterranan Fruit Fly was infesting Valley citrus. An all out eradication program begn and met with success.

9/14/61 Hurricane Carla causes $1,183,000 in losses to Valley citrus and vegetables. While it hit closer to Corpus Christi, Harlingen had strong winds and a September rainfall total of 8.3”. The storm occurred six weeks after heavy rains caused a 25 to 35% loss in the cotton crop being harvested. Harlingen’s August rainfall totaled 4.52”.

1/11/62 Eleven hours of temperatures below 28 degrees wipe out the vegetable crop in the Valley and five hours below 26 causes widespread citrus icing. Later 5 to 35% of the trees were deemed killed but up to 50% of the citrus production lost. Homes sustained frozen and busted pipes. The blue norther blasts its away to Veracruz and hurts its orange crop. The 1962-63 winter is another bad one. Temperatures in the mid-20s occur several times in January 1963. 4,000 acres of lettuce are affected and 15,800 acres of early-planted tomatoes are wiped out.

1964. This year Texas produced 2,400,000 boxes of grapefruit valued at $8,016,000 and one million boxes of oranges valued at $3,810,000. Production continued to rise so that by 1966 5.6 million boxes of grapefruit valued at $10,152,000 and 2.8 million boxes of oranges valued at $5,808,000 were forthcoming.

4/4/64 Brad Crockett named Jaycee Young Man of the Year. Bradley Standley Crockett, Jr. was born in Mercedes 8/6/35. A 1953 Harlingen High School graduate, he went on to earn a BS degree at Texas A & M in 1957. He spent three years in the US Air Force

rising to the rank of 1st Liutenant. In Januaruy 1959 he married Nancy Hardy of Ardmore, OK. They presently have four young children, Mynan, Standley III, Julie and Allen. Brad is VP and manager of Crockett Growers, Inc, and Crockett Nurseries, Inc.while owning Crokett Farms. These are major citrus entities.