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The coming citrus crop is generating a lot of interest as growers, packers, processors, investors and others begin planning for the new season's harvest. Louis Dreyfus Citrus is predicting Florida's orange crop to be 192 million boxes, which is a substantial decline from the 229 million of last season. They cite the effects of dry weather over the last few years and losses to citrus canker and CTV. Elizabeth Steger's estimate of August 22 is only slightly higher at 194 million boxes.
Industry sources suggest that Florida grapefruit production will also be down, primarily because overall grapefruit production tends to parallel that of oranges. Moreover, fewer total fruit would suggest increased fruit size of grapefruit.
Here in Texas, packinghouses and TVCC are trying to get a handle on the crop volume that can be expected. In general, production trends of the last several seasons suggests that this should be an "up" year with more grapefruit, more earlies and more Valencias than last season. The on-going shortage of rainfall and of irrigation water, however, may attenuate or even reverse the recent trend. Both factors may have resulted in higher soil salinity levels, which would lower productivity, regardless of long-term trends.
The USDA's official crop estimate will come out in early October.
For Florida that estimate is based on statistical sampling procedures
conducted by the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service. For Texas,
the estimate is not based on statistical sampling; rather, it is based
on some best guesses of the industry and the USDA.
The Florida Citrus Administrative Committee has pressed for higher maturity standards on grapefruit, despite some opposition from some grapefruit growers. The USDA has published an "interim final" rule of higher Florida grapefruit standards, but is receiving public comments through October 18, after which they should publish the "final" final rule.
The standards went into effect on August 29 and apply to all regulated fresh grapefruit shipments, which includes interstate and export fruit. The previous Florida standard was 7.5 Brix and a 7:1 ratio (Texas' standard is 9.0 Brix and 7.2:1 ratio). Under the new rule, Florida's grapefruit maturity is 8.0 Brix and 7.5:1 ratio minimum. At higher Brix values, the required ratio decreases but never lower than 7.2:1.
Essentially, the industry is trying to put a sweeter grapefruit in the market during early season, hoping that a sweeter early season product will generate repeat purchases, thereby increasing overall consumption.
There are projections that the new standards will delay startup in the Gulf District by nearly a month (to October), although others claim that some fruit will pass the higher standards by mid-September.
The rains of July were most welcome, but very little occurred in August. Current prospects for September are moderate, at best though widespread rains are commonly expected by the whitewing dove season opening, which is September 7.
The tropics have been relatively quiet this summer, but there are indications of increased activity in the last couple of weeks. Gulf activity may pick up, especially if TS Edouard crosses over Florida into the warm Gulf later this week.
And the 5-year cycle of the 1944 Water Treaty ends at the end of this month so any reduction in the projected 1.6 plus million acre-feet deficit has to occur soon. The Rio Concho basin has gotten some pretty good inflows in recent weeks, but relatively little water has made its way into the two international reservoirs on the Rio Grande-which comes as no surprise to anyone.
For your reading pleasure, the entire Citriculture section of my citrus website was completely rewritten and reposted in the last two months. Some of the original images were retained, but a lot of new images were included in the revisions. Check them out at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/citrus/culture.htm. Believe it or not, over 50,000 people visit this site every month if you aren't one of them, you really should see what you're missing (including you, Dave!).
I haven't seen that much splitting of navel orange fruit, which is somewhat of a pleasant surprise for this season, given the hot, dry conditions of August. Still, any significant rainfall in the next couple of weeks could dramatically increase the incidence of splitting.
Sheepnosing of grapefruit is still uncertain some groves are showing about normal levels, while others currently don't appear to have sheepnosed fruit. Without adequate rainfall/irrigation, the fruit really have not grown substantially this summer Still, size will increase with the addition of water, so sheepnose symptoms could yet be manifest where none appear at present.
Pest activity has not been unreasonable for the season, though a
rainy spell could change that rather quickly, especially with regards
to citrus rust mite populations. The fact that Florida's production is
expected to be down significantly (and ours may be) suggests a better
pricing opportunity for Texas fresh citrus this season but only if the
fruit is clean and has average to better fruit size.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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