Grapefruit gathered in bins await transport to a nearby shed at one of Paramount Citrus' South Texas operations.
Grapefruit gathered in bins await transport to a nearby shed at one of Paramount Citrus' South Texas operations.

Texas citrus growers and shippers said the 2013-14 already is showing promise for good returns, with strong markets greeting the first shipments of the season.

“Actually, the season has started off with a surprisingly strong market,” said Trent Bishop, vice president of sales for Mission, Texas-based Lone Star Citrus Growers.

As of Nov. 4, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 7/10-bushel cartons of Texas fancy grade market Rio Star grapefruit from Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley were priced at $22.90-26.35 for sizes 23 and 27, $20.90-24.35 for 32s, $18.90-20.35 for 36s, $16.25-16.90 for 40s, $15.25-15.90 for 48s and $13.90-14.35 for 56s.

A year ago, the same product was $24.25-26.35 for size 27, $18.35-20.50 for 32s, $16.30-17 for 36s, $12.25-13.25 for 40s, $10.30-11.50 for 48s and $8.25-9.30 for 56.

Water continues to be a concern for many in the region, and the National Weather Service described much of the Rio Grande Valley as abnormally dry in the last week of October, even after steady rains had fallen across the region late in the summer.

“We have struggled with our water situation in Texas, particularly South Texas, for a while now,” said Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association in Mission.

He said the region had received hardly any rainfall for most of 2013.

“It was a tough year for water for us, but the citrus crop looks pretty good,” he said.

Erickson said yields in 2013-14 likely won’t equal those of last year, but the crop will compensate in other ways, including sizing.

“Everything I’ve heard from the growers and shippers is the crop looks excellent and quality is very high,” he said.

Jeffrey Arnold, salesman for the Edinburg, Texas-based Edinburg Citrus Association, agreed.

“The recent rains and cooler temperatures have helped the quality and size of the fruit,” he said.

The valley also got a late summer reprieve from the dry spell, as well, with 17 straight days of rain, Erickson said.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time. All it did was further increase the quality of the crop,” Erickson said.

The deal’s timing is “a little bit” earlier this year than last, Erickson said.

“Things don’t really get into full swing until we get into mid-November, but they were picking fruit already in October,” he said.

The late summer rains did much to allay concerns about water, said Ray Prewett, president of the Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

“We’ve got a little bit more water up in the few water reservoirs that are our water source, so we’re in much better shape than we were in a while back,” Prewett said.

Before the late summer spate of precipitation, there had been some real concern about the water situation across the valley, Prewett said.

There’s also another change this year, with the arrival of Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus, which acquired Rio Queen Inc. in Mission and Healds Valley Farms Inc. in nearby Edinburg.

Paramount now owns 10,000 citrus acres in the valley and has working relationships with 40 growers who have an aggregate 10,000 more acres, Erickson said.

“It’s been a shot in the arm for the citrus industry here, and we’re already seeing acres start to climb,” Erickson said.

David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus, said he was pleased with what he had seen in his company’s first full Texas citrus crop.

“It’s shaping up very nicely. Volume is down a bit, but the size of the fruit is up, which we think is much better because it will present more marketable sizes to the customer,” Krause said.

Krause described the water situation as tough but said he isn’t concerned about running short of necessary moisture.

“We’ve been able to sort of scrape together enough water, and we’ve had some nice rains in the fall that have helped a bit, but it’s a battle down there,” he said.