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While the USDA citrus crop estimates which were released October 12 may be old news, there is some difference of opinion about some of the estimates. The Florida orange forecast of 231 million boxes is only about 3.5 percent above last season's final. Most analysts, however, were expecting an estimate in the 240-245 million range. The lower estimate, combined with a predicted smaller crop in Brazil, has had a modest, positive effect on the FCOJ price scenario.
On the other coast, California/Arizona orange forecasts are down a little over 9.0 percent from last season. The Texas orange estimate, which is simply reflective of the opinions of some Texas growers and industry officials, is about 1 percent higher than last season for early/mids (85,000 tons) with a 13 percent decrease for Valencias (8,500 tons). Overall, the U.S. orange supply is forecast up less than 1.0 percent.
The Florida grapefruit forecast of 48 million boxes is widely believed to be too high, perhaps by as much as 4 million boxes. Dissenters contend that continuing losses to the citrus canker eradication program and the doubling or more of losses to tristeza will reduce production substantially. Many of these same critics contended that last season's estimate was too high and that the actual harvested amount would be about 46 million boxes-the final harvest figure was 46 million, with 2 million boxes economically abandoned.
The western grapefruit outlook is down about 8 percent-but the Texas crop is forecast up about 9 percent (312,000 tons). Thus, the total U.S. grapefruit crop is projected up about 3.5 percent. Again, the Texas number is little more than an opinion poll-not the result of an actual survey as is done in Florida.
Some in Texas were of the opinion that our production of grapefruit and oranges would be up again this year, although others hold the opposite view. While we'll never know how much of last season's grapefruit crop was left unharvested, we probably won't even know the volume of eliminations that will be dumped this season (at least until the first of the year).
Count me among those in the "down" column. Over the last eight years, our grapefruit production increased in every season ending in an odd number and decreased in every season ending in an even number-this season ends in '02. Aside from history, the groves do not appear as heavily laden as last year-and there was only one, single bloom last spring. Frankly, I'll be surprised if production exceeds last season's 287,000 tons-I'll be stunned if it tops 300,00 tons! With oranges, I just don't see the fruit out there like it was last season, so I believe that the final volume of early-mids will be down-possibly even below 80,000 tons. Too, I believe Valencias will come in closer to last season's 9,800 tons than to the estimated 8,500.
Grapefruit harvest got off to a slow start this season, with rains and delayed maturity being to blame. Current shipments are only about two-thirds of those a year ago, but is picking up now that more groves have passed maturity tests. Early orange movement is running a third or more above last season, while navel movement is up about a fourth.
California still has a lot of Valencias to harvest and market. That, combined with its short navel crop, is expected to keep navels a little scarce until at least Thanksgiving. Texas oranges and navels should continue to benefit from this situation.
Fruit quality is much better than last season, while fruit size is bigger and improving. Certainly, that is good news for growers, packers and consumers. Regardless of what you think total production will be, I think everyone agrees that we will probably see an increase in fresh utilization because of the overall better quality.
It is bleak and getting worse. Current storage is near 31 percent of conservation levels, which is lower than we have seen at this time of year for the last decade or more. The Mexico water debt issue seems to deteriorate on a weekly basis-even to the point of one high level official claiming that Mexico is not obliged to satisfy the terms of the treaty.
About the only positive news is that some officials maintain that the debt will be repaid in its entirety, although no one seems to be able to say when or how. Mexico has asked IBWC to conduct a complete, basin-wide water management plan, which would be implemented and managed by Mexico's National Water Commission. Such effort will take a couple of years to complete, perhaps even longer to implement-but should be well worthwhile even though many more agricultural users may go under in the meantime.
In some regards, much of the problem seems to lie in Chihuahua-from whence the Rio Concho used to flow into the Rio Grande-and internal politics in Mexico are an issue. Two lawsuits have already been dismissed while a third is yet to be heard.
The irony is that agricultural producers in northern Tamaulipas have suffered even more than we have, as there has been no irrigation water for them for several years now. You see, since Mexico has not complied with the treaty by releasing the annual 350,000 acre feet (averaged over five years), irrigation water users in Mexico below Falcon and Amistad have not received any water at all. The math is simple-to provide our 350,000 acre feet, as was done in the past, Mexico would normally have to put another 700,000 acre feet into the system for downstream users in Mexico. So, by not releasing water to Texas in accordance with provisions of the treaty, our counterparts across the river have been sacrificed.
Final note: IBWC plans to conduct a basin-wide mapping of underground aquifers in the near future. The implication is that, once completed, state agencies could step in to manage existing groundwater resources along the Texas side of the river. To do so would require "revisiting" the rule of capture as it exists today. Currently, water under your land is yours, but that could very well change in the not too distant future.
Meanwhile, if you hope to grow citrus next season, you would be well-served to consider alterative water sources now. You may recall the flurry of wells drilled in the summer of 1998 to mature the 1998-1999 crop. In the present situation, those wells may be needed just to set the '02-03 crop.
I have spent considerable time recently trying to develop a pictorial diagnostic guide for my citrus website. After about two weeks of frustration and a little help from my web gurus, I finally succeeded with the first of several planned pages. Subsequent pages will be developed and posted as I accumulate both the images and the time to do them. Now that I know how to do it, new pages should be easy to develop.
Meanwhile, you are invited to check the initial offering at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/citrus/diagnostics/blemishes/blemishes.htm. Let me know what you think. Longer term plans are to add more text to the full image and possibly even to link from there to other parts of the website which discuss the particular problem in more detail.
Weather in October was mostly very pleasant-blue skies with few clouds, cooler days and nights, and lowered humidities. Had it been any cooler, it would have been reminiscent of the Octobers of my youth when the world was less crowded and life was simpler. Ain't nostalgia great? No, I don't want to go back, as I have observed that we tend to remember mostly the good things of the past while conveniently blocking out those that were not-so-good.
Rainfall is still substantially below normal for the year to date in most Valley locations-and the fall/winter months are not noted for their rainfall. Fruit is sizing nicely and color is getting prettier-but a good rain would surely help size and would carry the trees into winter in excellent condition.
Lacking a good rain, irrigation is near critical, as the late September-early October rains have about played out. As usual, coordinate with your packinghouse before you irrigate, as you shouldn't want to miss a harvest opportunity. After all, delaying irrigation for a week so as to harvest will not be detrimental to the grove at this time of year.
Existing weeds in the orchard should be cleaned up soon-harvest crews don't like weedy orchard floors and weeds interfere with soil heat absorption and radiation. In other words, weedy orchards are usually a couple of degrees or more colder than orchards with firm, clean, bare orchard floors.
Although the citrus IPM scouting program has ended for the season, groves should still be monitored periodically. The crop is clean right now, but we shouldn't forget the citrus rust mite disaster that surprised us in mid-winter a couple of years ago.
Finally, as frontal systems increase in intensity, we may expect to see "firing" of the unhardened fall flush-especially if a front is accompanied by very dry air. Texas citrus mite damage is often associated with the occurrence of "firing". The fall flush doesn't appear to be as extensive as in some recent seasons, perhaps because of better growth during the previous months of the season, so "firing" may not be as obvious, if it occurs at all.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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