Although rain caused the citrus harvest in the Rio Grande Valley to get off to a late start, quality is still very good, reports Texas Cooperative Extension.

Most citrus harvesting is two or three weeks behind, said Dr. Julian Sauls, Extension citrus specialist in Weslaco. Harvest began in the last few days of September, he said.

For a couple of weeks, the weather was favorable for citrus, but rains in early October forced harvest crews out of the orchards, he said.

Ideal weather conditions for citrus are hot days and warm nights during the growing season. Cooler weather during harvest helps citrus develop its color and increase in size.

“Citrus is not an annual crop, so once planted, the orchards remain for many years,” Saul said. “It is really too early to tell how yields will be right now.

“Grapefruit is picked during the first several months of the season, so only the largest fruit are harvested, allowing the remaining fruit to increase in size as the season progresses,” he said.

“Florida is going to have a record-setting orange crop. However, most of their oranges go into juice, so they aren't the major fresh market competitor with Texas,” Sauls said.

Crop statistics

According to the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service, 2003 Texas grapefruit production is forecast at 10.6 million cartons, down 6 percent from last year's 11.2 million cartons. All orange production is estimated at 3.1 million cartons, down 1 percent from last year.

Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual said, “Although the rains have delayed harvest, it is going to benefit the fruit in terms of size and amount of juice.”

The recent cool weather has helped the fruit mature and the peel is beginning to color up naturally, Prewett said. The rain increased the rust mite numbers a bit, but things should get back to normal with drier weather, he said.

Last year there were several problems with the shape of the fruit and other things that caused them to become less marketable. This year producers are not expecting to have these problems, he said.

Overall, this year is going quite well. Quality is up, and as long as favorable weather conditions continue, yields should also be up, he said.

Mike Martin, a producer with Rio Queen farm, said he is harvesting approximately 5,000 acres this year. Rain has created a few problems with harvest and has also created some post-harvest issues such as decay, he said. “Yields may be down a bit in terms of weight. But because the quality is so good, there may actually be more fruit packed,” Martin said.

“We have also had some problems with rust mites across the Valley. Some fields are very clean, and then others may have hot spots,” he said.