SEPTEMBER, 2008       

VOL. 22, NO. 9                                                                             




Steger’s Estimate—

Elizabeth Steger has released her mid-August estimate for the 2008-09 Florida orange crop.  According to her estimate, production will drop from last season’s final of about 170 million to 150 million 90-pound boxes.  The decline is due to continuing tree losses to citrus greening and to fewer fruit per tree.  The USDA’s estimate will be out in early October.

Tax Proposal—

Florida industry organization leaders are considering a proposal to convince the USDA to impose a tax on fresh and processed citrus produced and/or imported into other citrus-producing states.  The proposal was drafted by Kristen Gunter, Executive Director of Florida Citrus Processors Association, and has been forwarded to other Florida citrus organizations for review and support.

Under the proposal, a one-cent tax on all fresh citrus and juices produced (and imported) would supposedly generate about a million dollars for research to combat diseases such as greening.  The math escapes me, as there are supposedly 420 million gallons of citrus juices alone that would be taxed, which at a penny a gallon comes out to better than $4 million just for juice.  No action by Congress is needed, as the USDA could simply be persuaded to impose the tax as they did this past May regarding US sorghum production.

All US citrus producers and juice importers would be subject to the tax—and that is a major stumbling block, as it would be expected that such a tax would not be imposed without the support of citrus organizations in California, Arizona, Texas and other states.  It would at least be the courteous thing to send a copy of the proposal (draft and otherwise) to the citrus organizations in these other states for their review.

Texas Produce Convention—

Because of Hurricane Dolly’s damage to the facilities where the TPC was scheduled to meet in August, the meeting has been rescheduled for September 18-20 at the McAllen Convention Center.  The program will apparently be the same as previously prepared.

The Dolly Saga—

While Hurricane Dolly is history, the damage lingers.  The resultant flooding in the Valley really pointed up some serious drainage problems in parts of the Lower Valley.  The area of road construction between Mercedes and La Feria was bad, but I don’t know if that would be true when the roadway construction is completed. 

Traffic both ways was already diverted to the frontage roads while the main roadway was being rebuilt, but the frontage roads just did not drain, staying a foot or more under water for nearly a week, thereby forcing eastbound traffic down to Business 83, while westbound traffic was rerouted single lane onto a part of the old Expressway roadbed.

The Tio Cano lakebed between La Feria and Santa Rosa was especially bad—flood waters had to be pumped into tank trucks and hauled to the floodway, which took an awful long time.  I am not even sure that FM 506 between the two towns is open yet.  While most people see Tio Cano Lake as starting just west of Kansas City Road just north of Tio Cano Road, you can see the original lakebed a mile or so west of there, across Parker Road and FM 506 to Louisiana Road and even westward as far as East Cantu Road a mile or so north of Tio Cano Road. 

Unfortunately for those people who built in that old lakebed, Dolly’s heavy and extended rains filled it to near its original shorelines.  Drainage capacity from the lake did not match the amount of drainage into it under the heavy rainfall conditions spawned by Dolly, so quite a few houses remained flooded for several weeks.

Tropical Storm Fay—

As you know, TS Fay made a total of four landfalls in Florida—she crossed the Keys into the Gulf, then crossed into southwest Florida, exiting on the east coast, reentered up near Jacksonville, reentered the Gulf in north Florida and finally went ashore again in the Panhandle.  She never made hurricane strength, but she produced an awful lot of rain.  Flooding was very severe in many areas, including some of the citrus areas of Southwest Florida and the Indian River area. 

There was not a lot of fruit loss reported, since the wind speeds stayed below hurricane strength for the entire journey.  However, the possibility of tree damage from standing water is still being assessed, since the rains were extremely heavy and continued long after the storm passed on out of the lower Peninsula. 

Some growers reported having pumped water out of groves for days just trying to keep up with additional rains, while others report that some groves in South Florida still had water over a week later.  The lengthy submersion could result in subsequent fruit loss as feeder roots die and the trees wilt.

Aside from flooding and potential death of citrus tree feeder roots, Fay’s track through the state probably spread the citrus canker bacterium around a bit, possibly negating some of the gains that had been accomplished in terms of its suppression in groves in the major fresh fruit areas of south Florida.


