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UTRGV Digital Exhibits

Gold in the Magic Valley Overview

RIO GRANDE VALLEY – MAGIC VALLEY

Citrus fruit production in the United States stays limited to three major areas: Arizona-California, Florida, and Texas. The growing of citrus remains profitable because so few areas provide the climatic requirements needed. The majority of the Texas Citrus Industry exists in the Rio Grande Valley and mainly focuses on the production of grapefruit.

Early on, commercial Valley citrus growers decided to focus on producing grapefruit over oranges, because it found grapefruit trees were more productive and the fruit had a relatively similar market price. In the 1920s, commercial development of citrus in the Valley surged, along with population, agricultural and economic growth. By 1929, Texas became the third largest citrus producing state in the nation and surpassed California in grapefruit production. During the early years of the Great Depression, an accidental discovery gave rise to the world renowned Texas red grapefruit industry in the Rio Grande Valley.

Gold in the Magic Valley

Map of the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Promotional literature from the Southern Pacific Lines, 1928.

ORIGINS OF GRAPEFRUIT

Citrus is believed to have originated in southern Asia or the East Indian islands. The earliest reference of the fruit dates back to 2200 BC in China. Grapefruit on the other hand represents a fairly recent natural hybrid of pummelo and sweet orange. While uncertain as to its exact origins, it appears to have originated in Barbados during the eighteenth century. Seeds were brought over and introduced into Florida in the early parts of the nineteenth century by Count Odette Philippe. All known grapefruit varieties in the United States can be traced back to a Duncan seedling that was planted in Florida circa 1830.

EARLY CITRUS IN THE VALLEY

The earliest record of citrus being planted in the Valley is at the Laguna Seca Ranch in Edinburg. In 1871, a traveling priest from the Cavalry of Christ visited the ranch and gave Founder, Don Macedonio Vela Zamora’s children some oranges. After enjoying the fruit, one of his daughters, Carlota, took some of the seeds and planted them on the ranch with the direction of her mother, Doña Mercedes Chapa de Vela. Seven orange trees flourished from this planting.

The seven orange trees at Laguna Seca, along with citrus planting experiments done by A. P. Wright at a plantation near Santa Maria, inspired City of Mission Founder John J. Conway and his partner James W. Hoit to use citrus as a way to attract potential purchasers of lands they were developing. Mr. Wright was persuaded to move to Mission, TX where he established an orchard with plans to experiment with commercialization.  Soon after, Charles Volz, Roy Conway, Max Melch, and J. K. Robertson joined Wright in planting orchards in Mission.

While visiting Mr. Robertson’s orchard, John H. Shary saw the agricultural potential of the area and it inspired him to develop a citrus farming industry in the Rio Grande Valley.