IN THIS ISSUE:
Hurricane Bret came and went with little negative effect on citrus. About the only damage noted was fruit drop on exposed north and west sides of orchards. The rains were not so heavy as expected, except for those that swept through the mid-Valley area on Monday when Bret was already past Laredo.
The track of Bret suggests good inflows into the reservoirs, but it will probably be October before all inflows have been tabulated and allocated.
In that sense, Bret was a disappointment, as almost everyone believed that we needed a hurricane to refill the reservoirs. Well, we got the hurricane, it tracked through the least populous area of South Texas, thereby sparing the Valley on both sides of the river, and brought rain everywhere-but it didn't fill the reservoirs.
TOUR IN FLORIDA-
In the week before Bret, I was on a packinghouse tour to Florida with a couple of local packers and others. A couple of observations are worth sharing. For a lot of reasons, not the least of which is citrus canker, every load of fruit undergoes an on-trailer drench upon arrival at the packinghouse, using chlorine, imazalil, TBZ or some combination thereof.
Most houses in the Indian River district practice nightly cleanup with quaternary ammonium-and bins are pressure washed and/or drenched prior to return to the field. Obviously, Florida citrus packers are very much concerned with post-harvest decay problems, especially because of the long-transit times to Europe and Japan.
One of the most anticipated observations was the near total use of plastic bins. Those packers who still had some wooden bins were replacing them with plastic as they wore out. A major consideration for the use of plastic is the drenching upon arrival-plastic is unaffected, but the hardware of wooden bins can't handle the chlorine in the drench. While plastic costs about half again as much as wooden bins, they usually last considerably longer than wooden bins. Too, there is some pretty good thermoplastic welding equipment available to facilitate repairs on plastic bins.
SHORT NOTES ON FLORIDA-
Knowledgeable folks in the Indian River District indicate grapefruit development as being as much as 30 or more days behind schedule in many orchards. We did observe generally smaller fruit size and a relatively thick albedo in a couple of orchards.
Even so, one packer insisted that his house would be picking a small volume of grapefruit in the Gulf District by Labor Day.
Citrus canker continues to concern the Florida industry. It now appears that the Dade-Broward quarantine area will be extended northward to include all of Broward County to the Palm Beach County Line. That is getting really close to some major commercial orchards in southern Palm Beach County.
Recent finds of canker in Hendry and Collier Counties appear to be the same strain as that in the Dade-Broward area, while that in Manatee County is a different strain which re-appeared in the area where they thought they had eradicated it in 1994.
There is a relatively new problem of post-harvest pitting of Florida citrus that is causing much concern. While it looks similar to oil spotting (oleocellosis), it isn't. In oleocellosis, the areas between oil glands collapse; in pitting, the oil glands themselves collapse. Researchers believe that the disorder is triggered by wax application and high temperature storage, but are unsure of the influence of environmental or cultural practices.
Elizabeth Steger's estimate of the coming Florida orange crop was released August 12-she's forecasting 193 million boxes. Industry estimates are generally higher than that. It is worth noting that her estimate comes out two full months before the USDA estimate. Until last season, she had pegged the orange crop volume pretty closely to that subsequently released by the USDA. Last season, her estimate was much higher than USDA's, so some observers believe that she must be close this season in order to maintain credibility. Time will tell.
Finally, we noted with some surprise a number of abandoned orchards in the Fort Pierce and Vero Beach areas. For the most part, these orchards did not appear to be targeted for development; rather they were grapefruit orchards that were apparently not economically viable. (See following article on Florida grapefruit inventory).
The Florida Department of Citrus' estimated budget for the 1999-00 season is anticipated to exceed $70 million-contrast that to the total value of the Texas crop! The FDOC preliminary budget was calculated based upon an orange crop of 228 million boxes and another 52 million boxes of grapefruit. According to Nancy Hardy (Citrus Segments, Citrus Industry, Vol. 80, No. 7, July, 1999, p. 8), few growers expect the Florida crop to reach those levels.
