A lingering drought has not kept Texas’ citrus crop from flowing out of the Rio Grande Valley.
As of Jan. 1, all of Texas, save for an area of roughly 150 miles around Dallas-Fort Worth, remained in a period of extreme drought, according to the National Weather Service.
Some areas around McAllen got less than 2 inches of rain during the last 90 days of the year — or, roughly the first half of the current citrus season.
Dennis Holbrook, president of Mission-based South Tex Organics LC, said the numbers were even more stark over a longer period of time.
“When you look at the overall amount of rainfall we’ve had, it’s been dry,” he said.
“It’s normally 22-28 inches per year, and from October (2010) to October (2011), we probably didn’t have a total of 5 or 6 inches for the year. That was significantly down.”
Other areas in Texas got it worse, he said.
“Areas farther north of us who depend solely upon rainfall, those places were completely burned up,” Holbrook said.
“There was basically no production. Most of the cattle people in Texas have sold off their herds because they didn’t have the feed.”
Irrigation saved Texas’ citrus crop, Holbrook said.
“For us, everything here is irrigated, and, fortunately, two reservoirs we obtain our irrigation water from have had rain coming out of Mexico that filters into those reservoirs. We haven’t had the impact that a lot of areas that don’t have irrigation (have). If you don’t have those supplemental rains that come along it does have an effect on size and other factors. Just the overall health of the tree is impacted by not getting some of that ‘sweet water,’ as rain is referred to.”
The 2 or 3 inches the valley got in the last three months of the year was welcome, even though it didn’t shake the region out of its drought condition, Holbrook said.
“This time of year, 3 inches of rain pays huge dividends,” he said.
“We don’t have the hot days and that basically kind of set the water right out of the soil. A good rain like that will last a good while. we had a quarter inch of rain yesterday and that made it too wet for us to get into the fields,” Holbrook said Jan. 1.
“It doesn’t dry out nearly as fast as it does in the summer.”
Irrigation is the industry’s salvation, and a bit of rainfall late in the year helped, said John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission.
“In the last two weeks, we’ve had a fairly decent amount of rain,” he said at the end of December.
“We’ve also had some cooler weather, which has added some color to the fruit.”
The drought has cut into supplies somewhat but not enough to cut into profits, said Mike Martin, president of grapefruit grower-shipper Rio Queen Inc., Misson.
“Because of lower supply, we’re seeing pricing holding on oranges and grapefruit a little higher than we normally would,” he said.
“Nobody is under the gun to move a lot of volume, so there’s a very orderly flow to the market and we need to stretch out the season just a little bit and we’re harvesting accordingly.”
He estimated this year’s crop will be off up to 25%.