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Homegrown sees rise in organic citrus demand

Homegrown Organic Farms, located in Porterville, CA, is celebrating its 20th year as an organic marketer of citrus and the company continues to see growth across all of its categories.

Over the last six years, the company has seen a big interest in organic citrus from retailer. Prior to that, much of the business had been managed by distributors and wholesalers.

“Citrus is big, but we are a lot more than that as a company,” said Craig Morris, citrus category director for Homegrown Organic Farms. “We grow, farm and market all organic permanent fruit crops ranging from citrus to grapes to stone fruit and blueberries.”

navels33 Morris explained that out of all the varietals the company grows, citrus is the most difficult commodity to set a crop organically since they can’t use the synthetic nitrogen materials used in the conventional sector at the most critical times.

“Even with that hurdle of not having those measures, we have been blessed with a super crop this season,” he said. “Overall, our program will be 20-25 percent larger across the board in citrus this season over last year.”

The reason for the big increase comes down to better farming practices combined with ideal growing conditions.

“We have new techniques and innovation that we are constantly working on to achieve this,” Morris said. “You have to be extremely proactive in both of your cultural practices as well as your marketing processes, and hire good people. Success comes from being on your game; there are no shortcuts.”

Not that there aren’t challenges. Water is still an issue and the organic tools that are available to combat insects are not as effective as conventional has to offer. Then there are labor costs, which have been on the rise.

“Citrus is unique compared to other commodities we farm,” Morris said. “Production costs are up 30 percent, our yields are down 30 percent when compared to conventional. To be successful, organic farming is extremely difficult.”

Still, Homegrown Organic Farms has seen organics as a whole continue to increase annually with citrus varietals remaining popular year after year. And whether it’s oranges, lemons, grapefruit, navals, pummeloes, clementines or limes, every category is on the rise.

“Our customers want to continue to expand their organic produce offerings on the shelves,” Morris said. “They are trying to do whatever they can to differentiate themselves from the competition.”

Homegrown Organic Farms believes that’s something it does very well — partnering with retailers to help them build their organic programs.

“Through all of our categories, we like to push them and educate them as well, whether it’s merchandising or how to differentiate the conventional from organic,” Morris said. “We try to partner with them the best we can. Whatever the retailer needs, we can tailor a program.”

At the store level this means margins against conventional are well thought out, and that there’s attractive packaging and promotions throughout the season. That can be in-store digital ads or specials on a given week. Homegrown Organic Farms can help in this regard, with digital and social media support. It will also help arrange “Meet the Grower” opportunities and tasting demos.

Thanks to shipping locations in both Northern and Southern California, Homegrown Organic Farms can get the organic citrus out wherever needed and the company recently combated the electronic logbook issues with transportation, switching to all appointments to help its customers.

“We are a one-stop shop for organic citrus,” Morris said. “All of our varietals are start to finish throughout their perspective seasons.”

This year’s citrus season began the first week of October and is expected to end in late July.