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The three rainy weekends in February were mostly a blessing for citrus orchards, as the water was really needed. Despite the number of "El Nino"-driven Pacific fronts that have moved across Texas in the last few weeks, producing considerable rainfall to the north, very little rain occurred in the watersheds of the Valley, as reservoir levels haven't changed much since the start of the year.
The rains and mild temperatures have combined to really push the spring flush and bloom in all varieties, especially in orchards that had suffered significant defoliation over the fall and winter months. The bloom appears quite heavy, so the prospects for increased fruit set in 1998-99 would appear to be good.
With the exceptions of 1995-96 and 1997-98, overall grapefruit production has increased annually in the 1990's. The December, 1996, freeze in the Upper Valley is at least partly to blame for the decline in this season's production. If I'm not mistaken, 1995 was the year that Asian citrus leafminer caused very severe damage to the May growth flushand that was also a very bad year for sheepnosing. Conventional wisdom would suggest a dramatic increase in grapefruit production in the coming season.
Early oranges have pretty much alternated, being up in 1992-93, 1994-95 and 1996-97, relatively flat in 1993-94 and 1997-98 (estimated) and down in 1995-96. As in grapefruit, the conventional wisdom would suggest a dramatic increase in early orange production in the coming season.
Navel orange production data are not really available, as the only data are for fresh utilization. Unlike grapefruit and early oranges, navel production increased rather steadily through 1995-96, declined nearly 10 percent in 1996-97 and jumped about 35 percent in 1997-98. Can this year's navel crop be surpassed? Yes, as the estimated 10,350 plus tons is an average of only about 3.5 tons per acre. So, I would expect navel production to increase, but I don't know about conventional wisdom when it comes to navels.
Valencia production has been most consistent; recording at least modest increases every year. While the current Valencia harvest is just underway, the crop estimate is sufficiently high that production should easily surpass that of last season. While Valencias are of generally lower productivity than early oranges, the average yields are still quite low, so one would expect Valencia production to continue to increase steadily into the future.
FRESH UTILIZATION TRENDS-
The volume of fresh citrus is usually a little different from total production. As the total supply increases, fresh utilization also increasesbut usually at a slower pace as competition and quality begin to tighten. This is illustrated by the fact that even though fresh utilization increases, the volume of fresh as a percentage of the total actually declines.
For example, fresh grapefruit utilization (as a percentage of total production) declined steadily from about 72 percent in 1992-93 to 64.3 percent in 1995-96. For reasons I am at a loss to understand, it then reversed in 1996-97 to 67.9 percent and would appear to be even higher this season. Nonetheless, the actual volume of fresh grapefruit dropped in 1995-96, rebounded last year and looks to be lower again this year.
The volume of early oranges utilized fresh has increased every year, but as a percentage of total production, it has been a roller coaster. About 85 percent went fresh in 1993-94, dropped to 55 percent in 1994-95, went up to 75 percent in 1995-96, dropped to 55 percent again in 1996-97, and looks to be up to about 64 percent this year.
Fresh navel orange volume increased rather steadily until a 9 percent drop in 1996-97, then continued its upward climb in the current season. Since total navel production is unknown, I cannot compare fresh utilization as a percentage of the total. Was the drop in fresh navels in 1996-97 because of lower production, lower quality or both or because of some other reason(s)? Mostly likely, the drop resulted from the December, 1996, cold weather.
Valencia orange utilization fresh has been quite good at about 97 percent of total
supply in both 1992-93 and 1993-94, then at about 92 percent in both 1994-95 and
1995-96. The percentage dropped to 77 percent of the total last year, and the actual
volume of fresh Valencias dropped about 15 percent from the previous year. Since
total production was up, but fresh utilization was down last year, I suspect that the
primary reason for the reduction in fresh utilization of Valencia oranges was damage
resulting from the December, 1996, freeze.
I have often wondered if Texas growers could grow early oranges exclusively for processing, as is most of the orange acreage in Florida. Past attempts to make processing pencil out have never succeeded, for a variety of reasons which include higher irrigation costs, higher weed control costs and lower productivity per acre.
A typical juice orange production program in Florida involves only a summer spray, usually oil and a miticide, which is certainly an inexpensive pest control program. Many juice orange operations in Florida are not irrigated because rainfall is usually adequate, but others use supplemental irrigation.
