|IN THIS ISSUE:
THE 2000-01 CROP
Texas's total citrus production for 2000-01 was finalized at 379,761 tons-which represented an increase of 23.46 percent above the prior season. In actuality, total production was even higher than that, as an undetermined volume of grapefruit was not harvested. In some cases, the unharvested production represented the total production of a grove, although the more common situation was that the final cleanup harvest was not conducted.
Unfortunately, most of the production increase went to processing, inasmuch as total fresh shipments increased by only 0.85 percent. Harvested grapefruit production increased by 20.43 percent to 285,560 tons, though fresh utilization increased by only 1.8 percent. Early and navel orange production increased 36.26 percent to 84,805 tons, but fresh utilization actually declined by 5.91 percent. Valencia production was up by 14.68 percent to 9,796 tons, with fresh utilization increasing by 27.6 percent.
Prices for all types were well below those of the previous season and grower returns were, for the most part, extremely low. In far too many cases, returns were well below the breakeven point-and some returns failed to cover harvesting costs.
The silver lining to last season is that it's finally over. Conceivably, some modest juice returns should be forthcoming in the next two or three months: last season's processed oranges and grapefruit for 1999-00.
According to the philosophy that it can't get any worse, growers are cautiously optimistic about the current season. California's Valencia crop has been estimated to play out before their navels are ready-although sluggish price and demand suggests that a lot of Valencias are being held on-tree for later harvest, i.e., there could still be Valencias when the navel season commences.
Given that Florida's grapefruit growers had as bad or worse season than we did, and given the severity of their lack of rainfall during the critical spring months, some acreage may have been "economically abandoned" as far as the fresh market is concerned. Certainly, the dry weather should have reduced set and fruit size unless substantial irrigation was provided. Too, trees on sour orange have been declining at about 8 to 10 percent annually for the last couple of years, which is about double the usual losses.
The high production of last season in Texas should not be repeated this year. Rio certainly exhibits mild alternate bearing, which suggests that it will be down a little this season. Marrs, which is the primary early orange in Texas, is strongly alternate bearing, so its production should be significantly down this season.
Now, if we can just convince traditional grapefruit consumers to demand research into lowering the prescribed dosages of some of the medications which are apparently more greatly absorbed when grapefruit is consumed. After all, a grapefruit a day is considerably less expensive than the medications involved-especially at the prices received last season!
This group is charged with the onerous task of figuring out how to improve grapefruit profitability via increased utilization. They have identified several key challenges which I repeat here with my parenthetical comments:
The Committee engaged the Compendium Group, Inc. of Danvers, MA to research preferences and perceptions among the distribution chain, consumers in general and both light and heavy grapefruit users. When the research is done, they expect to be able to develop a strategic plan to boost sales of both fresh and juice.
Obviously, we wish them well, as the ultimate goal of increased sales will help the Texas industry, too. I just wonder why they don't include a separate group of consumers who don't consume any grapefruit at all-wouldn't that be interesting? After all, you can't realistically expect current grapefruit consumers to eat or drink all of our production-we really need new grapefruit consumers.
Some members of the Committee will be visiting Texas (and California) in the near future. One of their efforts to address the idea of consistent taste involves trying to establish a federal maturity standard that would be all inclusive-California, Arizona, Texas and Florida plus imports from other countries. And there appears little doubt that they would like to see the Texas standard, as it is the higher. I suspect that some Florida groups would oppose a higher standard (which could reduce early-season sales) and I cannot imagine western growers going for it-even though grapefruit from California and Arizona generally do not compete much with Texas and Florida. There is sentiment, however, that consumers "turn off" on the summer grapefruit from California and Arizona and just won't come back to the market during the early season in Texas and Florida.
TEXAS PRODUCE CONVENTION-
This annual event is being held a little earlier this year-and over the weekend, too! The dates are August 18-20 in San Antonio. The primary hotel is the Marriott Riverwalk, with the conferences and trade show in the Henry P. Gonzales Convention Center.
Considering the disastrous season just concluded, all citrus growers should be eager to be there to hear Melinda Goodman's marketing plans for the coming crop. Ms. Goodman, as you know, is the new Marketing Director of TexaSweet. Both Mexfly and Diaprepes will be formal topics of discussion, as will the medication-grapefruit interaction. And that's just in the citrus section.
The general sessions will include some highly-placed speakers espousing their views on the outlook for Texas produce and potential use of Texas produce in USDA programs. Too, Susan Combs will address the final breakfast session.
While all of that is well and good, the trade show is always a delight as exhibitors show off their latest products. And don't overlook the cameraderie of associations with growers and exhibitors, as well as the allied events.
THE WATER DEBT-
As you may have noted, there has been no increase in water supplies in partial payment of Mexico's water debt-yet the July 31 deadline will have passed by the time you read this. About all I have heard is that officials in Mexico have asked for an extension of the deadline to September, citing continued drought as the reason for their inability to meet the July 31 target. Actually, the requested extension was already built into the present commitment.
As I pointed out some months back, the July 31 target was predicated on substantial inflows of 50-50 water and/or substantial inflows from runoff occurring downstream from the impoundments on the various named tributaries in Mexico. That is to say that either scenario was (and still is) based solely on rainfall that didn't occur-as release from impoundment was not part of the agreed commitment.
FLORIDA PRICES IN 2000-01-
Lest Texas growers think we're in this boat alone, it might be interesting to look at Florida's season average prices for U.S. No. 1 citrus fruit, weighted for size, fob packinghouse. Early and mid-season oranges at $6.21 per carton were down 6.6 percent, navels ($6.84) were down 23.1 percent while Valencias ($6.83) were up 5.2 percent.
For grapefruit, Gulf reds at $6.69 per carton were down 10.4 percent, Sunridge reds ($6.55) were down 11.2 percent, while Indian River reds ($7.20) were down 6.4 percent. Remember, these were prices on 4/5 bushel cartons of U.S. No. 1 grade for the whole season, prices for lower grades and juice are not included. As one veteran Florida grower told me, the price for processed oranges dropped everytime the official crop estimate was lowered! Go figure.
Continued hot and dry is the prognosis-which is good news to cotton growers who intend to pick rather than shred their cotton crop. A brief relief passed across part of the Valley last week, with up to about 3.0 inches of rain reported in a few locations. I hope your groves were under the storm, but I know that most weren't.
Despite the weather, rust mite populations have been increasing to damaging levels in many orchards in the last two or three weeks. If you haven't experienced the need for control yet, be especially vigilant in monitoring the situation.
The Texas Agricultural Extension Service has just undergone a name change-henceforth, county Extension personnel and all other Extension employees will be known as Texas Cooperative Extension. We fully expect to continue our long tradition of service to all Texans, regardless that we no longer have "agriculture" in our name.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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