( Photo courtesy Nery Montenegro; Source Unsplash; Graphic by Brooke Park )

Citrus volume out of Texas as of mid-January was on pace with last year, and growers were not reporting any major quality problems.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Jan. 10 crop forecast estimated volume of Texas oranges this season would be about 2.5 million 85-pound boxes, which would be similar to last year.

Grapefruit volume was forecast at about 6.2 million 80-pound boxes, also similar to the 2018-19 season.

Grapefruit makes up 70% of the state’s citrus program, with oranges accounting for the rest, said Dale Murden, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

About 95% of the state’s citrus crop is marketed domestically.

Growers were finishing their navels and earlies and planned to start valencias in February, he said.

So far, quality has been good, he said the second week of January.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate,” he said.

There have not been any severe cold spells. A light frost in December caused no significant damage.

There was some concern about rain — or lack of it.

“It’s shaping up to be dry again,” Murden said. “We’re starting to be a little bit concerned about an overall dry pattern.”

About 1 inch of rain fell in December, but as of the second week of January, that was the extent of the recent rainfall.

“We’ve always got one eye on the lake levels to make sure we’ve got enough irrigation water to get through the next couple of seasons,” he said.

Murden said he expected average size and good quality on oranges and grapefruit throughout the season, which should continue into early May.

Dallas-based Hardie’s Fresh Foods buys as much local grapefruit and oranges as possible, but the distributor also brings in product from suppliers like Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc. when local product can’t meet the demand, said Michelle Weech, vice president of marketing.

But local is always the preference for Hardies.

“We’re not just buying it, we’re promoting it with our customers,” Weech said.

The company features local citrus in its Harvest of the Month program at schools and talks about the growers and tells how the oranges and grapefruit are grown, she said.

At Lone Star Citrus Growers, Mission, Texas, T.J. Flowers, vice president of operations and sales, said grapefruit quality was good, though volume is lighter than last year.

“The good news is, with lower yields on grapefruit, we are seeing larger sizes, on average, than last year,” he said.

Marrs juice oranges are “small but very sweet” and will be available from Lone Star into February.

Valencias, which start in late February, should be medium size and “very flavorful.”

The company had some good-size navel oranges this year, but that program ended in January, he said.

“Overall, we’ll have less volume, but with more packable sizes, so the flow into the commercial market will remain about the same as last year,” Flowers said.

Murden of Texas Citrus Mutual said one point of frustration this year is the European Union.

“By now, we probably would have shipped several hundred thousand cartons to France,” he said the second week of January. 

“But because of their new (maximum residue limit) standard, to date, we’ve sent zero to the EU. That’s hurt a little bit.”

He said he is hopeful that the issue will be resolved for next season.

He also was hopeful that Texas citrus growers will finally have access to South Korea next year.

“We’ve been working on that for a very long time,” he said.

Access to New Zealand was authorized too late for this year, but Murden hopes that nation will be an export destination next season.

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