JANUARY, 2002 VOL. 16, NO. 1
The freezing weather that was forecast for the morning of January 3 was right on target-some temperatures in the mid-20's did occur in cold pockets to the west, but the high 20's was the norm across most of the Valley. Although temperatures did hit freezing somewhat earlier than expected, it does not appear that temperatures were at or below critical levels sufficiently long to cause damage to citrus-even in the colder areas where temperatures were below the critical level.
For now, a gradual warmup is expected over the next several days, with the possibility of a little rain as another Pacific front comes across. Hopefully, all remaining fronts will be Pacific, I've had enough cold weather for this winter.
COMPARATIVE CROP WATER USE-
During 2001, Rio Farms applied 26.6 total inches of irrigation water to citrus in 5.6 irrigations per acre for an average application rate of 4.7 inches per irrigation. Cane received a total of 37.8 inches in 4.5 irrigations per acre for an average application rate of 8.4 inches per irrigation. Total use on citrus was down barely (0.3 inches) from the prior season, while that on cane was down 9.4 inches. The decline on cane was due to 1.1 fewer irrigations, as the average application rate was 8.4 inches in both seasons.
Also in 2001, Rio Farms applied 16.4 total inches of water to cotton in 1.9 irrigations for an average application of 8.8 inches per irrigation. Similarly, corn received 18.4 inches in 2.0 irrigations, thereby averaging 9.2 inches per irrigation.
Thanks to Dale Murden of Rio Farms for the above data. It supports my contention that citrus has been wrongly perceived as a luxury crop in terms of water use. Yes, the data do confirm that citrus needs more water than cotton or corn but citrus is there all year while the other two crops are grown in less than half a year. If the land on which either crop was grown was then replanted to a fall/winter crop such as vegetables or corn, the combined water use for the land for the full year would exceed that of citrus.
The time may come when irrigation water in the Valley will become so expensive that growers will start to calculate returns per inch of irrigation water applied in order to determine which crops to grow. When that happens, we'll all be in trouble, as golf courses and subdivisions will be the most profitable land use.
INCREASED WATER DUTY-
Water districts traditionally calculate an average water use value based on the total number of acre feet pumped from the river divided by the total number of acres of all cropland for which they sold water tickets. Thus, leakage losses, evaporation losses, overirrigation losses (the tailwater that runs out of fields during and after irrigation), unauthorized use and yard water use are all included in the district's average water use figure. So, too, is the so-called "push water". It was this calculation that led to the commonly-used figure of half (or so) an acre foot of water per acre irrigated.
As the current water shortage scenario evolved, some districts found that their average use value increased-which is understandable when one considers the inefficiencies of filling the canals, then having them drawn down (by use and loss) before cranking up the pumps again. So, many districts had to adjust their calculations upward to maintain the balance between amount pumped and amount delivered.
A key component of the calculation is the accurate metering of water pumped from the river. That is to say that if a district is authorized to pump so many acre feet of water, then the meter or meters measuring that flow must accurately record the pumped water. If the meter errs on the low side, more than the authorized amount will be pumped. Conversely, an error on the high side means that the district doesn't get all of its authorized water, which reduces the apparent efficiency of its system and increases its calculated average water use value. Fortunately, IBWC and the Watermaster have sophisticated equipment that they use to verify meter accuracy.
The reason I bring this up is that because citrus water application rates are substantially lower than those for the three other crops reported above for Rio Farms, higher district averages penalize citrus growers to a greater extent than growers of other crops. For example, under limited allocations, a one foot average charge (or duty) per acre irrigated means that an acre of cane gets charged 3.6 inches more than the 8.4 inches it received, while an acre of citrus gets charged 7.3 inches more than the 4.7 inches it actually received.
To finish on water, the reservoir levels as of January 2, 2002, were at 32.2 percent of conservation level-which is lower than at any time in my tenure for this time of year. Too, 2001 closed without any significant development in the water treaty debt scenario. Mexico was supposed to have come up with a plan by 12/31/01 as to how they would repay the debt (by 10/02/02?), but that deadline passed with no action and none apparently forthcoming anytime soon.
Since Mexican officials are apparently still hoping for a miracle to refill the reservoirs and thereby cancel the debt, perhaps all water users in Texas and Tamaulipas who rely on the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo should join them in their prayers.
Texas Citrus Fiesta is scheduled for January 24-26 in Mission. As always, it will have something for everyone, but I would call your attention to the Citrus Youth Show which takes place on January 25 and 26. The youth involved do a great job?and I urge you to support them in any way you can.
TEXAS RED GRAPEFRUIT DAY-
Texas Red Grapefruit Day is January 23, 2002. To support this designation and the Texas Citrus Foundation, the 6th Annual Texas Red Grapefruit Golf Scramble will be held January 18, 2002, at the McAllen Country Club. Contact Billy Lyckman at 956/584-1772 or firstname.lastname@example.org for details and registration.
RIO GRANDE VALLEY HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY-
The annual Horticultural Institute of the Rio Grande Valley Horticultural Society will be held January 22 at the TAMU-K Citrus Center. Of special interest to citrus growers should be talks on the citrus root weevil, citrus greening disease and grapefruit supply costs. Registration is $20, which includes membership and lunch, and starts at 8:00 am. See you there.
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Through the weekend before Christmas, the industry had shipped 3.86 million cartons of fresh citrus, which is 4.1 percent better than in the prior season. Grapefruit is still lagging, but closing the gap more rapidly than a month ago. At 2.5 million cartons, grapefruit is still down 7.7 percent.
Early orange shipments are up a whopping 38.1 percent at 653 thousand cartons, and navel shipments are up 35.3 percent at 518 thousand cartons. According to Texas Valley Citrus Committee projections based upon the USDA estimates of October 12, 2001, there remains over 82 percent of the grapefruit crop and over 62 percent of the early/navel crop yet to be harvested.
Obviously, it will be a long grapefruit season if those projections are even close to actual. While I do expect fresh shipments to exceed those of the previous season, I think that it will be because of better quality and higher packouts rather than because of increased production. As you know, I think the estimates are higher than what?s out there.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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