In the heart of the Florida Panhandle — hundreds of miles north of other citrus production areas in the state — Mack Glass is growing cold-hardy Satsuma oranges and says Jackson County could regain its title as the Satsuma capital of the World.

“Back in the early 1900s, before a 1935 freeze wiped out the 3,000-acre citrus crop in the Panhandle, our county was known as the Satsuma Capital of the World, and annual Satsuma festivals in 1928 and 1929 attracted 35,000 people,” said Glass, who is growing five acres of the Mandarin orange on his farm near Marianna.

He expects to harvest his first crop of oranges in the fall of 2005 and said two other Jackson County growers — Nolan Daniels and Herman Laramore — are also planning to start commercial production of the orange.

Glass said he expects brisk local sales of the tasty oranges, particularly at fund-raising events for churches and schools. His Satsuma crop flowers in late April and early May, and fruit can be harvested from mid-October through the second week of November.

A partner and manager of the Cherokee ranch of North Florida Ltd. in Jackson County, he began growing Satsuma oranges about three years ago to diversify his farming operation. He said the idea to grow Satsumas came from Wayne Sherman, a professor of horticulture with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Gainesville.

“It's no secret we're having some marketing problems here in the Panhandle because the new federal farm program has lowered target prices for traditional crops such as corn, peanuts and soybeans,” Glass said. “Peanuts used to be our main crop, generating about $780 per ton, but now we're getting about $335 per ton.”

He said weather and pest control are the only challenges they face in producing Satsuma oranges, but these have been largely solved with the help of UF research and Extension experts.

“What makes us optimistic about growing Satsuma oranges in the Panhandle is that we now have production technologies from UF that simply did not exist back in the early 1900s — or even 20 years ago,” Glass said.

“We came through several freezes this year without any damage to our trees, thanks to a micro-irrigation system that puts out 24 gallons of water per hour for freeze protection.

He is working closely with George Hochmuth, director of UF's North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, and Ed Jowers, UF Jackson County Extension director to solve various cold protection, pest control and other production problems.

Glass said the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN), which provides real-time weather data 24 hours daily to producers around the state, helps him keep track of approaching cold fronts and schedule his irrigation system to prevent freeze damage.

John Jackson, a UF Lake County Extension agent who helped establish FAWN in 1997, said the weather network now covers the entire state with 33 stations linked to computers at UF in Gainesville. Each solar-powered station collects weather data and transmits it to Gainesville every 15 minutes. The network includes monitoring stations near Marianna.

The stations measure temperatures at two, six and 30 feet above ground, and soil temperature, wind speed and direction, rainfall, relative humidity, barometric pressure, leaf wetness and solar radiation, he said.

Glass said FAWN is a valuable production tool because regular weather forecasts for cities may be misleading for farmers. “Heat trapped in concrete and asphalt can make cities 10 degrees warmer than farms in rural areas. When cold weather moves through the Florida Panhandle, the difference can be devastating to citrus and other cold-sensitive crops,” he said.

Growers and others interested in the weather data can access the system 24 hours daily by telephone at 1-352-846-3100 or the FAWN Web site at http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu/.

Dick Sprenkel, a professor of entomology and associate director of the Quincy center, said there have been few insect and mite problems on Glass's citrus trees.

“Overall, Mack's crop has had fewer insect pests than I normally see on dooryard citrus,” he said. “This is probably due at least in part to the better quality trees that he planted and the higher level of management that the grove has received. At this time, I am optimistic that any insect problems that are encountered can be economically managed.”