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Unless my math skills are undergoing a "senior moment", fresh utilization of Texas citrus was ahead of last season on the November 15 report from Texas Valley Citrus Committee, but then dropped behind on the November 22 report. The latter was the week before Thanksgiving, and I seem to recall that there was some scattered rain around some of the area, so that may be the explanation.
Regardless, total fresh utilization as of November 22 was approximately 1.60 million carton equivalents as compared to 1.73 million at the same time last season. The numbers are down for grapefruit, earlies, navels, and exports, so the setback was across the board.
The external quality is as good as I can recall-the fruit is really pretty. And Rio shape is the best I have ever seen. Fob prices are in the range that good pack outs should result in decent returns for growers-at least for the time being.
LATE RUST MITE DAMAGE-
Yes, rust mites are still around and causing problems in some orchards-despite the cooler weather and time of year. I suspect that some of the problem exists because many groves were simply too wet through most of September and October to permit growers to perform the fall cleanup spray application. By the time the soils dried out enough for sprayer operation, damage was already occurring. Just goes to show that even the much-needed rainfall, which certainly has helped Valley groves, is like the proverbial two-edged sword-it cuts both ways!
The threatened boycott of US products by the European Community over the US tariffs imposed on imported steel was initially viewed by most of the agricultural community-and especially the citrus industry-with an attitude of "So what?". Then the news began to break that not only is the threat serious, but that it could have dramatic impact on all of agriculture, including even on Texas citrus growers. When it was realized that nearly half of Texas processed grapefruit juice concentrate goes to Europe, the threat became of imminent concern.
Fortunately, through the leadership of Texas Citrus Mutual and others, progress has been made in adverting the boycott. Rumors are that President Bush will act soon to rescind the tariff on imported steel, which he imposed early in his Presidency. Sure, the tariff protected some jobs in the steel industry, but, in so doing, the resulting higher cost of steel cost some jobs in industries that use a lot of steel-and cost the average consumer more for the products manufactured from the higher-priced steel. The double-edged sword concept again.
The day will likely come when there will be no tariffs or other barriers to world trade-and probably sooner rather than later. Will that cost Americans? You had better believe it! Just go to your local supermarket and check out the produce section-a very highly significant amount of the produce available to us today, wintertime or otherwise, is from somewhere else. And it's not just produce, either. More and more of what Americans consume comes from somewhere else.
Hopefully, the latest actions at the USDA facility at Moore Field will go a long way towards restoring reasonable control of the citrus blackfly problem that just seems to keep getting more widespread, especially in the Upper Valley. The dark cast of trees over that way isn't because of lushness of foliage in response to all the good rains-the trees are black from sooty mold accumulation, and it is obvious even through the tinted glass of the pickup truck as one drives along the roads. Thanks to TCM, the industry, USDA and Vic French for taking the initiative on this matter. As I understand it, the USDA will be collecting one of the major predators to commence rearing them at the Moore Field facility so as to have a goodly number ready for the next flush.
FREE TRADE AREA OF THE AMERICAS-
The meeting last month in Miami broke up a day early, but participants report that progress was made. As you might recall, this was a meeting between officials of all 34 Western Hemisphere nations (except Cuba) to further the idea of creating free trade amongst all of the Americas.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the tariff on FCOJ imported from Brazil. Brazil is the world's leading producer of FCOJ (and oranges), but it exports the overriding majority of its production. Because of substantial production cost differences between the US and Brazil, the current tariff (which has been around for many decades) has tended to level the playing field for US (mainly Florida) growers and processors.
The fight has been going on for some time, and will undoubtedly continue into the future. The Florida industry is certainly concerned (to put it mildly) that elimination of the tariff, even by a gradual phaseout, will spell the end of the Florida citrus industry, as Florida growers costs far exceed those of their Brazilian counterparts, thus Florida growers would not be economically able to continue to grow oranges for processing.
Unfortunately, the fresh orange market cannot handle much more volume than currently exists-so conversion of any substantial amount of Florida's acreage from processing to fresh utilization is not a viable alternative, though certainly that would happen to some degree. Even there, however, fresh orange production could also see increased imports from offshore, further depressing the hopes of US growers to continue doing what they love to do-growing citrus fruit.
It should go without saying that Texas' fresh citrus industry would ultimately be affected as well. Any substantial increase in fresh orange supplies, from Florida and/or from offshore, will further depress prices in the US market, ultimately resulting in the situation in which grower costs so exceed returns that the groves will be sold off for development purposes or other land use, either of which would be more profitable than continuing to battle the elements, pests, and everything else to grow citrus.
The times, they are a changing-as always. To fully appreciate the future, one only has to look to the past. The railroads replaced the cattle drives; today, long-haul trucks have nearly replaced the railroads.
While I am almost certain that there are probably some regulations somewhere about the use of tax-funded facilities and personnel to convey any message that could be construed as having any semblance of religious connotation, the fact remains that the holidays are nearly upon us, so I wish you and yours all the best for the holidays.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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