FLORIDA GRAPEFRUIT INVENTORY-
In 1998, the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service pegged the commercial grapefruit acreage at 132,817, with some 76,025 of that being colored seedless acres. In general terms, the 1998 inventory showed a loss of some 5,300 acres of colored seedless grapefruit and a total loss of 11,600 acres of all grapefruit between 1996 and 1998.
For a variety of reasons, the FASS conducted a 1999 grapefruit inventory, which results were just released http://www.nass.usda.gov/fl/citrus/cci99.htm). The total acreage declined by 11,560 acres in the last year-of which 4,300 was in colored seedless grapefruit.
When you think about it, the timing of this 1999 inventory means that the acreage reported is that on which the 1998-99 crop was produced (excepting about 4,700 acres classified as non-bearing). Since the survey was conducted in early 1999, i.e., before the start of the current season, further losses and natural attrition would be expected-which would impact the volume of the 1999-00 crop.
Packers, shippers, processors, sales personnel and growers are all inclined to claim some credit for the better grapefruit returns enjoyed in the 1998-99 season. I submit, however, that the loss of 23,158 acres of Florida grapefruit (9,617 of which was colored seedless) in the last 3 years, with half that loss occurring just before the 1998-99 crop season, has re-confirmed the classic economic principle of supply and demand. Florida's grapefruit acreage is the lowest of the decade and is only slightly higher than in 1986 and 1988, an era in which both Texas and Florida grapefruit growers enjoyed very good returns.
Bonus question-has the demand for grapefruit increased, decreased or held its own over the last couple of decades or so and what impact, if any, has that had on grower returns?
The Texas Produce Association Convention and Trade Show in San Antonio was a rousing success. While a number of interesting presentations were featured, a lot of folks probably learned more from conversations during the trade show, breaks and other personal contacts over a meal or libations. The latter assumed somewhat more interest following Dr. Michael Wargovich's presentation on the potential cancer-fighting benefits of fruits, vegetables and certain substances such as beer and wine.
A number of people were honored at the Friday luncheon-and deservedly so. Of special interest to citrus growers, Gene Goodwin received the TCM award, while Bill Weeks was honored for his service to the citrus and vegetable industries. As most know, Bill will be retiring in a few months.
With the rains from Hurricane Bret, orchard soil moisture is generally good as we enter into our traditional rainy season. Although summer rains caused some pest management problems, those have been resolved as well as could be expected.
Fruit is sizing well as the crop approaches maturity and everything appears to be on schedule. Actually, there is some fruit that set in some orchards last fall (in response to last September's drought-breaking rains) that is already mature and colored. Having recently sampled some of that grapefruit, I have to admit that it tastes very good. Some Marrs and Valencia fruit were set, also, but much of the off-bloom Marrs fruit dropped during the summer.
What a difference a year makes-last summer, many orchards went without irrigation water and without rainfall for all of July and August; this summer, few orchards had to be irrigated because of rains after about mid-June.
CITRUS PEST UPDATE-
August has been very hot and dry for the most part except for the time of Bret which has allowed rust mite populations to be brought under control with the help of some foliar sprays. However, this season has been rather expensive and unusual with many groves having 2 to 4 spray applications for rust mite control as well as some with a spring Temik® application. Therefore, if your rust mite control costs are higher than normal, you're in the same situation most other producers are facing this season. As the fall rains begin to occur, be on the lookout for some rebounding rust mite populations since we probably have not seen the last of them for this season.
The citrus leafminer has caused some damage in the summer flushes but has been on the decline in most orchards, probably due to beneficial parasitoids attacking the larvae. Problems with false spider mites have not been reported this summer. Texas citrus mites, scale, and whitefly are present and increasing but these populations as a whole have been at low levels. Greasy spot and melanose problems have been severe and can be traced back to the rains of March and May. The armored scale complex, especially Florida red scale, has been increasing to serious levels this summer even though chemical control has proven to be difficult in the past. One of the parasitoids, Aphytis holoxanthus, which was introduced in 1959, has been being released in several groves with many more expected to be released this fall. Chemical control with Lorsban® or Supracide® has been ineffective in the past for Florida red scale.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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