Texas Growers Rebounding From 2021 Freeze

Josh McGillfreeze, Texas

Texas growers appear to be back on track after Winter Storm Uri caused significant setbacks to many groves in February 2021, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Texas growers
As Texas citrus growers continue to recover from the major freeze of 2021, they are finding their fruit is in high demand.
(Photo by Laura McKenzie, Texas A&M AgriLife)

Despite citrus production losses to the storm, Juan Anciso, AgriLife Extension horticulturist at Weslaco, said he was pleasantly surprised that the industry was faring much better than he expected. After the storm, he worried Texas growers might face losses similar to a freeze in 1989 when 12,000 acres of the state’s 36,000 acres of citrus were lost.

About 70% of Texas citrus acres are dedicated to grapefruit, with most of the remaining 30% producing oranges, Anciso said. There are also about 100 acres of Persian limes and Meyer lemons.

Anciso estimates Winter Storm Uri killed or damaged around 10% of the state’s citrus trees. Around 24,000 acres remain in production. Texas had about 27,000 acres of citrus at the time of the 2021 storm.

“We do know from grower input that 3,000 to 4,000 acres were lost or damaged, and I feel like that is a surprisingly low number because temperatures were down to 19 degrees in many areas,” Anciso said.

According to Anciso, there are still signs of limb damage and trees that have struggled to recover, but fruit sets have gotten progressively better from those trees. He was surprised some trees fruited in fall 2021, and that 2022 was even better.

“Have they totally recovered? No,” he said. “But we are getting surprisingly good production from survivors, and fruit growth in some areas seems to be back on track with pre-storm production.”

The 2023 crop looks very good, he said, but pest and disease pressure are heavier in some locations.

Water is one concern for producers as fruit continues to mature on trees, Anciso said. All commercial citrus acres are irrigated, mostly via flooding with a canal system from the Rio Grande River and some drip irrigation from other sources. However, the water allotments for agriculture from Lake Amistad and Falcon Lake are nearing a stopping point unless the watershed that feeds those lakes receives rainfall soon. Both lakes are at around 25% capacity, and water is cut off to agriculture when levels reach 17%.

Without rain or irrigation into October, fruit sizes are likely to be impacted by the lack of water, Anciso said.

Anciso said input costs and labor have increased for growers. He estimates input costs for everything from chemicals and diesel to parts for equipment were up 30% compared to last year.

Most citrus is still hand-harvested, and Texas growers are now increasingly turning to H-2A temporary agriculture workers from Mexico to bring in their crops.

“H-2A workers are very costly to growers, and it’s a complex system, but they are finding that it is a more efficient and a reliable way to avoid labor shortages at the most critical time,” Anciso said.

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

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