As the first premium dekopon grown commercially in the United States, Sumo Citrus requires a level of care and attention like no other citrus. When the variety came to the US from Japan, it took citrus growing experts in California’s San Joaquin Valley over a decade to perfect their careful breeding of this non-GMO mandarin hybrid. Even now, more than 20 years later, the fruit remains notoriously difficult to grow from a seed to a fruit-bearing tree, which requires a team of dedicated growers.
Here’s a look into what makes growing Sumo Citrus worth all of the hard work, according to these passionate growers who know it best.
1. The Bigger the Challenge, the Greater the Reward
“Sumo Citrus is the biggest challenge I’ve ever had,” said Don Bay, a Sumo Citrus grower with over 50 years of farming experience. But when he and son Darren saw their first enormously delicious crop, “that’s the reward,” he said. Today, his grandson Luke is also a Sumo Citrus grower.
“To have been able to fill up this orchard and have them work on it, and work with me, is a dream come true,” he said. Don also appreciates having more hands to help with the year-round TLC that goes into growing Sumo Citrus.
This care includes:
- Hand-pruning trees for more sunlight. (Sumo Citrus also requires sun protection at times.)
- Hand-picking fruit once it’s ripened on the tree.
- Harvesting fruit into small totes — not in large bins like other citrus.
- Floating fruit gently onto the line to prevent bruising.
2. The Joy of Sumo Citrus in Stores
Nestled in the warm foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is Roger Smith’s farm, where he and his wife have been growing Sumo Citrus for over a decade. “There really isn’t anything like it,” he said. The first year he saw it in stores, he knew: “We’re the start of something new and special.”
The growing season lasts all year long, but the payoff is more than a fruit. “It’s an experience — it’s enormous,” he said. “It fits in the palm of your hand, it’s so big.”
“It’s just a joy to be able to be the guy that delivers that to consumers and to the public,” he continued.
All the work and the obstacles — like too much or not enough rain, frost too early or late in the season, too much wind, or too much sun — they’re all worth it. “It feels like you’re a proud parent,” he said.
3. Better for the Planet
That year-round work helps the bigger picture as much as the bottom line. Farmers like Bay and Smith have implemented trial runs of regenerative farming practices, like using cover crops and less tilling, to improve the biodiversity of their soil.
Sumo Citrus farmers have also invested in energy saving initiatives to control costs and reduce their carbon footprint, and they have set up water-saving technologies like drip irrigation and moisture sensors. They know that the climate can and will change from year to year, so the farms store water to be prepared. And, as permanent crops, healthy Sumo Citrus trees reduce erosion and hold carbon in the soil.
4. Moving into the Future with Legacy
Keith Cosart’s family has been farming the land where he grows Sumo Citrus for over a century, with an approach that supports the long-term health of the farm.
“We want to continue that for further generations,” he said, so everything they do is aimed at building up the soil for better fruit and a better future.
“It makes me feel proud,” he said. “My family’s been in the citrus growing business for over 100 years. It’s evolved over the years, and we still grow other types of citrus, but Sumo Citrus is, I think, our future.”
That’s a commitment you can taste in every enormously delicious, juicy bite. The year-round work, the meticulous care, the decades of experience — those are what make Sumo Citrus truly the world’s perfect fruit.