IN THIS ISSUE:
Vietnamese scientists have discovered that planting guava trees among citrus will effectively eliminate any threat of Asian citrus greening attacking the citrus because the guavas repel/control the pysllid vector. USDA scientists in Florida are pursuing interest in the idea.
According to the Vietnamese, the plantings need to be at a ratio of 1:1; that is, there has to be one guava tree interplanted into the citrus grove for every citrus tree. Given the number of citrus trees in Florida, I am not sure the market is there for such an increase in the volume of guavas that would be produced or that growers would even plant them.
Not only that, think about the tremendous increase in the number and type of fruit flies that we would face from so many guavas. When I worked in Florida many years ago, we used to joke that you only ate fresh guavas by candlelight (so as to avoid seeing the fruit fly larva in them).
This season's crop has been the subject of a lot of coffee shop talk and the infamous "liars club" is alive and well. As you might recall, the official estimate is for a substantial increase in this season's volume--nearly 30 percent for grapefruit and just under 20 percent for oranges. Recalling the greater returns that Texas growers have enjoyed the last couple of seasons, such volume increases surely induced "visions of sugar plums--but don't ignore the Grinch just because Christmas is over.
First of all, let's establish that the crop estimates for Texas are not based on comprehensive tree and fruit counts such as are carried out in Florida. Instead, the Texas estimate is more or less a consensus that is based largely on the opinions of several growers regarding their production. In the overall scheme of things, this system of estimation has worked fairly well, especially since periodic revisions (upward or downward) tend to minimize the difference between estimated and actual production.
Historically over the last seven seasons, the industry has shipped approximately 42.92 percent of the crop by New Year's. That percentage is comprised of 40.71 percent of the grapefruit (excluding exports--it's 41.78 percent when exports are included), 42.94 percent of its early oranges and 83.10 percent of its navels. Too, 57.82 percent of exports have traditionally been shipped by the New Year.
Now, let's look at the current season with respect to last season and to the average for the last seven seasons. The data in the table below were taken from the Texas Valley Citrus Committee compilations for utilization from the start of the season until the Saturday nearest the New Year.
Basically, the industry is substantially behind last season and the longer term average in all categories except early oranges. For all citrus (the "Total" line above) at New Year's 2007, we are behind last season by 14.11 percent and behind the long term average by 17.42 percent. That translates to a deficit of 525,604 cartons from last season, or 674,843 cartons from the long term average.
In actuality, though the data are not tabulated above, the combined orange movement is very close to both last season (up 45,944 cartons) and the long term average (up 49,648 cartons). Still, orange movement has not been as good as was anticipated, as the increase (less than 5 percent) is not in line with the estimated 18 percent increase in production.
The real problem, however, is grapefruit. All grapefruit, (the bottom line in the table above), is running 21.57 percent less than last year and 25.85 percent less than the seven-year average. That figures out to about 572 thousand cartons less than last season and nearly 725 thousand cartons less than the longer term average.
This grapefruit deficit, however, becomes even more ominous if you factor in that we are supposed to have 29 percent more grapefruit than last season.
A major reason--though certainly not the only one--is that our season was delayed by a couple of weeks due to rainy weather in late September into October. At 300 to 400 thousand cartons per week, the delay alone was enough to put us behind schedule.
Even so, there are other factors involved--pricing, competition, quality, et cetera. On the one hand, very high prices the last couple of years have undoubtedly turned off a lot of consumers. On the other hand, the Florida quarantines have been so well publicized that some consumers might think there is a shortage or that the available fruit is somehow not really fit to eat because of disease issues that resulted in the quarantines.
Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that we are behind schedule in moving this crop. If movement does not pick up substantially, we will likely be harvesting all the way through April just to move last year's volume. To handle the estimated increase in production, if it is there, should push us into June--not what any of us want to hear.
Though we had a little rain during the first week of the year, about all it did was to shut down harvesting for a couple of days. The reservoir levels have not changed significantly in the last couple of months--just below 75 percent of conservation level for the U.S. share, around 45 percent for the Mexico share.
Fortunately, the occasional rains, the short days and the generally cool weather have worked together to reduce the need for orchard irrigation. But as the saying goes about Texas weather, "if you don't like it, just stick around--it'll change". Sometimes that change comes sooner than we would like and perhaps in the wrong direction.
JULIAN W. SAULS
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