In looking at the production and utilization trends of Texas citrus, especially in view of the current probabilities of limited irrigation, increased early orange production, lower fresh utilization and lower prices for early oranges, the idea of processing oranges has come back to pester me again. In other words, if 30 to 40 percent of the total early orange crop is going to be processed in 1998-99, would it be feasible to grow some of these early oranges strictly for the juice market?
The premise is that early oranges return the least money per acre of all Texas citrus except Ruby-Sweet grapefruitin part because so much of the early orange crop is picked straight to the juice plant in years of high total production (for example, the 1994-95 and 1996-97 seasons). If historical trends are valid, the 1998-99 early orange crop will be very high, again resulting in a high diversion to processing.
In theory, one should be able to lower production costs sufficiently to make processed oranges feasible. After all, reducing the spray program from three or four applications to one or even none would save a lot of money. Too, FCOJ futures prices look good into the future so that juice fruit value should be at least where it is today.
So, why don't we try it? Several reasons, actually. Every grower has hopes that something will turn around in the market and that demand for fresh orange from Texas will be much higherand so every grower wants to have fresh quality fruit when (and if ever) that happens.
Too, the prevailing scenario is that if we have a normal to wet spring, rust mites will explode and reduce fruit size and thus total yield. That is certainly true, but if total production is increased as much as it should be, the reduction to rust mite damage should not be so significant as to require treatment.
Another factor is that of processingyou cannot just pick it and haul it to TCX directly, as the fruit must go to TCX under the aegis of a packinghouse. Either way, final returns will not be available until the juice is completely disposed of (i.e., sold) by TCX, which may be a year or two down the road.
In addition, while mulling this idea over with a couple of growers, I learned that the potential reduction in pest control costs may be non-existent in many casesespecially in upper Valley orchards which are already being managed with only one or even no pesticidal spray treatment.
There are other reasons, also, but I think you get the picture. About the only significant positive I can come up with is that of irrigationif you don't have enough irrigation allocation to go around and if you cannot provide water from other sources and if timely rainfall or additional irrigation allocation do not occur, then the available water should be used on the types of citrus returning the most value per acrei.e., Rio Red, navels, Valencias, Marrs and Ruby-Sweet, in that order. Even this, however, has too many "ifs" to persuade me to try to grow Marrs as a juice crop.
Orchards are in generally good condition as we start spring flush, with adequate soil moisture in most cases because of irrigation and/or the February rains.
Because of reduced or flat production in grapefruit and early oranges for the industry as a whole in 1997-98, production should really jump in those orchards which were down last year. As such, it makes sense to boost the nitrogen level this season in those orchards to slightly higher than normal levels. The oldest rehabilitated orchards are equivalent to nine or 10 years old now, thereby requiring 125 to 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre, with 150 pounds being the maximum recommended amount for Texas citrus. The use of nutrients other than nitrogen should be based solely on tissue analyses collected last summer or on the appearance of obvious visual symptoms of deficiency.
A lot of winter weeds are present in some orchards, but they will die out as spring progresses, assuming that the spring herbicide applications don't get them first.
The navel and early orange crops are finished, and the limited acreage of midseason oranges have either finished or will soon as the Valencia harvest takes over. Incidently, the Valencia crop is estimated at nearly 6400 tons, which is about 60 percent of the volume of fresh navels that we shipped this season.
About one-third of the grapefruit crop is still on-tree, which puts the pace of grapefruit harvest more in line with that of a year agoeven though the volume is still down about 10 percent. This resulted because of an 8.0-percent reduction in the grapefruit crop estimate that occurred on February 19.
CITRUS PEST UPDATE-
The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program is now looking for citrus growers
to enroll for the 1998 growing season. The purpose of this program is to educate
producers in IPM principles such as:
Growers that participate in this program receive written pest reports about every two weeks through the duration of the program which begins on April 1, 1998 and ends on October 31, 1998. Cost of participation will be $20.00 per acre. The statewide IPM programs are managed jointly by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Texas Pest Management Association. A major responsibility of the Texas Pest Management Association (TPMA), a non-profit organization, is collecting and managing the financial requirements necessary for an IPM program to operate. TPMA uses the funds collected from the program participants to cover expenses such as salary of the trained individual who collects the pest information from each grove as well as the mileage encumbered. Through IPM, we have developed and implemented a program to assure reduction in the use of pesticides and that they are used properly and only when necessary yet providing a highly aesthetic and productive citrus crop. If you have any questions, please call Valerie Evatt, Citrus IPM Committee Chairperson at (956) 581-6049 or David Hardison, Citrus IPM Committee Vice-Chairman at (956) 383-6291.
JULIAN W. SAULS
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