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The U.S. citrus crop estimates for 2002-03 followed the early indications of a significant decrease from last season. The Florida orange crop is pegged at 197 million 90-pound boxes, which represents a reduction of 14.3 percent. Similarly, the Texas orange crop is forecast down about 9.2 percent at 67,150 tons. Although California/Arizona orange production is expected to increase by some 12.5 percent, the overall U.S. orange crop is down.
For the all-important grapefruit market, Florida's crop is down 11.1 percent at 42 million 85-pound boxes with no economic abandonment expected. Texas grapefruit is also down, about 5.1 percent at 224,000 tons. With only a modest 3.3 percent increase in California/Arizona, the U.S. grapefruit supply is down.
Normally, lower crop estimates translate into higher prices at retail, but only modestly higher prices to growers. If you think about it, any decrease in production must be accompanied by an even larger increase in the price paid to growers just to maintain the same level of returns. Confused? Look at it this way, if you produce 10 percent less fruit this year, you need 11.11 percent higher returns to equal the same amount of money you made last year.
Well, more meetings and "highest priority" discussions have come and gone and there's still no word that Mexico is going to release any water from its dams. In fact, the big meeting at IBWC offices in El Paso on Monday ended with Mexico still not providing any kind of plan for either repayment of the deficit nor for future annual obligations under the treaty. Many local and state officials now believe that the U.S. State Department is sufficiently fed up with the situation that they will consider sanctions against Mexico. We'll see.
Too, a long-awaited report commissioned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality concludes that Texas cannot sue Mexico over the treaty problems because Texas is not a party of the treaty. Since we already knew that, many believe that the report should have considered what options Texas might pursue against the federal government. So, what else is new.
For one thing, it has been confirmed that irrigators in the Rio Conchos valley used an average of 74.4 inches of water per acre during the last season. By contrast, South Texas irrigators received an average of about 7.2 inches. Farmers in the San Juan basin received 27.6 inches per acre, while those across the river from us received zero, zip, nada. Obviously, the San Juan waters stored in Marte Gomez near Rio Grande City do not belong to our northern Tamaulipas neighbors.
But, back to the Rio Conchos there simply are no crops that can be grown in that area that require 74 plus inches of water, even in the Chihuahuan Desert. With the possible exception of perennial crops such as alfalfa, pecans and apples, all other crops grown there are basically spring to summer or early fall crops. Even the perennial crops don?t use much water in late fall through winter. Obviously, waste and inefficiency are devastatingly high.
According to IBWC data, Mexico had about 2.26 million acre-feet of water in storage as of October 21. However, about 46.8 percent of that is behind El Cuchillo and Marte Gomez dams on the San Juan River all of which, by treaty, belongs to Mexico, so there was only about 1.2 million acre-feet behind the dams on the tributaries are supposed to provide 350,000 acre-feet annually to Texas. That volume is about 27.5 percent of conservation level capacity.
Some would argue that Mexico owes us over 1.5 million acre-feet of water, regardless of where the treaty denotes that it come from including the San Juan. Actually, the treaty does not specify "us", the Valley, South Texas or even Texas, the obligation is to the United States. While unlikely, it is not inconceivable that Mexico could decide to repay part of the its obligation by foregoing some of the water it receives from the Colorado. Given the kind of support we have been getting from the State Department, they would probably accept such a deal-leaving us as dry as ever.
Meanwhile, the U.S. waters in Amistad and Falcon equal 28.79 percent of normal while Mexico's share is 18.22 percent of normal. However, the percentages are a little confusing in that they represent the percentage of each country's conservation level. Actually, about 958 thousand acre feet belongs to the U.S. and 452 thousand acre feet belongs to Mexico. In other words, Mexico owns nearly one-third (32.1 percent) of the water in storage.
I wanted to report the actual volume of the deficit as of the end of the 5-year cycle on October 2, but officials with IBWC who would know are out of the office until late Thursday or Friday. Given the volume of information that is available on the IBWC website, I cannot imagine why the allocated inflows (and the source of such inflows) are not posted on a monthly basis.
As most everyone knows, the Valley received excellent rainfall during September and even more during October. While the recent rains have created harvesting problems, we can take comfort in the fact that soil moisture levels going into the winter months will be excellent. With the winter expected to be on the wetter-than-normal side, orchards should enter the spring with good soil moisture levels. After that, it is anybody's guess as to whether growers will have the irrigation water they will need.
Citrus rust mites have continued to create problems throughout the fall as the rainy, cloudy weather has been favorable to their development. Hopefully, the fall sprays prevented economic damage-but damaging populations can continue into the winter months, so monitoring should continue.
The plentiful rainfall of the last two months has thoroughly washed the trees and fruit, giving both a great appearance. Too, with shorter and cooler days, fruit is sizing nicely and peel color is advancing.
Although some harvesting delays have occurred, the need for fruit means that harvest crews will be going into groves before the soil has dried sufficiently. Consequently, soil compaction and perhaps even deep rutting will occur and will require correction before spring.
Given the turgor (relative water pressure) inside the fruit as the result of high soil moisture and general weather conditions, oleocellosis (oil spotting) is of major concern-especially on oranges. Oleocellosis occurs when oil glands in the rind rupture because of fruit turgor and rough handling and it appears while the fruit is in degreening rooms. Under conditions that are favorable to the occurrence of oleocellosis, most packinghouses know to delay harvest until late morning (at least) or afternoon to give the fruit an opportunity to lose some of its turgor.
Too, pickers should wear padded gloves and be a little gentler in their handling of the fruit both in picking the fruit and in dumping it into bins. Fork lift operators in the field and in the packinghouse should also exercise greater care in moving fruit bins, as a sudden jolt can cause oleocellosis on every piece of susceptible fruit in the bin.
A couple of years ago, I reported that grapefruit in a couple of groves was dropping readily, even with the slightest shaking of the limbs. In all cases, the fruit was mostly small, but had no damage to the rind. For the most part, the affected fruit were on twigs that appeared to be dying but no cause was apparent. Dr. Vic French has encountered this problem in a couple of orchards within the last couple of weeks-but not just grapefruit. He also encountered very high numbers of false spider mites, but is not suggesting that the mites are responsible for the twig decline or the fruit drop. Nonetheless, he is working on the problem, so if you have this situation, give Dr. French or me a call.
An estimated 1700 farmers from the Valley to upriver to Val Verde County are estimated to be eligible to apply for a part of the $10 million in federal aid authorized through the efforts of Senator Hutchison. Applications will be accepted from November 1 through December 16, after which TDA will ascertain the total acres in the applications and then divy up the money on a per-irrigated-acre basis.
Applications should be available at water district offices, Texas Cooperative Extension county offices and the local TDA offices. In addition, applications are available on-line at TDA's website (www.agr.state.tx.us).
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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