IN THIS ISSUE:
Well, it's September and whitewing season, so the weather has turned a tad cooler and rainy-looking; a pattern that is expected to continue for a few days. The current conditions kicked off Sunday with the arrival of a cool front from the northwest to meet tropical moisture coming onshore from the spinoff of a short-lived tropical system that moved onto the upper Texas coast over the weekend. Hopefully, the way the month started sets the pattern for a normal September in terms of rainfall.
Two major pre-season forecasts of the coming Florida citrus crop were released during August, with an orange crop expected to be near the levels of two seasons ago. Louis Dreyfuss Citrus, Inc., pegged the orange crop at 226 million boxes, and Elizabeth Steger's estimate came in at 230 million boxes. These estimates confirm the market?s belief of a return to higher production, as the price of FCOJ is reported to be down in the 78 to 80 cents per pound solids range.
The official USDA citrus crop forecast will be released early next month, and it will include a "best guess" estimate of the Texas crop. The distinction of ?best guess? is because the estimate for Texas is a consensus of a number of industry leaders, while the Florida estimate is based on extensive, scientifically-conducted measurements in a lot of Florida groves.
In general, nearly 95 percent of Florida's orange crop is processed, while about 60 percent of its grapefruit is processed. Some sources indicate a slight decrease in overall Florida grapefruit from last season's approximately 38.5 million boxes, primarily as the result of decreasing acreage.
There was a time, just a few years ago-when Florida growers produced grapefruit volumes ranging from the high 40's to nearly 60 million boxes, and Texas growers were still able to compete and continue in business. Contrast that to the situation last season, one of the lowest Florida grapefruit crops in many years, and a short crop in Texas yet, Texas growers received some of the lowest returns they have seen in years. To be sure, the depressing problems of external appearance and shape were a hindrance to better returns, but the major problem is far greater and more serious, grapefruit consumption has taken a nosedive, and not just because of the medication interaction alarms.
AND THEN THERE WERE THREE-
With the August announcement that Heald's Valley Farms has acquired Mission Shippers, HVF is not only the largest grower of Texas citrus, they are now the largest shipper as well probably accounting for about 60 percent of total production. You might recall that Heald's acquired Donna Fruit, Pride of Texas and Valley Fruit in recent years. According to announcements, the facility and staff at Mission Shippers will continue operations at the existing site.
So, for the 2003-04 season, which will begin in the next couple of weeks, the industry will be picked, packed and sold by three majors; Heald's Valley Farms, Rio Queen, and Edinburg Citrus Association, and a handful of smaller operations. While the continued consolidation of packing and shipping operations may be in the best interests of those involved, and perhaps the entire Texas industry, the fact remains that Texas growers now have even fewer options for their production.
CITRUS RUST MITE PROBLEMS-
Rust mite problems just won't go away-it seems that as soon as one area finally gets a handle on them, they pop up somewhere else. While rainfall across the Valley has neither been consistent nor generally even up to average, the continued off-again-on-again rains have certainly contributed to the situation. The problem does not seem to be one of materials, as most materials seem to be effective-in the short term. Rather, the problem seems to be that residual control cannot be sustained, which leads back to the impact of weather on rust mite population dynamics. In some cases, efforts to economize by using a little less product than label minimums is also playing a role in the failure to achieve satisfactory residual control. Given the cost of some of the current miticides, it is sometimes difficult to resist the temptation to use an ounce or two less than recommended.
Experience with rust mite control materials suggests that there are roughly two classes of miticides available to growers-those with a quick knockdown but limited residual activity and those with little knockdown but good residual activity. Few products provide both good knockdown and good residual action, so many mite control operations include both a good knockdown and a good residual.
Meanwhile, growers should continue to monitor rust mite populations in the groves, as both history and current weather patterns suggest the probability of continued problems into the fall.
In visiting with a harvest fieldman a couple of weeks ago, the topic turned to fruit size. He observed that grapefruit in most groves which he had been checking was somewhat on the smallish side-which confirmed my own impression, as it appears to me that grapefruit size has not increased appreciably in the last month to six weeks or so. Normally, you might expect fruit not to grow very much when water is limiting, but the occurrence of spastic showers and apparently timely irrigation suggests that soil moisture has not been limiting.
It has been hot, no question about that, over the summer and citrus has this thing about not growing substantially in weather that is too hot. Such conditions result in the rind becoming inelastic, so it will not stretch, or increase in size, i.e., grow. It is these same conditions which result in extensive splitting of oranges, particularly navel oranges, during August and September and I have heard reports of (and seen) substantial numbers of navels splitting this season.
Smaller sizes going into September is not necessarily indicative of small ultimate fruit sizes, however. First, fruit size potential was established during the fruit set period from bloom through May when cell division was occurring. Increases in fruit size after that is merely a matter of enlargement of the cells that were formed then. Given the limitations to growth caused by hot weather, the onset of both the rains and the cooler weather which normally start in September should result in substantial increases in fruit size over the next couple of months. This season should be no exception, especially when one considers that the bulk of this season's grapefruit appears to be borne in singles rather in clusters.
Harvest operations will commence within the next two weeks, and the new season will be off to the races. Some observers don't see how it could get any worse than last year. Be that as it may, at least the early indications are that grapefruit shape and peel texture should be better than last season. Meanwhile, growers are still occupied with weed control, insect control (mostly rust mites, though isolated occurrences of some other pests always seem to pop up here and there at this time of year) and irrigation depending on where the rains fell or will fall.
Dr. Victor French, long-time research entomologist at the TAMU-K Citrus Center, was honored with the Texas Citrus Mutual Special Award at the Texas Produce Convention at South Padre Island last month. Vic's work with Texas citrus pests and their control is without equal and he is certainly one of the hardest working and most respected individuals with whom I have ever had the pleasure to work. Congratulations, Vic. Now, get back to work and solve these rust mite problems!
In case you were wondering how it is that Texas Department of Agriculture is in the forefront of the move to get the junk food out of public schools and I admit that I was curious about that, you need look no further than the announcement from TDA Commissioner Susan Combs office of the recent transfer of the USDA's Child Nutrition Programs from the Texas Education Agency to TDA. Somehow, that move seems like common sense.
As many of you already know, Craig Kahlke has resigned his position as the Budwood Program Coordinator to return to his native New York. However, both the Citrus Budwood Program and the availability of certified citrus buds to Texas nurseries will continue. In that regard, Texas Department of Agriculture has adopted some of the long-anticipated rules regulating the sale of citrus trees in Texas. Effective January 1, 2004, all citrus trees sold at retail in Texas must be tagged with an ID number and statement that such trees were produced in Texas.
It is with sadness that I learned via The TCM Grower of the passing of Ross Smiley on August 15. Most in the Texas citrus industry knew Ross through his service in Texas Citrus Mutual and as owner of Smiley Grove Care. Our deepest condolences to his wife, family and friends.
Dr. Juan M. Enciso (not to be confused with Dr. Juan Anciso, former citrus and vegetable IPM coordinator and now Extension Vegetable Specialist at Weslaco) joined us at the Weslaco Center on September 1 in the water management position which has been vacant for some time. The position is 55 percent Extension, 45 percent research. Juan comes to us from Ft. Stockton with expertise that includes irrigation engineering and management to optimize water resources in arid and semi-arid areas. He is married, with two children. Welcome and good luck to all of us in avoiding confusion between the two Juans!
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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