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TO HARVEST OR NOT
According to an article in Produce news as reported in the ultimatecitrus.com newsletter, TexaSweet, Inc. has hired Melinda Goodman as marketing director effective June 4. Ms. Goodman comes to us from the Red River Valley (the one of the popular old cowboy song in Minnesota) where she served the last three years as manager of the Red River Valley Potato Growers Association based in East Grand Forks, MN. In that position, she was responsible for the implementation of the association's comprehensive marketing plan for red potatoes, an industry first.
Ms. Goodman succeeds Bob Thornton, who left TexaSweet (and Texas) back in February. Hopefully, her experience with red potatoes will stand her in good stead in trying to improve the marketing of our red grapefruit.
Agricultural officials in Sacramento, CA, intercepted live, adult Diaprepes weevils, both males and females, on May 18. The insects were discovered on some large, specimen foliage plants that were shipped from a nursery in Pompano Beach, FL. It is likely that the Diaprepes in the single location in Texas arrived from Florida via nursery materials.
The extensive trapping in Texas groves has netted a number of our indigenous leaf-notching weevils, but no additional finds of Diaprepes. Hopefully, the lack of additional Diaprepes will stand so that the original infestation will remain the only one. Should that transpire, eradication is be a feasible and desirable option which our industry and regulatory officials are actively pursuing.
While the final analysis is yet to come, it is looking more and more likely that the orange tree deaths that have occurred from the Phytophthora-root weevil complex were due to a significant flareup in the populations of our indigenous weevils in combination with other stress factors. Such population increases in the insect world are not uncommon-and this one may have been connected to our long-running drouth and inadequate irrigation. A huge population, extensive root feeding and drouth stress would certainly reduce the rootstock's inherent ability to survive the attacks of Phytophthora.
Why oranges but not grapefruit? The adults do feed on grapefruit leaves, but they may prefer oranges to grapefruit. The rootstock is sour orange in either case, but remember, that the larvae develop and feed on the roots under the tree where their momma laid them-so it is the adult female which chooses the tree. Aside from a possible preference for oranges, if a choice is available, there may well be a correlation with the overall size and vigor of grapefruit trees as compared to oranges, i.e., the larger and more vigorous grapefruit tree may be able to sustain root damage better than oranges.
Are some varieties of oranges more affected than others? That has not been determined, but if tree size and vigor are indeed relevant factors, one would expect Marrs oranges to be the most affected, as Marrs is a comparatively small tree.
In any case, if a population explosion and the drouth are responsible, the problem should abate as weevil populations return to normal. Ample supplies of irrigation water should also help-if we ever get back to that situation.
There is still a lot of grapefruit on the trees at the end of May-and some packinghouses will continue shipments so long as buyers want it and as quality permits. Neither is likely to persist for long, however.
The fruit is certainly showing the signs of age, as firmness is deteriorating badly-especially on grapefruit held too long between harvest and shipping. Every day spent in the harvest-to-consumer process is one day less shelf life, which is already greatly reduced from what it was before bloom.
TO HARVEST OR NOT-
What are the options for those fruit that may not make it to the packinghouse? The obvious alternative is to harvest-direct to the juice plant. At a spot juice of $15 per ton, pick-and-haul near double that plus packinghouse charges assessed to juice fruit, the short-term result is a negative return in excess of $50 per ton. Negative return is an economic euphemism for "loss". In the long term of 12-24 months, ultimate returns from juice fruit will offset some, but nowhere near all, of the short-term loss-so it's still a loss. Obviously, no one needs added reductions against the already-low returns on fresh fruit, so what about the option of just leaving it on the tree? After all, nobody needs to spend money that they cannot recover on the crop.
One argument against leaving the fruit on the tree is that fruit set will be reduced. Since fruit set is already accomplished, that argument is no longer valid. That remaining fruit serves as a reservoir of pests to attack the new crop is illogical, since spraying for the new crop should also control any pests on the old crop.
The old fruit will ultimately drop-probably long before the new crop matures. Aside from just getting older and senescing, seeds in the old fruit will start to germinate. When the emerging root (radical) penetrates the rind, the fruit will rapidly dry out, rot, or fall.
Since the old fruit is senescing, it makes no demands on the tree-for moisture, nutrients, photosynthates or anything-so it does not take away from the continued development of the tree or the new crop. Instead, the old fruit will readily give up its moisture to help sustain the rest of the tree during moisture stress, which could be important in these dry times.
At the least, it won't cost money to leave the fruit on the tree, so that may be the better alternative.
U.S. waters in the reservoirs dropped below 40 percent of conservation level in late May. Little inflow occurred during the month, so the situation is worsening. I have heard nothing about the water debt payment during May, and July is just around the corner. Unless heavy rains fall soon, you can forget July and look to September as the backup date. The heavy storms in late May in Starr County provided no significant water to the system, since runoff in Starr mostly goes into the river below the reservoir.
Soil moisture from earlier rains is about played out, so irrigation is becoming necessary. Because final fruit set has occurred, the orchards can go a few days longer than you would like without affecting the crop. However, wilting in the afternoon is long enough to wait before irrigating. With temperatures hitting triple digits as May comes to an end, along with persistent strong winds, many groves are approaching water deficit in a hurry.
Generally, the weather has been a little tougher on pests, but continued vigilance is essential. Rust mites and other mites can quickly get away from you in weather favorable to their development, while red scale crawlers should start showing soon. For the most part, the development and control of other pests will parallel that of the major pests.
While our domestic grapefruit shipments were down some 66,000 cartons as of mid-May, I expect that shipments in the last two weeks have put us significantly ahead of last year's level, and over 7,000,000 cartons. Exports, however, are another matter entirely-down 105,000 cartons from last season's numbers. In the grand scheme of things, that isn't all that much-especially if one considers Florida's export volume.
Still, the export market is interesting. A year ago, Texas shipped about 7 cars to France and 1 each to Singapore and The Netherlands-this year, not even a carton. This year saw about a car each to Holland, Taiwan and Brazil-where none went last year. Our biggest export customers, Germany, was down some 75 plus cars this season, while England was off about 4 cars and Australia was off some 15 cars. Switzerland took a car each year, while Japan took 10 cars this year versus nine cars last year.
One has to wonder about the reductions in Germany, and to some lesser degree England, France and Australia. Have those markets been similarly afflicted with whatever ails the domestic market? Possibly.
The single-car markets suggest that buyers in those markets take a carlot just to see how it does-which must not be too good, as they don't come back for seconds. We have long insisted that if people would try our grapefruit, they will like it. Because some export customers don't repeat orders, one has to presume that they don't like something-color, taste, price, appearance or something else. Color and taste are what we have, price is a market force but appearance is something that could possibly be improved. Are we shipping only our best-looking fruit abroad? We should be if we want to expand market.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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