The historic cold snap that has frozen Texas this week has left citrus growers with little hope for saving their crops.
“We’ve had the perfect trifecta this season,” says Dale Murden, citrus grower and president of Texas Citrus Mutual. “We’ve endured the lingering drought, Hurricane Hanna and now the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre — all on top of the pandemic. It’s been an incredible ride.”
According to Murden, approximately 60 percent of the current grapefruit crop remained on the trees, along with 100 percent of the Valencia orange crop.
“Most everyone saw temps of 21 degrees for several hours,” shared Murden. “When temperatures dip below 28 degrees and stay below that mark for five hours or longer, the fruit that is still on branches begins to freeze on the inside.”
Unfortunately, the freeze came at a devastating time. Next year’s crop was already beginning to form on the tree, so there’s no doubt that yields from next season’s crop will also be impacted by the freeze.
Typically, it is possible for growers to protect their trees during freeze events. However, the extreme winds made it nearly impossible to utilize any preventive measures.
Murden believes it will take several weeks to evaluate the full extent of citrus crop damage. Commercial citrus in the Rio Grande Valley represents a $468 million commodity in Texas. So, if 60 percent of the grapefruit crop is lost, that could mean hundreds of millions in losses.
In addition to the damage done to crops in the field, harvested fruit is facing challenges of its own due to power outages and road closures in Texas.
“The power outages have pretty much shut us down, leaving us unable to pack anything remaining in the sheds. Many employees are unable to come to work, and truck traffic on the road has come to a complete standstill,” Murden says.
Consumers may notice less Texas-grown citrus and produce on their shelves in the coming weeks. Currently, the highway patrol isn’t allowing trucks on the road, so Texas produce can’t leave and no supply is coming in. The border with Mexico is open, but the crossings are limited due to electricity outages.
“To compound all of that, we’re now beginning to see gas shortages, so this could drag out for a couple more weeks,” Murden says.