IN THIS ISSUE:

LONG SEASON
ERRATIC BEHAVIOR
NEW WEB SITE
TAX COURT
TOPWORKING CITRUS-DIFFERENTLY
CURRENT SITUATION


LONG SEASON-

Not too long ago, most citrus packinghouses expected to close about now. However, some houses will probably run until very near the end of May, as there is just more grapefruit out there than anyone expected-especially those fieldmen who make the estimates for the respective packinghouses.

Fresh shipments of early oranges (including navels) were up 4.0 percent above last season-despite the total crop being down some 7.7 percent. Fresh grapefruit shipments are already 5.8 percent above last season, with the total harvest up some 16.9 percent-with quite a bit to be harvested yet.

Fresh Valencia shipments are well down from last year, by nearly half, despite the fact that the Valencia crop is already 8.6 percent higher than last year's final. For whatever reason, the volume of Valencias diverted to processing is triple that of last year-which is terrible when one considers the current value of fresh Texas Valencias.

ERRATIC BEHAVIOR-

Bloom is perhaps the weirdest I have ever seen-some orchards bloomed and set normally, other bloomed sparsely and erratically, followed by another bloom period in mid-to late April. The second bloom period was characterized by both heavy and light bloom or none at all. This situation has occurred mostly in grapefruit, but it has been reported in some oranges, also.

The result is that you can find trees with both golf-ball-sized grapefruit and newly opened blooms. I have tagged a bunch of both in order to track fruit shape for the season, as I suspect that these later blooms are likely to develop into rounder and more sheepnosed fruit.

I thought I had some ideas about the reason for this behavior-until I visited colleagues in Florida last week who report the same kind of bloom behavior there. Both had somewhat dry winters, but I don't know if we can blame this behavior on a dry winter.

NEW WEB SITE-

The Citrus Center has created a website that should be of interest to the industry. You can check it out at http://primera.tamu.edu/kcchome. I logged on as its 700th visitor earlier today.

Speaking of websites, the aggie-horticulture website surpassed a million hits in March and followed that record with 1,248,000 hits in April. That server is home of the Texas Citrus and Subtropical Fruits website (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/citrus). The latter recorded 6056 successful visits in April, of which there were 825 user sessions averaging over 15 minutes per session.

TAX COURT-

The reason for my trip to Florida was to testify in tax court as to the relative age for citrus to become productive. It seems that a grower decided to expense the preproductive costs of establishing a new orchard-because he harvested a nominal amount of fruit (about 3˝ tons of grapefruit from several thousands of trees) some 18 to 20 months after planting, in spite of losing nearly half the trees to freeze about six months after planting. Naturally, the IRS did not and does not agree-so he is pursuing it in court.

Until the late 1980's, what to do about preproduction expenses in citrus was rather straightforward-they had to be capitalized, with deductions commencing in the fourth tax year following planting. Congress changed the law in 1986 or 1987 to the effect that for any crop having more than two years preproductive period, a national weighted average of the preproductive period would be determined by IRS ( I think)-but no such average was ever determined.

Most growers and tax accountants apparently fell back on the earlier law governing other tree crops, i.e., preproductive period costs would be capitalized starting with the first year of harvest of a marketable crop. In citrus, this is generally regarded as the third year following planting-but all experts who testified agreed that new varieties, higher density of planting and a high level of management inputs could result in a harvestable volume of fruit in the second year.

The crux of this case is that the grower is arguing that the preproductive period was less than two years, so that the law did not apply and he could thereby deduct the first and second year's expenses entirely, without capitalization. So he did.

The IRS counters that the normal preproductive period for citrus in all of the citrus-producing states is greater than two years, so expenses must be capitalized and deductions commenced in the third (or later) year when normal bearing starts. Some experts contend that production actually begins at flowering rather than at harvest, which can readily occur before the trees have been in the ground two years.

Now, it's up to the judge to decide-although it will be at least mid-September before all post-trial briefs and other legal procedures are completed. Even then, the attorneys don't expect a decision for at least a year, perhaps longer.

To my way of thinking, there shouldn't be a preproductive period at all, as growers should be able to deduct expenses as they occur-other than capitalizing the trees, equipment and irrigation system. If you think about it, you put a piece of equipment into service and you deduct the costs of repairs, maintenance, fuel, et cetera as they occur. IRS contends that an orchard is like a factory that takes three years to build.

However the judge decides in this case, I would expect Congress to get back into the picture and try to "simplify" the law once again.

TOPWORKING CITRUS-DIFFERENTLY-

When I came to Texas from Florida some 19 plus years ago, I was rather curious that Texas growers did not practice topworking in order to change varieties, especially less profitable varieties. After all, topworking is considerably less expensive than pushing a grove out and replanting a new variety, plus topworked trees usually begin to bear again the next season. The reason Texas growers didn't topwork, as told by my mentors, was that the next major freeze would take out the topworked variety, leaving you with the variety that you originally started. That they were right was readily borne out in the two big freezes of the 1980's.

But the demand for Valencia and Rio Red in contrast to the very low value of Ruby, Henderson and other Ruby-Sweet grapefruit varieties again raises the question of topworking-despite the "never again" that I've heard from several prominent local nurserymen and growers who have tried it in the past. We aren't talking about the rebudding of sour sprouts that was common after the last freezes.

Traditionally, topworking of citrus involves cutting the tree back to the scaffolds and subscaffolds-usually leaving from 10 to 20 stubs to be topworked. This generates a lot of brush to push and burn-and it also requires a good paint job to protect the "buckhorned" tree from sunburn. Then the budders insert two buds per stub-often as chip buds rather than as T-buds. Afterwards, there is a lot of work involved in sucker removal-and perhaps some rebudding of the failures. In Texas it would also require some means of staking to support the new buds until they cover over the cut stubs-as the wind does blow in South Texas. And the next major freeze would likely eliminate most of the new variety-putting you back where you started.

There is, however, an easier, way-which is somewhat less expensive and which probably wouldn't be affected so badly by a major freeze. The technique is inlay bark grafting as is commonly used in pecans. Saw the tree off below the scaffold limbs, leaving only about a foot of the trunk. Inlay two two-bud graft sticks into the bark of the trunk, wrap tightly, cover with aluminum foil, then cover with a clear plastic bag (leaving the two grafts to stick up through the bag) and that's it.

Some sprouting will be necessary, although it could be prevented or at least greatly reduced with growth regulators without affecting the grafts. You will have to cut the plastic tape in a few months-and ants like to get under the foil. But you don't need to whitewash and you probably don't need to stake the buds-even if you did, it's considerably easier to put a stake in the ground then to tie numerous stakes into the scaffolding.

Untold thousands of pecans in Texas have been topworked or propagated initially with inlay bark grafts. I have done quite a few in pecan, avocado, mango and citrus-all quite successfully. It's an easy technique to learn and grafting about a foot above the ground reduces the likelihood of losing the new variety in a major freeze.

CURRENT SITUATION-

Continued absence of rainfall is placing heavy demand on irrigation to enable optimal fruit set and continued tree vigor. Final fruit drop normally occurs by about May 20-but who knows when it will occur with those delayed-bloom fruit.

Spray operations have been targeting rust mite outbreaks, while those who use Temik® for prevention of mite outbreaks have been applying it in advance of irrigation.

Second fertilizations for those who split the material into two applications will be applied later this month. Herbicide applications should be completed for now.

JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
Professor & Extension Horticulturist
2401 East Highway 83
Weslaco TX 78596


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