The annual Kumquat Festival in Dade City is less than a month away.

  • Largest kumquat grower struggling
  • Citrus greening destroyed many kumquat trees
  • Kumquat Growers Inc will have kumquats for annual festival

Kumquat Growers Incorporated is struggling to harvest enough kumquats to feed the thousands of people who attend every year.

The company, owned by the Gude and Neuhofer families, is known as the largest kumquat growers in the country. It’s been struggling the last three growing seasons, according to general manager Greg Gude.

“We used to walk through here and trees would be 17 foot tall,” Gude said. ”To look at it now, it’s kind of hard to keep a smile on your face.”

The company, according to Gude, lost 98 percent of its kumquat trees to citrus greening and grub worms, which ate the roots.

“We were devastated, basically completely wiped out in the last three seasons,” Gude said. “It’s hard to go from being able to fund to do things to now we are in our reserves.”

The growers have since invested thousands of dollars in replanting.  They’ve also started using some new techniques, such as liquid fertilization.

Gude said they kept a close eye on the new trees throughout the recent cold weather.

“I was worried a lot,” Gude said.

So far, there appears to be only minor damage to some of the branches, but the kumquats appear to be in good shape, Gude said.

Since the 80s, 2017 was the first year the company wasn’t able to sell kumquats to grocery stores.

“We used to in the peak season of 2014-15, we picked about 18,000 bushels. Since then, last year we picked 7,000 bushels. This year we’ll be lucky if we pick 500,” Gude said.

Gude said they stopped selling kumquats on a large scale commercially to insure they would have kumquats for the festival.

“You can expect maybe not the big pile of kumquats but we’ll have some for them to taste and we’ll have them to sell until we run out. It’s going to be pretty quick I think,” Gude said.

Gude hopes this is just temporary.

“We’re going to keep fighting this bug. We’re going to get through it and hopefully be able to come out the other side and in five years be pushing kumquats real hard again,” Gude said.

The annual Kumquat Festival is Jan. 27 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Dade City.

Gude said while the kumquats won’t be as plentiful, there will still be plenty of kumquat pies, marmalades, and jellies for sale.