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SPRING AT LAST
Seems like just yesterday we were all marveling at the record snowfall that occurred Christmas Eve night; yet here it is March already! Navel oranges have pretty well completed bloom, oranges are in full stride, and grapefruit bloom won't be long in coming. I know that some orchards, especially grapefruit, had a pretty good bloom earlier, but I think that was mainly the result of leaf loss precipitated by disease, insect and cold weather. I saw some of that in oranges, but not so much as in grapefruit.
It seems that some growers have been concerned that grapefruit hasn't bloomed yet, but I am really at a loss as to why the concern. Typically, grapefruit doesn't begin to bloom until after oranges are finished. I cannot recall grapefruit bloom before about the second week of March, excepting for an occasional isolated grove that involved extenuating factors. I expect the bloom to come on strong in the next week or so, depending on how warm the days and cool the nights.
Meanwhile, enjoy the delightful fragrance of orange blossoms until then. If history is any guide at all, we will be experiencing daytime temperatures in the high 90's before March is over.
Bloom is underway in south Florida this week, but the smell of burning trees could mask the fragrance in some parts of the state. Citrus canker continues to be discovered in orchards (and dooryards), especially in the Indian River District, resulting in the loss of many thousands more bearing trees. Finds are being reported with such frequency that it is difficult to keep up with it all. Hopefully, all the misery and disappointment will end one day and Florida's growers (and homeowners) can go back to some semblance of normalcy.
Meanwhile, the Texas citrus season keeps plugging along. Grapefruit exports have tripled over last season, though domestic shipments are still lagging substantially behind last year, as only about 70 percent as much has been reported to date. On the supply side, percentage of the estimated crop is about even with last season at 38.6 percent remaining, though the estimated tonnage is 16 percent greater than was left at this time a year earlier.
Oranges are faring a little better, navels are up about 9.6 percent and may be finished by now, since the most recent report from Texas Valley Citrus Committee is for shipments through February 19, and there were no shipments of navels reported for that week. Earlies are getting closer to the end, though 11 percent of the estimated supply is still on-tree. Even so, current shipments are about 2.6 percent above last season. There is still more than enough volume out there that the total fresh usage could readily top last season's final volume of 1.4 million cartons.
Prices for Rio Star Texas Fancy grade are still up there in the higher altitudes, ranging from around $8.25 for 56's to as much as $24.25 for 27's. Early orange prices aren't that high, but they never are. Most recent quotes range from $7.25 for 138's to $10.75 for 56's. You just have to love market terminology; grapefruit is described as "demand moderate, market steady" while the orange deal is described as "demand very good, market about steady". I guess that translates to slow and steady for grapefruit, with oranges being a little more volatile-the market wants them right now, but that could change any day.
TEXAS CITRUS MUTUAL-
As I mentioned last month, the Annual MidYear (didn't they used to call it Mid-Winter?) Meeting of Texas Citrus Mutual is scheduled to be held at the Texas A&M University, Kingsville Citrus Center here in Weslaco during March 31. I would like to announce some of the program highlights, but I haven't seen the program as yet. For more information, I encourage you to contact TCM at their offices in Mission. I know Ray has had a plateful lately, what with the Water Summit and the EQIP meetings, but he should have the program finalized pretty quickly and I would expect that details and registration forms will be included in the next issue of The Grower newsletter to members.
There's not a whole lot to add to what was said in the last edition of Valley Citrus Notes; fertilizer should be on the ground now, herbicides should be ready to go, if not already applied and irrigation is either in the recent past or the near future. While I haven't heard much about the rains of the last week or so, I do know that about three-quarters of an inch occurred at my house in Weslaco last Friday and Saturday; but I think they were fairly widespread across the Valley, though not especially heavy anywhere.
With orange bloom being almost done and grapefruit bloom about to start, post-bloom monitoring for citrus rust mites will commence in earnest by the end of the month. I certainly encourage a bit greater attention to monitoring and the control of grade-lowering pests this spring, as the Florida situation regarding the extent of grove recovery from all the hurricanes is still uncertain. You might recall that severe defoliation of existing leaves by one hurricane was followed by a new flush of growth which was in turn stripped by yet another storm-and replacing lost foliage comes at the expense of fruiting.
The bottom line is that many of Florida's groves may not be able to
sustain a normal fruit set to maturity. If that does turn out to be the
case, prices for fresh fruit should be higher than normal again next
season (though undoubtedly not so high as current prices). With the possibility
of a second year of higher than usual prices, it would be nice to have
very clean, large fruit to take full advantage of the situation.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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