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The Louis Dreyfus group estimated the 2006-07 Florida orange crop at about 160 million boxes, but Elizabeth Steger's estimate came in at only 123 million boxes almost equally split among early/mids and Valencias. Steger's logic is that there has been significant tree mortality from citrus canker and from tristeza, coupled with the lowest number of fruit set per tree that she has ever recorded. Her methodology involves stripping all fruit from the tree.
Many in the industry were expecting a crop in the range of 180 million boxes, so they were surprised by the Dreyfus estimate a week earlier, and shocked by the Steger estimate. The FCOJ futures market responded to the estimates with prices up near $1.90 per pound of solids. For the record, last year's production finished at 151 million boxes of oranges. The official USDA crop estimate will be released in early October.
From the standpoint of prices, Tom Spreen of the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida told the audience at the 15th Annual Citrus Expo in Lee County last week that he would accept $1.60 a pound for early/mid solids, given the Steger estimate. He went on to add that at a crop in the 150 million-box range, the price would be around $1.35-1.45 for early/mids, with Valencias bringing about $0.15-0.20 more per pound.
NEW RULE FOR MEXICAN CITRUS-
The feds have just published a new rule for Mexican citrus that will allow untreated citrus from Mexico to be transported via truck or rail to the ports of Corpus Christi and Houston for export to other countries via ship. The action was taken in response to requests from the authorities of those two ports.
For transit through Texas (and/or other states) to Corpus and/or Houston, the citrus must be in sealed, refrigerated containers and insect-proof packaging. In addition, the route of transit must avoid citrus production areas.
The Rule was published in the Federal Register on August 23, 2006, to take effect on October 23, 2006. The Federal Register Number is E6-13986.
LIVING WITH CANKER-
According to reports from the 15th Annual Citrus Expo in Lee County, Florida, last week, Florida has recorded 692 new citrus canker finds since the eradication program was ended in January. According to Richard Gaskalla of the Division of Plant Industry of the Florida Department of Agriculture, most is south of State Road 60.
Growers from Argentina related their experiences with the control of citrus canker in that country. One indicated that six monthly copper sprays to lemons over a three-year period reduced the incidence of canker to 18-24 percent in sprayed groves, as compared to about 56 percent in non-sprayed groves. Another grower attributed a 40 percent reduction in canker to the use of windbreaks around the groves.
Windbreaks are planted in such a configuration as to slow the winds to less than 18 mph, which is supposedly the critical speed necessary for wind to impinge the canker bacterium into the leaf. Generally, windbreaks are planted around 10-acre blocks, though grapefruit, being more susceptible to canker, may benefit from smaller blocks.
While no one indicated just how effective the combined approach was, it seems that the best defense included monthly copper sprays during the season, better control of citrus leafminer (leafminer lesions are readily penetrated by the canker bacterium) and the use of windbreaks. Windbreaks include Australian pine, regular pine, eucalyptus and white poplar. Windbreaks reduce the effective planted area of a grove, but also offer the advantage of reduced wind scarring of fruit.
Citrus greening is still limited to a dozen counties in Florida, and only about 20 commercial groves. Some authorities expect more to appear in the future, simply because of the lengthy incubation time before symptoms are manifest by the tree.
In Brazil, growers are trying to control citrus greening by regular inspections of the trees (a minimum of four times a year) and a rigid psyllid control program. Infected trees are destroyed as soon as they are discovered.
The Florida citrus nursery industry was hit especially hard by the canker program, losing millions of trees that would have been used to replant or reset groves. The anticipated economics of the citrus market over the next few years suggests that there is a tremendous need for citrus nursery trees. Unfortunately, because of new rules'specifically the requirement for insect-proof screen enclosures of nurseries and the loss of a number of budwood-source trees, the need may not be met anytime soon. Even then, growers can expect to have to pay considerably more for a nursery tree.
In Texas, we are still pursuing surveys for the psyllid and for evidence of greening. So far, psyllid has been found from Del Rio to Austin to College Station to Houston and south to the coast or to the Rio Grande, but not yet confirmed in the Magic Triangle area of Beaumont to Port Arthur to Orange.
All samples taken for citrus greening analysis have been negative. In addition, no evidence of citrus canker has been observed.
Consequently, we must continue to push to keep these two diseases from coming into Texas, as exclusion is still our best option for the future. However, should exclusion fail, the industry is working closely with USDA-APHIS-PPQ, the Texas Department of Agriculture and personnel of the Texas A&M University System to be able to detect and control the diseases.
To that end, the USDA-APHIS-PPQ has a draft response plan for citrus canker in Texas, as well as a citrus greening response plan. The canker plan is subject to modification based on better science for Texas climatic conditions. In addition, it is the state's responsibility to provide the legal framework for accessing private property (dooryards, nurseries and orchards) to sample for the diseases. In addition, the state has to define the legal framework for a tree eradication program, should that become necessary. Through the leadership of Texas Citrus Mutual, efforts are underway to document these needs to the Texas legislature at its coming session.
Naturally, nothing is free, the amount of money that will be needed in the near future and in the long term is still being assessed.
The Texas summer has about run its course, but there has been little change in precipitation. At least there's no such thing as "negative" precipitation per se, or the annual totals would be going backward instead of standing still. But, even the lack of rain has its blessings-relatively few cotton fields got rained on at harvest; the present crop of whitewing doves did not flee into Mexico on the eve of Saturday's opener; and we are another day closer to a rainy day.
What is it and why does anyone care? It is a subtropical shrub to small tree which may have been the means by which Asian citrus psyllids came into Texas. As a citrus relative, it is close enough to serve as a citrus rootstock.
There are two major species of interest. Murraya paniculata (L.) Jack [also known as Murraya exotica (L.), Chalcas exotica (L.) Millsp., and Chalcas paniculata L.] has several common names, including orange jasmine, orange jessamine, satinwood, cosmetic-bark tree, and Chinese box.
The other species is Murraya Koenigii (L.) K. Spreng, which is the curry-leaf tree or simply curry-leaf. Its foliage is rather pungent in aroma and is a standard ingredient of curries in Indian (Asian) cuisine.
Both species are tropical. Jessamine is rather common in south Texas and along the Gulf Coast, while curry-leaf is present in the Valley, though I have no idea as to how common it may be.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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