Aug, 2007       

VOL. 21, NO. 8                                                                             




And the Rains Came—

…and came and came.  It has been a very damp summer so far, boosting year-to-date totals to 18 or 20 inches, with the (normally) major rainy period still ahead in September.

Some grain did not get harvested, a lot of cotton is probably damaged beyond recovery, and corn harvest is still underway.  Irrigation districts aren’t selling a lot of water; which doesn’t help their bottom lines.  Sugar cane and pastures have really benefited; citrus has too, but it’s a mixed deal for citrus..

Citrus certainly benefits from the fresh water, but the downside comes when orchards stay too wet to allow necessary pest control activities.  Uncontrolled weed growth is rampant and citrus rust mites are thriving—and the drying out periods keep on being interrupted by yet another rain.  Given that the rains kinda quit a week or two back, perhaps we can get some needed grove work done before the next showers come.

Fruit Prices—

There is always a lot of coffee shop talk about how much fruit was worth; this season is no different.  Over the years, I’ve noted that growers tend to talk about how much money they got without really understanding how much their fruit was actually worth. 

Often I hear that so-and-so made X amount of dollars per ton for his or her fruit—only to learn that “X” represents only the fruit which went fresh.  The actual return per ton is the total dollars received (we all understand that number) divided by the total tons harvested (or is it?).  While it may boost bragging rights a bit to ignore some of the harvest, the total tons harvested includes all fruit—fresh, juice and culls.

And if you had any oranges and figure you did all right, compare the average prices that processors paid Florida growers for their oranges this past season.  The on-tree price figured out to $163 per ton for early/mids and $249 per ton for Valencias.  And don’t forget—juice oranges cost only about half as much to produce as we spend to produce for the fresh market.

Canker and Greening—

The only news about citrus canker is that the USDA has extended the comment period (regarding its proposed rule for the coming season) a couple of weeks until August 9. So, if you have something to say on the matter, you have a couple of days to get it done.

Citrus greening has been confirmed in two more major citrus-producing counties in Florida—Hardee County and Indian River County.  Hardee (Zolfo Springs) is in the Gulf District and ranks sixth in terms of citrus acreage in Florida; Indian River (Vero Beach) is in the heart of the Indian River Citrus District.  These counties bring to either 25 or 26 the total number of citrus-producing counties in Florida in which greening has been discovered since its initial identification in Dade County in 2005.

Meanwhile, the folks at the TAMU-K Citrus Center have begun another round of visits to nurseries and home citrus trees up in the Houston area.  This effort might be considered the “early warning” for Texas citrus—we certainly don’t want these diseases, so we are trying to detect them before they can make their way into the commercial area.

Current Situation—

August is normally a slack time for citrus growers—the crop is made, the summer spray will have knocked down rust mites and other pests, weed control is in hand, leaf and soil samples have been taken.  Irrigation is about the only grove practice that’s left to occupy growers’ minds.  It is always a good time to catch up on golf—if the heat isn’t too much for you—or get in some quality fishing time (though my personal favorite—flounder—is having a bit of a hard time of it, as the catches just haven’t been happening).

But if you just can’t seem to tear yourself away from the grove, you might want to see how good you are at estimating your crop.  Bear in mind that Ms. Elizabeth Steger will be making her estimate of the Florida orange crop a bit later this month—and her number last year was only about 5 million boxes below the season’s final tally.

Some folks here in Texas will also be making crop estimates this month, though not with the kind of precision that either Steger or federal/state ag statistics personnel will conduct in Florida.  Still, TexaSweet has to come up with a number for their budgetary process, and I believe that TVCC also has to make an estimate for planning purposes.

I am not sure—possibly because I never asked—but I think that the crop estimate for Texas is a refinement of these efforts.  But, how do they come by the numbers?  I’m told, though I am not sure, that several major growers are asked to estimate their crop in relation to previous seasons.  Using those estimates, and the acreages involved, a consensus estimate is readily obtainable.

I do know that the ag statistics service folks in Austin call me every year to get my two cents worth as to the condition of the crop and whether or not I think it is larger or smaller than the year before.  They don’t actually ask if I agree with a pre-determined number (which they have gotten, and potentially modified, from the folks above).

Historical Production—

To give you some idea as to what the industry can expect for the new crop, it might be helpful to look back at what the industry has done since the early 1990s.  To paraphrase an old adage, “if you want to know where you’re going, it helps to know where you’ve been”.  The figure below shows where we have been.  While the absolute numbers are important to know, in forecasting, it may be more important to observe trends.

In general, the overall crop has been up one year and down the next since the mid-1990s.   The up years are seasons of odd numbers, the down years were in even-numbered years.  The only significant deviation to the overall trend was in 2002-03, as that crop should have been higher than both the 2001-02 or the 2003-04 crops. 

While the trends with grapefruit and total citrus are obvious, the scale is too large to show the finer deviations for oranges.  The deal with oranges is that they tend to have two consecutive up years followed by a down year.  Like grapefruit, oranges were also out of sync in the 2002-03 season.

So, the trends of the past suggest that the coming grapefruit crop will be less than last season, as will the total crop, while orange production should be up modestly.  Still, looking back at the 2002-03 anomaly, I wouldn’t bet the farm on that bit of knowledge.

Texas citrus tonnage, 1991-2007

Professor & Extension Horticulturist
2401 East Highway 83
Weslaco TX 78596


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