Texas Freeze Update: Fruit Is Sparse

Ernie Neff freeze, Texas

Surviving citrus trees in South Texas have bounced back from extreme freeze during Winter Storm Uri in February, but fruit is sparse this season, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulturist Juan Anciso.  

An AgriLife Extension study estimated the severe freeze caused $230 million in damage to Texas’ citrus industry. Around 80% of the orange crop and almost 70% of the grapefruit crop maturing in 2020 was harvested by the time the storm arrived. But citrus tree damages were extensive and caused a massive loss of 2021 blooms and subsequent fruit potential.

Many individual growers were dealt severe losses, including total grove losses, Anciso said.

Producers have been rehabilitating mature survivor trees, those 5 to 20 years old, since the freeze by cutting back and removing all dead woody material. Trees were typically pruned by hand and/or topped and hedged by machine. Removing dead wood reduces the risk of melanose infestations, which can cause severe damage for commercial citrus crops, Anciso said.

“Trees that made it are looking good and showing very good canopy,” he said. “But I am surprised there is any fruit this year given the timing of the severe freeze. Citrus trees bloom from February through early March, and I expected zero production because trees are so vulnerable at that time. But there is some fruit out there.”

Anciso said because of poor fruit sets, producers were not inclined to treat trees for pests like rust mites due to a lack of fruiting potential, and infestations were rampant.  

Many groves were bulldozed, Anciso said. Some producers were able to salvage young tree rootstocks and regraft fruit production varieties to them.

“Trees that were too young or too old did not fare well,” he said. “If producers had older trees that were in decline before the storm or very young trees, they were likely bulldozed, and it’s still up in the air as to whether those acres will return to production in many cases.”

Most crops and groves were insured, and there is hope that Texas citrus will return to pre-storm levels, but it remains uncertain. Anciso said producers were hesitant to make major investments into their groves following the freeze, even after they saw new growth on trees. Input costs — including fertilizer, fuel, pesticide and fungicides — were all up significantly, and availability was limited in some cases. Young citrus trees were also in short supply.

“I think production next year will be back to normal as far as per-acre production because most trees that made it are looking really good,” Anciso said. “But it will be a while before we know how it all shakes out for the industry here.”

Source: Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service

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