On a Mission. . . Citrus

by Southwest Georgia Farm Credit | Jul 10, 2017

Lindy Savelle may be retired, but this former FBI Agent is still on a mission . . . to give back to her community and State through a niche, yet sustainable agricultural commodity . . .

When I retire, I want to…and what follows may be the usual things like travel, spend time with grandchildren, or volunteer more. For Lindy Lamar Savelle, her goals for retirement are far from what most would consider normal. But for those who know her, there’s no surprise that Lindy has an unusual plan.

Lindy’s path started in Mitchell County and has returned her there. She grew up in Sale City, went to college at Valdosta State University and pursued a career in federal law enforcement that spanned over 30 years with three different agencies. She retired in 2015.

Lindy and her husband Perry, a retired banker, began making plans years ago to return to their respective farms in Mitchell and Thomas counties—to bring the farms back to life—but the question was how?

“In retirement, Perry and I wanted to give back to our communities in a way that would benefit them for years to come—something to stimulate growth in Georgia’s agricultural economy,” Lindy said. “We researched many different specialty crops at first and then one day at my parent’s house, my brother, Clay, mentioned citrus.”

The idea quickly turned into a realistic opportunity as Lindy explored the citrus industry in Florida and found that Georgia, especially the southern portion, could offer similar growing conditions. In addition, Lindy connected with Dr. Wayne Hanna at the University of Georgia, who was developing citrus trees specifically for Georgia through grafting citrus with root stock native to the state.

“Dr. Hanna’s goal was to develop seedless citrus varieties for Georgia,” Lindy shared. “It was his way to give back something beneficial to the homeowners in the state—a legacy for the agricultural industry.” As a farmer, Clay knew they could grow these trees for other citrus growers. Armed with that knowledge, Lindy focused on getting the contract to grow the UGA trees.

“My brother and I formed 1 DOG (which stands for God 1st backwards) Ventures LLC and built Georgia’s first citrus-only greenhouse/indoor nursery where we’re propagating citrus Lindy with her husband, Perry, in their citrus trees for sale to commercial growers and homeowners,” Lindy said. “And we hold the exclusive license for UGA’s recent patented/trademarked seedless Sweet Frost tangerine, Grand Frost Lemon and Pink Frost grapefruit.”

While they’ve sold some trees already, they’re planning to have about 40,000 UGA trees ready in the spring of 2018. In addition to those trees, they also have satsuma, lime, navel and kumquat trees.

But the nursery is only a segment of Lindy’s involvement with citrus. In 2016, she and Perry took a hay field and planted four acres of citrus trees at Perry’s home place, where they’re also renovating his childhood home to call their own. They also planted an acre of citrus trees at their Mitchell County farm. Walking through the citrus grove, it’s easy to tell that Lindy and Perry are serious about their farming venture. The grove includes micro-jets on each tree which are used when temperatures are predicted to be 36 degrees and below with the goal of keeping the budd—the site of the graft—frozen with ice and above 32 degrees. Straight rows and planting distances between trees allow for easy maintenance and mowing. And tree trunks are individually wrapped to provide additional protection from cold temperatures as well as from insects and chemicals.

A goal of any citrus grove is consistent sized fruit. “For the first three years, the fruit will be hand pulled from each tree as it begins to form,” Lindy explained. “This pruning process is done continuously during the spring budding season and will allow the trees to get stronger, as well as produce the desired consistent sized fruit.”

Lindy knew that if she wanted to accomplish her goal of giving back to the State of Georgia, there needed to be a formal organization for citrus growers. Valdosta already had a group of growers, so after visiting with Jake Price, Lowndes County Extension Agent, Lindy began working to pull the current citrus growers together to become a chartered organization. In October 2016, the Georgia Citrus Association (GCA) formed with 27 growers—electing board members and naming Lindy president. From that humble beginning, the first Annual Meeting of the GCA was held on February 28, 2017 with over 275 in attendance. “We were very excited over the attendance at our first meeting,” Lindy said. “We had approximately 52 growers attend, representing South Georgia, North Florida and South Alabama.”

Lindy has taken the GCA show on the road, presenting to the Georgia House Agriculture Committee in January and speaking to numerous agricultural and civic groups across the State. “I really believe that citrus can help Georgia grow agriculturally and economically,” Lindy stated. “So I’m making the rounds to educate not only the agricultural communities and groups, but the general public as well.”

And it’s paying off. Clark Harrell, Mitchell County Administrator, approached Lindy earlier this year with the idea for the county to plant 100 trees, using the grove for both fruit production and as a hands-on learning experience for those at the Mitchell County Correctional Institute. The project grew to include the Extension Office, 4-H’ers, FFA and Young Farmers, being named “MitCo Grow” by a 4-H member. On May 11, the MitCo Grow partners held the ground breaking to officially launch the community project.

The growing interest in citrus can also be seen in the numbers—climbing from no trees planted in 2007 to over 7,200 trees planted in 2016, resulting in approximately 20,600 trees across the State. GCA is anticipating 42,000 trees by the end of 2017—doubling the number of trees from 2016. And as long as the trees are maintained, life expectancy can be,well, forever.

In fact, Josh McGalliard, Southwest Georgia Farm Credit Relationship Manager in Camilla, has started to see interest among area farmers. “There’s no doubt that the interest is growing in our area for farmers to use citrus to further diversify their operations,” Josh said. One client recently planted nine acres of satsumas, lemons and grapefruit.

Lindy’s already busy with the next phase of developing the citrus industry in Georgia—investigating potential locations to establish a processing facility. She’s excited over the potential of seeing the entire life cycle of citrus in Georgia—from the greenhouse offering patented varieties specifically for Georgia, to groves across the state producing an abundance of fruit, to a processing facility for handling the production. Plans for marketing include working with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and their Georgia Grown program and partnering with the State’s school nutrition program. GCA is already being contacted by brokers for potentially expanding their citrus markets beyond the State lines.

It’s safe to say that Lindy’s passionate about citrus and using it to give back to her community and State—it’s become her personal mission that’s enveloped her husband, Perry, her brother, Clay and his family, her two sons, William and Colby Billings, and even her parents, Henry and Marilyn Lamar. Lindy is clearly focused on making her retirement plans come true.