VOL. 23, NO. 5
IN THIS ISSUE:
OLD CROP NEW CROP
THE TEXAS DILEMMA
As I reported last month, Louisiana has had a total of five confirmed cases of Huanglongbing (greening), with an additional detection in Bogalusa (Washington Parish) and another in New Orleans. Soon after posting that newsletter, I was informed of an infected tree in Charleston, South Carolina. I admit that South Carolina is a pretty good ways off, but the fact that the disease has been confirmed in two states other than Florida is more than cause for concern. Where else is it? When will it be diagnosed?
Texas HLB PowerPoint
In an effort to raise the awareness level of Texas citrus aficionados (and there are thousands of them, since citrus has been identified in at least 110 Texas counties), I was charged by Texas AgriLife Extension Service administration to develop a PowerPoint presentation on Huanglongbing for use by County Agents, Master Gardeners and the general public. Borrowing imagery from a lot of colleagues in Florida and others, I have completed the first step, which was to develop the PowerPoint presentation in time for the State Master Gardener Convention in Marshall, TX last week.
I previewed the presentation to a Master Gardener training class in Edinburg, then provided it on CD to Barbara Storz, CEA-Horticulture in Hidalgo County. Barbara was in charge of using it during the State MG Convention last weekend.
As of now, there has been no significant rainfall at my grove since mid-October—six and a half months and counting. Talk about feast or famine—over 40 inches from July 4 to mid-October, and little more than condensation in the rain gauge since. To be sure, there have been a couple of showers scattered around the Valley—I saw the result of 1.5 inches that fell in northern Starr County on April 19. Although the vegetation was really greening up, more rain will be needed to sustain it.
About the only consolation one can draw from the lengthy drought is that every day brings us closer to the time it will rain.
Old Crop New Crop
There is still quite a lot of fruit still in the groves—based on the crop estimate, there was an estimated 16 percent of the grapefruit crop left to pick as of April 18. Most of the packinghouses have already closed, but HVF is still going (I saw their trucks in a grove just this morning). Incidentally, the grapefruit crop estimate was revised upward on April 9 by a million cartons.
The estimate is kind of funny—the estimate for earlies was increased by 200,000 cartons on April 9, but there has been no significant movement of earlies since the end of March—only a few hundred carton equivalents. The effect of increasing the estimate is that it shows about 17 percent still to be picked, though it is obvious that they are gone. At the same time, the Valencia estimate was reduced by 100,000 cartons, which means that we have already surpassed the new number—and I think they are all gone too.
Despite the lack of rain, growers are keeping up with water demands, as every grove I have been in over the last couple of weeks shows pretty good fruit set so far. Obviously, the small, green berries are a little hard to see yet. We are three to four weeks from the conclusion of the final fruit drop period, after which fruit size will make it a lot easier to make guesses about the amount of fruit set.
According to the latest information, the Florida citrus nursery industry is alive and well. Those of you who attended the TCM Mid-Year Meeting in March heard that from Nate Jamison of BriteLeaf Nursery. In an article appearing in Citrus Industry Magazine (April, 2009), Timothy Spann reports that there are currently 42 commercial citrus nurseries in Florida—there were only 75 in 2000. The 42 have a production capacity of about four million trees per year. That’s about the total number of trees in commercial groves in the RGV. Each of those nurseries is thoroughly inspected monthly by the Florida Department of Agriculture Nursery Inspection group.
The FDACS Division of Plant Industry’s citrus budwood program went north to Chiefland, FL. The move was in part to get out of the heart of the citrus industry, but also to get away from most things citrus. If you’ve never been to Chiefland, it is pine tree country for endless miles and miles.
The facility is 82,000 square feet in size, containing nearly 1000 trees representing over 300 clonal selections of citrus, with a capacity of nearly 1200 selections. Essentially, it will contain approximately 400 trees representing the germplasm of the citrus industry—what we would call the Foundation Block or mother trees. In addition, there will be nearly 800 trees for budwood increase to supply to nurseries.
These latter trees are kind of like a pre-increase block, if you will, as it is the buds from these trees that are distributed to nurseries to establish mother trees and increase blocks for their own use (which also must be grown inside insect-resistant structures). Makes sense when you think about it, as it would be tough to grow four million trees a year on the bud production of those 800 trees.
In addition, the Florida industry is constructing a backup facility on IFAS property north of Gainesville to house one of every clone at Chiefland and trees of the Citrus Germplasm Introduction Program (new varieties developed within or outside Florida).
The Texas Dilemma
How does that relate to Texas as discussions continue about what our industry should do before HLB/greening or other severe diseases are introduced? Forgetting about a backup facility for the moment, look back at the size of the Chiefland facility—82,000 square feet. For any who are mathematically challenged, that’s basically 1.9 acres.
Most of us agree that there is little incentive to enclose Texas nurseries so long as our foundation trees and increase block trees are in the open and at risk. The money has not yet been “found” to build the insect-resistant structures over our budwood trees and increase blocks. Part of the failure to “find” the money is the comparatively large land area involved in our budwood program—several acres or so.
Our Foundation Block consists of wide spacing of duplicate trees replicated on three rootstocks, Do we really need that? Or can we not opt for duplicate trees on one rootstock, and closer spacing so as to reduce the expense of enclosure? Too, individual nurseries could develop in-house increase blocks, particularly for the non-commercial varieties so much in demand for the homeowner market. That would also reduce the increase block space required at our facility, and make it less costly to protect.
Just think about it—Florida’s entire future is relying on the trees in a two-acre insect-resistant enclosed nursery.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
Professor & Extension Horticulturist
2401 East Highway 83
Weslaco TX 78596
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