Louisiana oranges, particularly those from Plaquemines Parish, are a testament to the rich agricultural heritage and enduring challenges faced by local farmers. These citrus fruits, grown along the lower Mississippi River, have a history dating back nearly 300 years.
These oranges are rooted in the efforts of the Jesuits. Ben Becnel Sr., a fifth-generation citrus farmer, reflects on this legacy, saying, “It started in Jesuit Bend with the Jesuit brothers. They introduced the citrus to Plaquemines Parish.”
The family citrus farm
The Becnels, with Ben and his son Ben Junior at the helm, operate the largest orchard in Plaquemines Parish. Covering 25 acres, their farm is a diverse citrus hub, boasting not only oranges but also satsumas, lemons, blood oranges, and kumquats. Ben Junior notes, “We’re probably about half satsuma and half naval orange.” This farm stands in stark contrast to the once-vast citrus groves that dominated the Mississippi delta’s fertile lowlands.
louisiana orange belt
Plaquemines Parish, known as Louisiana’s Orange Belt, experienced its production zenith in the 1940s, with a staggering 410,000 boxes of oranges. However, current estimates by Ben Junior suggest a significant decline, with production now around 15,000 boxes. The uniqueness of these oranges lies in the rich soil of the Mississippi River, as Ben Junior proudly claims, “Our fruit is just heads and tails above anything else.”
harvest time for louisiana oranges
Harvest time for Louisiana oranges and satsumas is a period of meticulous labor, stretching from late fall into early winter. Workers handpick each fruit using ladders and buckets, with each tree yielding an average of seven or eight boxes of oranges. While navel oranges are directly plucked, satsumas require delicate snipping due to their thin skin.
harvesting louisiana oranges featured on tv
challenges for the orange crop
Despite their rich history, Louisiana citrus orchards face significant challenges, including climate change and hurricanes, canker, and greening disease. These setbacks have led to a reduction in farm acreage. Ben Senior, reflecting on the impact of these challenges, says, “A lot of guys, when it gets their orchard, they cut the orchard down and they won’t replant.” He fears the orchards may only last two more generations, a sentiment echoing the emotional toll of this decline: “Every time I pull up one of those trees that got killed, it felt like I was pulling my own roots out of the ground.”
a sweet and tangy harvest
Louisiana oranges and satsumas, integral to Plaquemines Parish for nearly three centuries, continue to find their way to local grocery stores and beyond. The Becnel’s roadside fruit stand remains a testament to the enduring appeal of these fruits, offering a sweet and tangy slice of Louisiana’s agricultural history.
The Ben & Ben Becnel roadside fruit stand is located at 14977 LA-HWY 23 south of Belle Chase, LA.