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Grande Output

How business in this Texas valley is booming despite setbacks
MS_Grande Output

When some people think of the Rio Grande Valley, they imagine endless skies, long stretches of land, and few people. This may have been true years ago, but today’s Rio Grande Valley or simply ‘the Valley’ paints a very different picture.

The acreage is still there—the region spans a 4,872-square-mile swath of land—but the population has been growing full tilt. With nearly 1.4 million residents, it is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country and the fifth largest metropolitan statistical area in Texas.

Business growth is also surging with companies like SpaceX venturing into the area and longtime Texas grocery stalwart H-E-B expanding its retail and community footprint.

Growing and Harvests
Agribusiness in general, and the produce industry in particular, continue to play a key role in Texas. The Valley is a strong producer in its own right— despite a number of serious setbacks courtesy of Mother Nature last year. These weather episodes ran the gamut from too-cool temperatures, too hot, lack of rain, wildfires, Hurricane Harvey, and then late fall downpours.

First came colder than usual temps and freezes in the winter months, followed by record spring and summer heat for the third year in a row—with triple-digit temperatures, humidity, and little rain—and then there was hurricane season.

Although much of the Texas coast and Houston were pounded by Hurri-cane Harvey in late August, less than half an inch of rain fell across the Valley. It was a disappointment for many, who had high hopes for a drought-busting deluge, but it worked to the advantage of some growers. Overall, given the destructive force of the hurricane, the Rio Grande region was spared and the impact to growers was minimal.

Citrus is especially critical to the Lone Star State’s produce landscape; it is the third-largest producer of citrus fruit in the nation and most is grown in the Valley. The annual harvest features oranges, Meyer lemons, tangelos, tangerines, and grapefruit. The latter includes the fabled Ruby Red grapefruit, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the state’s citrus crop.

Wonderful Citrus, a division of the Los Angeles-based Wonderful family of companies, ships citrus from three locations in Texas: Donna, Edinburg, and Mission.

According to Adam Cooper, the parent company’s vice president of marketing, Wonderful Citrus is responsible for about 70 percent of the total orange and grapefruit shipments going out of Texas. “Production has generally been stable over the years,” he says, noting the grower has increased tree plantings over the last four years.

Orange harvests got underway in late September, and though overall crop numbers and fruit size were somewhat smaller this year, quality was good. “This season, general industry trends point to a slight decrease in navels,” confirms Cooper, though this was balanced by an uptick in the winter season’s grapefruit crop.