A smaller crop with potentially smaller fruit is expected for Texas citrus this year as early harvest gets underway in the Rio Grande Valley. The latest USDA crop report indicates both orange and grapefruit crops combined will experience a 12 percent decline by the time harvest is complete in early spring.

“The weather over the next 30 days will be critical in determining the size of the fruit that is harvested this year, but it was the freeze we experienced last February that is causing the reduction in the projected harvest,” reports Ray Prewett, President of Texas Citrus Mutual in the Valley.

While severe to extreme drought conditions across Texas have taken a toll on state agriculture in general, the state’s citrus industry, almost all of it produced in the Rio Grande Valley, is supported by an extensive irrigation network. But while the citrus orchards survive each year as a result of irrigated acreage, a lack of natural rainfall “equates to a smaller fruit product.”

“The big culprit was the cold weather and ice last winter at a time when the trees were beginning the blooming process. We didn’t have severe winter weather for any extended period, but what we had certainly has affected what we will get in terms of harvest this year,” Prewett adds.

“Substantial rains in Mexico in the summer of 2010 replenished the reservoirs that provide our irrigation. These reservoirs depend on the watershed on the other side of the border more than what they get from the U.S. side, so drought and extreme heat was not so much the issue as was the cold and ice of winter,” Prewett said.

According to the USDA report released October 12, Texas citrus production will take a hit this season as production and yields of citrus are expected to decrease from last season. The only variety for which production will not decrease is the Valencia Orange. Texas’ 2011/2012 Valencia orange production will increase by 32-percent this harvest, but the gain will be offset with an estimated 19 percent reduction of non-Valencias, or early season varieties, a much larger group. Overall this will lead to a decrease of more than 12 percent of Texas-grown oranges this season.

The same is expected for Valley grapefruit including the popular “Ruby Red” variety. Grapefruit production and yield are expected to drop by as much as 20-percent, and like the oranges, grapefruit size will be smaller this year as well.

“The size doesn’t affect the taste or quality of the fruit so much as it will determine marketability with the consumer. But this will have little effect on driving consumer prices and virtually no effect on the ability of the Valley citrus industry to sell everything we grow this year,” Prewett said.

In spite of the comprehensive irrigation network that services Valley citrus orchards, Prewett warns that rain is still desperately needed. In addition to helping develop the size of fruit, rain is necessary to prevent salt buildup in the soil because of the Valley’s close proximity to the Gulf Coast.

“To say the drought and extreme heat has had no bearing on Valley citrus would be wrong. We rely on irrigation to get us through the year, but we are desperate for some good rainfall and we hope to see it in the weeks ahead,” Prewett said.