|IN THIS ISSUE:
This season started with high hopes that quickly faded with the wet weather of early season that reduced harvesting access and led to post-harvest decay problems. As the season progressed beyond those problems, however, it just didn't get any better.
Overall fresh movement of Texas citrus is down by 16 percent through January. To break it down, grapefruit is off 12.8 percent, early oranges by 19.5 percent and navels a whopping 29.3 percent.
Grapefruit packouts have averaged around 67 percent. While grapefruit eliminations appear to be much higher than last season, a real comparison is not possible, since grapefruit eliminations until January of last season were not accepted at the TCX processing facility.
Orange packouts have averaged around 70 percent, which is somewhat lower than normal. Indeed, packouts are probably closer to normal, as a significant volume of early and mids were harvested direct-to-juice during January, thus inflating the processed volume above the actual volume of eliminations.
Short crops typically fetch higher prices-but such is not the case this season as f.o.b. prices are generally lower than during last season. Lower movement presumably reflects lower demand, and is apparently further depressing prices as packinghouses try to move their growers fruit into the market.
Is there good news about this season? Well, there is open optimism that most packinghouses expect to close by mid-May.
Well, the veritable drop in the bucket has apparently been provided, as the news is that ownership of 129,551 acre feet of water in Falcon and Amistad Reservoirs has been transferred from Mexico to the U.S. And you thought the deal involved some 180,000 plus acre feet to be provided by the end of January, didn't you?
Actually, it did-and it does. You see, all waters already credited to the U.S. from sources in Mexico since October 1, 2002, were included in the calculations. And, as usual, all waters received since October 1 are considered by Mexico as applicable to the 1.5 million acre feet debt from the last 5-year accounting cycle rather than as part of the current year's 350,000 acre feet obligation.
WEATHER AND NEXT YEAR-
With the return of El Nino, there is increasing optimism for a wetter-than-normal year ahead. South Texas (and northeastern Mexico) could certainly use a wet year, so we'll wait and see if the optimism is justified or just wishful thinking.
Meanwhile, winter has been generally cooler across the area, without the extended warmup periods that have been common in recent years. As a consequence of that and generally lower productivity of citrus orchards during the 2002-2003 season, the coming bloom should be very good, perhaps even exceptional.
The current short crop indicates that the trees should have abundant reserves to set a heavy crop for 2003-2004. Obviously, final set will depend on overall tree condition and water availability. Good grove care will promote good tree condition; but water availability is another matter entirely.
Adequate soil moisture into May will enhance fruit set, and current irrigation supplies should be sufficient to accomplish a good set. However, the matter of fruit size comes into play at the start of summer, as optimal sizing does not occur without adequate soil moisture through the summer and fall months.
So, the prospects are for a heavy bloom and a heavy set. Since a heavy set typically results in somewhat smaller fruit size, adequate soil moisture from rainfall and/or irrigation will ensure a fairly normal size distribution of the crop. Without adequate moisture, there will be a preponderance of small and undersized fruit.
The usual litany of pests is still causing problems in some areas. In some quarters, it is maintained that growers have "sprayed" themselves into the problem by using products or timings that have reduced or eliminated natural or biological controls-though I am not so sure of that scenario in all cases.
Nonetheless, the situation does suggest the need for revisiting pest control strategies before the coming season. There are some relatively new products for citrus pest control, as well as some good older products. Growers need to review their spray programs and materials choices of the last couple of seasons in light of the effectiveness of the pest control program as well as the occurrence of other problem pests that may have developed.
Growers sometimes stick with the same program and materials year after year-which is fine so long as it works. However, the occurrence of damaging populations of other pests suggests the need to re-examine what has been done.
For example, some growers quit using TemikŪ in recent years-but TemikŪ is perhaps the least disruptive material with respect to biological control organisms in the grove. Moreover, TemikŪ provides some suppression of whiteflies (and citrus blackfly is one of the whiteflies, just gray to black in color). Oil is another material that many growers avoid using, but oil provides very good control of many citrus pests, especially scales, with little disruption of most biological control agents.
Were these products used last season in groves which are currently
experiencing infestations of blackfly, barnacle scale, Florida red scale
or other so-called minor pests? I don't know, but it is a question growers
need to consider as they plan pest management strategies for the coming
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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