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Perhaps the best that can be said for the water supply situation is that it is slightly better than it was a year ago-approximately 42 percent of capacity currently as compared to about 37.5 percent at the end of last October. Rainfall has been noticeably scarce since early September; thus, most orchards have required irrigation in October and may again in November.
To exacerbate matters, there has been significant new plantings of cane in the last few weeks, and there may be increased vegetable plantings as compared to last year. The lack of rainfall plus additional planted acreages suggests greater water use in the final couple of months of the year. Without additional inflows, the supply at year's end may be much closer to the level at the end of 1998 than it is now. That level was 39.8 percent.
At best, we'll still need a lot of timely rainfall next season to reduce irrigation needs.
While I don't know if the numbers are "official", current estimates are that Florida lost about 15 percent of its grapefruit crop in the path of Hurricane Irene. The affected area was primarily the lower Indian River District. Because most grapefruit in that area is grown for fresh market, both domestic and export, the losses should bolster grapefruit prices.
As expected, the "market window" resulting from last year's cold damage to California oranges is resulting in significant increases in Texas orange volume shipped to date. As of the October 23 utilization report provided by Texas Valley Citrus Committee, early orange movement is running about 2.2 times more than last season, while Texas navel volume is nearly 3.0 times greater than a year ago.
Texas grapefruit movement is ahead nearly 40 percent while export grapefruit volume is up about 4.2 times.
According to Dr. Vic French, leaf footed plant bug feeding is responsible for the mysterious spotting that appeared in Texas oranges this season. According to his caged fruit study, the initial spotting occurred about two weeks after the stinkbugs were introduced to unblemished Marrs oranges, with necrosis of the affected area appearing about a week or so later.
Characteristic gumming in the albedo beneath the feeding areas was observed in both caged fruit and field fruit-although gumming was not present in all cases in either the field or the caged fruit.
So, one cause of the spotting is no longer a mystery-but don't expect to see any kind of media coverage of its resolution.
Judging from some of the oranges I have seen in various markets, the blemishes have not resulted in downgrading of the fruit from fresh market channels.
Because of the tremendous acreage difference in the Florida and Texas citrus industries, the Valley is often perceived as kind of like a stepchild. I did some comparisons, however, that may well surprise you. During 1998-99, Texas grapefruit acreage was estimated to be approximately 20.7 percent that of Florida. Would it surprise you to learn that Texas shipped 20.8 percent as many cartons of fresh grapefruit as did Florida? If so, you would be astounded to learn that Texas shipped about 41.8 percent as many cartons into U.S. and Canadian markets as did Florida.
Before your head swells too much, I should point out that over 52 percent of Florida's fresh grapefruit is exported, while Texas exports less than 5 percent of its fresh production. And if either Florida or Texas growers think grapefruit marketing has produced some dismal results in the last few years, they should ponder what the situation would be like without that Florida export market!
Several cool fronts reached the Valley during October, bringing a pleasant crispness to the air and generally low humidities-what we would call "football weather" in days of yore. The coolness and shortening day length are speeding the process of natural color break of citrus on the tree.
Scarcity of rainfall in most of the Valley has resulted in low soil moisture supplies. While the shorter and cooler days are slowing growth, the fact remains that most orchards will have needed supplemental irrigation this fall. You might remember the good ole days when we tried to schedule the final irrigation around Thanksgiving-well, welcome back to the future.
As reported earlier, harvesting is ahead of last year and proceeding smoothly. Quality is good, overall grapefruit size appears good.
Fall weed control is not common in Texas because of low skirts and the fruit that gets knocked off by herbicide booms. Fall is, however, one of the premier times to kill guinea grass, especially as cooler weather and shorter days induce greater downward translocation from the leaves.
Fall fertilization is commonly practiced in some Texas orchards. About all I'll say about that is that if your production is down drastically from last year, it would be a good idea to boost the rate by 15 to 20 percent for next season. Conversely, if your production is significantly higher than last year, i.e., other than as a normal increase in production because the trees are still short of mature tree production, it might be wise to reduce next year's fertilizer rate by 15 to 20 percent.
The reason I suggest these actions is because of proven alternative bearing in Marrs orchards, and the knowledge that many Rio Red orchards with huge crops last season are very short this season, suggesting that those Rio orchards are showing all the symptoms of alternate bearing. About the only way to attenuate the problem is to fertilize more in the big production year and less in the low crop year.
JULIAN W. SAULS, Ph.D.
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