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The bounteous rains of September were followed by a short period of drying out and then started again in early October. Another drying out period ensued, but was interrupted by the season's first truly cold front over the last weekend. Temperatures dropped into the 50's and 60's on Sunday, preceded by solid rains Valley wide, with a continuous light rain through most of the day and night, with clearing late Monday.
The wet weather has again interrupted the citrus harvest, while the sugar mill hasn't even started yet. Obviously, there will be some impacts on vegetable plantings-especially onions, as October is the planting window for spring onions in the Valley.
Citrus, of course, is really enjoying the plentiful fresh water, the trees have excellent color with a full, maturing fall leaf flush, while the fruit continues to size nicely. Perhaps the greatest news of all is that the reservoirs upriver have continued to experience good inflows, with current levels that are the highest since 1995. There is still a lot of unfilled capacity, however, so the long-term drought may have suffered a setback, but it isn't broken by any means.
The long-awaited citrus crop estimates released a couple of weeks ago were somewhat more surprising than anticipated. The big news is that Florida's total orange crop is forecast at a record 252 million 90-pound boxes, greatly surpassing the independent estimates that were made in August. The breakout is 137 million boxes of early and mids, which includes 5 million boxes of navels, and 115 million boxes of Valencias. The navel crop is down 7.0 percent from last season. As expected, Florida's red grapefruit production is up from last season at 25 million boxes, but still lower than the two prior seasons. Total Florida grapefruit is forecast as 42 million boxes.
For the Valley, the estimated grapefruit crop is at 212,000 tons, which is down about 5.7 percent from last season. As forecast, Texas grapefruit production is down for the third consecutive year since the 2000-01 season.
Texas early and mids, including navels, is estimated to be down about 3.0 percent at 55,250 tons-which also represents the third straight decline since the 2000-01 season. Texas Valencias are estimated to be up about 15 percent, continuing the upward trend of the last two seasons.
The main reason for the continued increase in Valencia production is the limited increase in plantings that started about half a dozen years ago. As for the continuing declines in grapefruit and overall orange production, the consensus of the industry is that overall citrus acreage in the Valley has been slowly decreasing-mainly due to increased pressures of urbanization, but also in part to the lack of adequate irrigation water resources over the last several years.
Grapefruit has really been sizing up nicely in the last few weeks in response to the rains and cooler temperatures. One thing that has been impressive is that the fruit in some Rio Red groves has very good, in some cases almost flat, shape and smooth skin. Obviously, the continued wet fields have not been conducive to looking at a lot of groves, so what I have seen may just be an anomaly.
I had the opportunity to address the Texas State Garden Club at its convention in McAllen last week, so I sliced up a bunch of Rios, Hendersons, navels and Marrs for them to sample-green skinned fruit straight from the orchard. Needless to say, they were favorably impressed with the color of Rio and the taste of all the fruit-especially at this time of year. I was forced to cite all packinghouses and fruit stands that I could recall so that the conferees could try to buy fruit to take back home with them.
CALIFORNIA NAVEL SEASON-
The California navel orange crop is estimated to be about 5 percent less than last season, but should have a better distribution of sizes. The somewhat warmer temperatures to date have delayed fruit coloring, which has delayed harvest a few days. While some fruit were harvested in late October, most expect to begin during early November.
The 7 percent decrease in Florida navels added to the California decrease of 5 percent should bode well for better grower prices for navel oranges. Texas does not have a navel estimate, as navels are included in early and mids-which are down about 3 percent. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate to let harvesters get into the orchards to get the navel crop into market channels.
On November 16-21, officials from 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere will gather in Miami to discuss a NAFTA-like Free Trade Area of the Americas. Basically, the idea is to create a no?tariff trading bloc between all nations of the Western Hemisphere. If this transpires, it will dramatically change the economics of this part of the globe.
One of the most significant impacts for citrus will be the loss of tariffs on FCOJ from Brazil. Most Central American and West Indies countries are already exempted because of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, while NAFTA has (or soon will have) eliminated existing tariffs on citrus from Mexico.
From the consumer standpoint, hemisphere-wide free trade is anticipated to reduce the cost of goods, especially of produce. However, it will also result in the shift of even more domestic US production of fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products to other countries because of their generally lower labor costs of production, harvesting and packing.
I know it is too wet to do anything, and most growers think it is already too late in the season for citrus rust mite control. However, the weather has been extremely conducive to population increases, so continued vigilance is necessary. In some cases, control may be necessary, but a complicating factor now is the proximity to harvest. In considering the situation, growers have to determine if levels are sufficient to control, and if so, they must also consider the choice of materials with respect to pre-harvest spray intervals.
In the case of navel oranges, for example, borderline economically damaging populations of rust mites may not justify spraying if harvest is expected within the next couple of weeks. The same is true for Marrs blocks with a similar harvest schedule. Grapefruit, however, is typically ring-picked early, so protection of that part of the crop that will not be ring-picked (commonly around 65 percent of the crop) may be necessary. Again, it should be emphasized that growers should consider the pre-harvest interval restrictions of potential control materials?as they are not the same for all materials.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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