“Royal Red, King of Grapefruit?” What’s that?

Image: Robb Walsh

After John Shary built up the Valley’s citrus orchards, the grapefruit industry flourished. By its heyday in the early 1980s, there were 70,000 acres of citrus in the Valley, and fruit was so plentiful, growers were barely breaking even. 

Then, in 1983 and 1989, two hard freezes devastated the groves. Rather than take on the expense of replanting, half the farmers sold out to real estate developers, and subdivisions and shopping centers sprouted in place of the trees. 

Those who did replant took the opportunity to switch from poorer-quality grapefruit to the improved Rio Red variety, a product of agricultural researchers at the Texas A&M Citrus Center. As of now, there are around 35,000 acres of citrus planted in the Valley, 70 percent of it grapefruit. 

These days, thanks to growers like Dennis Holbrook at South Texas Organics in Mission, you can buy organically grown Texas Red grapefruit. (You have to ship it home, though—the company won’t have a farm stand open until next season.) When I stopped by, Holbrook showed me around his orchards and packinghouse where, alongside the regular cardboard cases, I spotted a box marked “Royal Red, King of Grapefruit.” What’s that? 

“That’s going to be the box for the new grapefruit that Texas A&M is developing,” Holbrook told me. I asked about the mystery fruit and was rewarded with a glimpse of some photos on his iPhone. In the pictures I saw a tree filled with red-skinned grapefruits—so red, in fact, they verged on purple. I was excited to see this new super-red grapefruit and disappointed to discover that it won’t be introduced for another four or five years, according to Holbrook.

Nobody is hoping for a disaster, but the next time the grapefruit orchards are wiped out by a freeze, blight, or insect infestation, Valley growers who replant will probably switch to the new super-fruit. And years from now, I predict, we’ll all be hailing Texas A&M’s Maroon Grapefruit as the best in the country.

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