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TRISTEZA AND PRODUCTION IN FLORIDA
Tree losses in Florida are mounting, as evidenced by the most recent citrus tree inventory in September. During the two years preceding this inventory, Florida growers have lost 1.4 million orange trees and 1.3 million grapefruit trees. Basically, that's about 20,000 acres of commercial groves. While normal attrition and some losses to the citrus canker eradication program are to be expected, losses of trees to citrus tristeza virus are mounting steadily.
According to the Florida Department of Citrus, orange production in Florida could decline as much as 27 million boxes annually. Grapefruit production could drop up to 14 million boxes annually in coming years.
I wouldn't count on such losses in production, however. Citrus growers are a hardy lot and many of the affected growers will simply select a tristeza-tolerant rootstock and replant their groves.
Despite the quarantine and protocols worked out by the USDA to allow Clementines from Spain into all U.S. markets except those states having any commercial citrus (California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico), the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services discovered a shipment of the Spanish tangerines in a Sam's in Tallahassee on November 24. Of the 200 boxes received, 59 had already been sold before the shipment was discovered.
Apparently, the fruit came from a distribution center in Monroe, GA and the Tallahassee Sam's is the only Florida store supplied from that center. Some who opposed the USDA action are citing this as evidence that all states which border citrus states should also have been included in the quarantine.
ON THE LEFT COAST-
Mexican fruit fly has broken out in San Diego County, CA, threatening quarantines on avocados, citrus and other crops. The larvae were discovered last week in a grapefruit orchard about 30 miles northeast of San Diego. Officials are moving quickly to keep the pest from spreading.
Meanwhile, California's Washington navel crop is projected to get underway between now and mid-month.
AND IN TEXAS ...-
Fruit volume is down in comparison to year-to-date movement last season. For the most part, the prolonged wet weather in October is the culprit, as orchards Valleywide were often too wet to harvest. Now that dry weather has returned, we hope that the market can sustain the increase in volume without forcing prices downward. Realistically, prices are not so high as one would expect, given the reductions in both Florida and Texas crop estimates.
RICHARD HAGEN RETIRING-
The long-time, well-respected head meteorologist at Brownsville, Richard Hagen, is retiring. Richard is the last of the meteorologists from the old days when agriculture in general and fruit in particular received special attention from the National Weather Service. Even though the fruit frost forecast program was abolished some years ago, the Texas Citrus Industry could still count on Richard's training and experience to give us a more-detailed analysis of severe weather events which had the potential to damage citrus groves.
Richard has always been available to us and his unique insights into cold weather systems have been invaluable. While we wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement, we will miss him with each wintry blast that threatens South Texas and the Valley.
As you know, there are still no definitive actions on either side of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo either by Mexico to release any water or even "promise" to provide water, nor by the U.S. to impose sanctions. Oh, there's talk aplenty, but talk won't fill the canals when crops need water.
Meanwhile, reservoir levels continue inching upward to the point that there is a little more water there now than there was a year ago-about 2.31 percent at 33.73 percent of conservation capacity. In theory, then, we shouldn't be any worse off next year than we were in the current year. The problem is, however, that reduced irrigation water and rainfall over the last several years are taking their toll economically for all of Valley agriculture, as much cropland has been fallowed.
Citrus trees are tough in terms of surviving adversity, but continued, recurring moisture stress conditions limit growth and development of both the tree and its fruit. Generally, Texas groves have shown increased alternate bearing over the last several years. However, continued inadequacy of available irrigation has now resulted in two consecutive years of lower production.
Fertilizer is something we don't get too excited about in Texas citrus, as guidelines are pretty much established, so we just use the same material year in and year out. After all, citrus trees can't read fertilizer labels, so most growers opt for the least expensive source of nitrogen per unit of nitrogen, that is, not per ton of fertilizer.
A new fertilizer material called Xtend is making its debut in the Valley and it has a couple of attributes that you might want to consider in your operation. It is not volatile, which means that the material can lay on the orchard floor for weeks without losing its nitrogen. While it contains minor amounts of other nutrients, especially of microelements, its sulfur content is 19 percent, and sulfur, as you know, is good for our alkaline soils.
In my opinion, however, the 25 percent organic matter content of Xtend is its greatest attribute. Our soils, climate and cultural systems do not favor the maintenance of soil organic matter content, and I don't know of any grove which wouldn't benefit from added organic matter.
Price per ton is about the same as that of ammonium sulfate. Because
Xtend has a lower nitrogen percentage, the cost per unit of nitrogen
or cost per acre is a little higher but well worth it for its organic
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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