In spite of concerns over an ongoing Asian citrus psyllid quarantine and another year of drought conditions across South Texas, Texas citrus harvest continues at a brisk pace across the Rio Grande Valley with positive early reports of a good harvest especially for Texas grapefruit.

According to Valley citrus producers, it's been a challenging year because of concerns over HLB, the citrus disease known commonly as citrus greening disease. For the first time, the disease was confirmed in the Valley in January of last year, the first case of the disease in Texas history.

The disease, first identified in 2005, destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of citrus in Florida and has also been found in Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Concerns for the spread of the disease have also increased in California where the Asian citrus psyllid, the moth that spreads the disease, was discovered in southern parts of the state last year.

Response to the discovery of the disease in Texas last year has been called remarkable by officials at the Texas Department of Agriculture, who say a quick response program and responsible participation by Valley growers helped to quickly close the door of opportunity for the spread of the disease in groves across fruit-rich South Texas.

Ray Prewett, president of Citrus Mutual in Mission, said last year that most researchers and growers were not surprised when the disease spread to the Texas Valley. South Texas citrus growers had been involved in a comprehensive management program in recent years to control Asian psyllid populations in an effort to curtail the chances of infection.

Nearly 85 percent of commercial groves participated in the psyllid control program prior to confirmation of the disease, and Prewett says this gave growers “the upper hand” in early control efforts and minimized the spread of the disease once detected.

Citrus production flat

According to the USDA's Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook report published in December, 2012, total U.S. citrus production forecast for 2012-13 is forecast to be flat. In the National Agricultural Statistics Service December crop production report the revised 2012-13 citrus production forecasts were released putting total citrus production unchanged from 2011-12 to 11.7 5 million tons.

Texas grapefruit gains ground, but overall down slightly from last year

Total U.S. grapefruit harvest is forecast down 3 percent in 2012/13, with production losses from Florida and California. Forecast grapefruit production is down 5 percent with declines for both colored and white varieties.

Grapefruit production in Texas has gained ground with production at 211,000 tons, a 10-percent increase from last season’s drought stricken crop. The expected larger crop is evident in the increased shipping volumes through late November, up 7 percent, according to the report. Overall quality is reported as excellent, with less cosmetic deficiencies, but sizes are smaller due to the dry conditions during crop development. Recent rains have aided in increasing fruit size, so late-season fruit should size up better than fruit harvested earlier this season.

The high quality of Texas grapefruit should aid in fresh market supplies this year. The better quality and tighter supplies are felt in the higher grower prices so far this season.

While California is forecast to reduce production by9 percent this season to 160,000 tons, overall Texas and California account for 17 percent and 13 percent of total production, respectively.

In Florida, the grapefruit crop is down this season due to a decline in acreage (down 2 percent from 2011/12) and smaller fruit size. Fruit sizes are expected smaller with more grapefruit falling in the 63’s or more per bushel size range this season due to a larger fruit set.

Retail fresh fruit prices improve

After falling below year ago levels this summer, the U.S. consumer price index for fresh fruit in October 2012 advanced to 341.7, slightly improved from the previous month and 2 percent above the October 2011 CPI. Year-to-year price gains in grapefruits, lemons, red delicious apples, and Thompson seedless grapes at the retail level led to the higher CPI and, although October price gains for grapefruits and Thompson seedless grapes range from 12 to 13 percent from a year ago, price declines for navel oranges, bananas, and strawberries moderated the overall boost in the October CPI.

Retail prices have increased for grapefruit over the same time last year. Similar to the situation with grower prices, lower fresh production out of California and higher quality grapefruit from Texas have pushed prices up. Texas grapefruit have better appearance, due to less wind scarring and pest damage. According to the Fruit and Tree Nut report, a dryer growing season has resulted in fruit that are smaller but sweet. Navel orange prices are down as the 2011/12 marketing year comes to a close.

Higher fresh orange imports over the summer when domestic production was low has brought prices down. As the 2012/13 season gets underway, prices through the early spring should remain close to last season prices with a higher production of California navels and as sizes are so far smaller than last year.

U.S. citrus production 2012/13 forecasts steady from last season

USDA NASS released its revised citrus production forecast for the 2012/13 marketing year in its recent crop production report. According to NASS numbers, total U.S. Citrus production is forecast at 11.75 million tons in 2012/13, down 4 percent from the initial October forecast, but relatively unchanged from the final 2011/12 estimate of 11.74 million tons. The report indicates the revised totals reflect downward adjustments to Florida's production of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and tangelo's.

Total citrus production in Arizona, California and Texas are all anticipated above 2011/12 levels while Florida's overall crop is projected down 1 percent, reflecting declines in orange, grapefruit, tangerine, and tangelo production. Smaller and lower yielding Florida orange crop is anticipated to reduce domestic orange juice production this season. Texas total citrus is estimated at 271,000 tons, up 1 percent from 2011/12's final citrus estimate of 252,000 tons. Meanwhile, Arizona's citrus crop is forecast to double this year, with lemons rebounding from the 2011/12 freeze damaged crop.

Concerns over ACP continue out West

Three more Asian citrus psyllids (ACP) were found in California at separate groves within Tulare County in November and December. This is the insect capable of spreading the HLB bacteria or citrus greening disease, which was found earlier in the year in the Hacienda Heights suburb of Los Angeles. Quarantine of citrus movement has been evoked in Hacienda Heights and a 163-mile quarantine in Tulare, which is the top citrus producing county in California. It is unknown if any of the psyllids discovered in these areas carried the disease and there is no sign of infected trees, but as HLB has no known cure, it is considered a major threat which requires aggressive preventative action.

A much smaller quarantine area remains in effect in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. Aggressive inspections continue and monitoring of the entire citrus producing area. TDA officials report the quarantine in South Texas has had little effect in this year's fruit production numbers.

U.S. orange juice production forecast to decline

The USDA December report is forecasting U.S. orange juice production in 2012/13 at 94 9 million single-strength equivalent gallons, down 1 percent from last season. This decline is attributed to the forecast reduced crop in Florida and the projected 1 percent decline in juice yield to 1.61 gallons per box. Imports are forecast to increase slightly to 225 million gallons but growth will be limited by a decline in Brazilian orange juice production this year. Exports are projected to rise only slightly, up 2 percent, to 155 million gallons, as the slightly larger U.S. Orange juice supply is used to meet domestic demand and maintain stock levels.