(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 10) Shipments of Texas oranges and grapefruit to other citrus-producing states are on hold until Nov. 19.
The industry voluntarily stopped shipments for 15 days to investigate a potential sweet orange scab issue, said Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual, Mission.
“We knew there were unanswered scientific questions,” Prewett said. “This is a good faith effort on the part of Texas grower-shippers to allow things to settle down and get those answers.”
Texas shippers are working with the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to determine if the fungus poses a threat to other growing regions.
The literature on sweet orange scab is out of date, Prewett said. The most recent paper is from 1937.
“The literature and the research on this is pretty thin,” he said. “That complicates being able to answer the questions that need to be answered to make people comfortable.”
The fungus was first detected in June in Southeast Texas. Since then surveyors found it in dooryards in Willacy, Cameron and Hidalgo counties in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as in some research orchards.
“It’s been around a long time, but some other very similar kinds of fungi are easily confused with it,” he said. “There’s an awful lot we don’t know about it.”
In the meantime, the industry is working out an interim arrangement that ensures safe fruit is shipped. So far that includes shippers signing a compliance agreement that says they will not ship any fruit with sweet orange scab symptoms to other citrus producing states.
Texas ships a significant part of its oranges to California this time of year, said John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas Produce Association.
“It’s approximately 25% of the market for Texas oranges,” he said.
California buyers are concerned about when shipments will resume, McClung said.
The 15-day suspension began on Nov. 4, and Prewett said it should be lifted on Nov. 19.