Another storm developed down in the Caribbean just below Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti).  It actually developed into hurricane strength before it crossed over the long lower peninsula of Haiti, and then degraded to tropical storm status again.  It headed over open warm water towards Cuba, but then did a hard left turn and moved almost due south to a point about 80 miles east of Kingston, Jamaica as of early Thursday.

At that point, Gustav turned west and wobbled its way across Jamaica, coming back over open water at the western end of the island early Friday.  Over the  weekend, Gustav barreled across the western tip of Cuba into the Gulf, and quickly intensified to a Category 3 storm on a beeline towards the Louisiana coast just west of the mouth of the Mississippi River. 

As it neared landfall on the Louisiana coast, Gustav has weakened to Category 2 and should cross the coast by midmorning today.  The track is expected to proceed northwest across southern Louisiana and then turn a bit more westerly as it nears the Texas-Louisiana border.  As it wanes going across lower north Texas, it is expected to bring significant rainfall to that area.

Tropical Storm Hanna—

The eighth tropical storm has been out in the Atlantic for several days now, but it has been rather erratic to date.  Initially, the forecast track called for a turn to the southwest with a target of Cuba, but over the weekend, that forecast track was nullified as forward speed dropped off to barely 2 mph in a westerly direction.  As of Monday morning, the new track puts it on a parallel with the Bahamas, being somewhere off to the east of Jacksonville, FL late Thursday, with possible landfall at the Georgia-South Carolina border sometime Friday.

Present position is north of the Caicos Islands, about 90 miles north-northeast of the southern Bahamas, moving westward at about 2 mph, with sustained winds of 50 mph.  The expected turn to the northwest is expected to start tomorrow.

Other Systems—

There are currently four additional systems between Hanna and the African coast, though the nearest two are not expected to develop much beyond their current status.  The third one is about halfway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles and it is beginning to look like a tropical depression.  It is currently listed as having better than 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm in the next day or so.

The last one is a tropical wave coming off the coast of Africa that is showing signs of organization.  It could become a tropical depression in a couple of days.  Just so you’ll know, the next storm that develops will be named Ike, followed by Josephine and Kyle.

Current Situation—

Groves have really responded to so much fresh water, with a new flush beginning to cover the bare twigs and branches stripped by Dolly’s winds.  Twigs that were broken but still attached have now dried up—as did the fruit on those twigs—but there doesn’t appear to be a lot of subsequent fruit drop.  Scarring may be a bit worse than normal, so there may yet be packout issues for those groves that were most affected by the winds.

Rains, however, have continued since the storm, especially in the Mid- and Lower Valley—I can’t recall a week without at least three-quarters of an inch.  Western Cameron County got another five to six inches over the last weekend, with a couple more inches in mid-week.  The end is still not in sight, as the weekly outlook continues to include rain—and the September rainy season is just ahead.

Some are saying the drought is broken, and it would be hard to dispute that.  Yet, that could well be only temporary, inasmuch as the yearly average total rainfall occurred in July and August.  Remember, it rained almost all of last summer (2007), and then turned dry and stayed that way until the first of July this summer. 

For example, rainfall at my home in Weslaco totaled 3.35 inches in the nine-month period from the first of October to the end of June, but July and August of this year measured 17.55.  Similarly, at my grove northwest of La Feria, I recorded 4.6 inches during that period, but I have dumped 26.95 inches since the first of July (and that is conservative, since the rain gauge overflowed twice during Dolly).

Rust mites are not something I care to think about at the moment, as most groves continue to be too wet to spray.  Unfortunately, I know the little devils are out there causing damage and the continuing rains favor their increased development while preventing access for control efforts.

Increased fruit size could make up for much of the lost fruit volume due to Dolly, particularly in the southwestern to western end of the Valley—but size isn’t going to do much for the losses in the east.  Fortunately, the lion’s share of the commercial citrus acreage (about 85 percent) is in Hidalgo County and the majority of that acreage was spared the worst of the winds.

Having remained rainy at worst and cloudy at best, fruit is not maturing as fast as it could be.  It is still a bit early, but the prognosis is that harvest probably will not commence until October.


Professor & Extension Horticulturist
2401 East Highway 83
Weslaco TX 78596


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