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Home Grown: Citrus packing facility houses some of the world’s lemons

News 11's April Hettinger gives an inside look on what happens between the picking and the shipping

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - When stepping foot inside mission citrus, the packing facility is filled with the smell of lemons coming directly from trees in Yuma County.

Now the multi-step packing process begins, as Dr. Glenn Wright explains, University of Arizona extension specialist for citrus and date palms.

"The lemons might be dirty and there might be some sticks or there might be some leaves in the bins, so the first part of the process is to clean the lemons and to give them some protection against disease, and then to sort them by color," Dr. Wright said.

But, not all lemons are a pretty, uniform yellow. So, the ones that aren't the right color yet are sent to the degreening room.

"It's the naturally occurring gas that we simply add a little bit more and make it go a little bit faster, and the fruit is in there for anywhere from, if it's light green, from about four days right now if it's dark green for about six days," Dr. Wright stated. "So, the green fruit goes in and the yellow fruit comes out."

After the lemons leave the degreening room, they come here to the packing facility where they're then sorted by quality and size. 

"The difference between the different grades is almost exclusively based on exterior appearance," Dr. Wright explained. "So, if the fruit is perfect looking, it's got the right shape, it's got the right color, there are no insect blemishes or anything like that, it's the Sunkist grade, or the first grade."

There are also second and third grade fruits that all have the same inner quality but different appearances.

Those with a lower quality are sent to juicing companies, except for Chick Fil A, one of the largest buyers.

They purchase 100 bins a week of second grade fruit.

After sorting by quality the lemons are coated in a shiny wax with a fungicide before they’re sorted by size. 

Each 40 pound box has anywhere from 63 to 280 lemons depending on size. 

Mission citrus packs about 5,500 acres making up about half of Arizona's citrus industry.

Proving that when it comes to ag in Yuma, it’s not just about the lettuce. 

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April Hettinger

April was born and raised in San Diego where she loved the beach town and her two dogs, Lexi and Malibu. She decided to trade the beach for the snow and advanced her education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

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