Replanting Shows Redlands’ Effort To Preserve Citrus Industry

A vestige of what was once a way of life in not only San Bernardino County but much of Southern California will survive another half century as work began this week on the city of Redlands’ effort to replant the trees in the 10-acre citrus grove on Fifth Street between Ford Street and Wabash Avenue.
The city is using labor provided by the Larry Jacinto Farming Co., which has an exclusive four-year $821,585 contract to farm all of Redlands’ groves, to remove existing trees at the grove and replace them with 1,000 navel orange trees the city purchased using a $25,000 South Coast Air Quality Management District grant and another 500 trees donated by Modesto-based Duarte Nursery.
The current trees in the Fifth Street grove, most of which were planted 80 years ago, produce fruit of diminished size and inferior color and texture, brought about by  the aging of the trees and a condition affecting citrus called puff and crease.
Redlands is located in the midst of what was once the premier citrus growing region in the world. Over the last 50 years, however, California’s position as an agricultural powerhouse has diminished considerably. In no sector has this decline been more noteworthy than the wholesale uprooting of citrus groves and vineyards in Orange County and the Inland Empire to make way for the development of that land, in large measure as huge residential subdivisions.
As the viability of maintaining the land for agricultural purposes has ended and Florida has taken over from California as the leading producer of citrus, the city of Redlands remains one of the last entities in Southern California intent on preserving the orange, lemon and grapefruit groves that once predominated the local landscape. Beginning in the 1980s, the city embarked on an effort to purchase and preserve existing citrus groves, and at present owns and operates 200 acres of aging but still producing trees spread over 16 groves.
For a time, the city was able to break even on those operations or even realize a minimal profit, but after cost-saving cutbacks were made which diminished the  cultivation, irrigation and condition of the groves, they ceased being productive and became even more of a burden on the city. Maintaining the groves entailed borrowing $200,000 from the general fund last year. Since 2008-09, the groves have cost Redlands taxpayers more than $400,000.
While there has been criticism of the city for engaging in an arena better left to the private sector, city officials remain committed to maintaining the groves as part of the city’s heritage and are hoping that the current arrangement with Jacinto will return the operation to profitability.  The replacement trees will begin to produce fruit of marketable quality within the next six to eight years and will remain productive at that level, if cared for properly, for up to half of a century.
The city’s Citrus Preservation Commission was responsible for determining which of the city’s groves would be replanted first.

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