(Sept. 14) MISSION, Texas— Expecting increased demand following hurricane damage to Florida’s grapefruit and orange growing regions, South Texas citrus shippers anticipate higher markets with their slightly larger citrus crop this season.

“The 60%-80% loss in Indian River will be a big factor for Texas,” said Mike Martin, vice president of sales for Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission.

Shippers say the smaller Florida fresh supply will be the only reason for increased prices.

From Sept. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 7/10 bushel cartons of first grade Ruby Red grapefruit from California and Arizona selling for $8.50-9 for 23s, $10-11 for 27-32s, $9-10 for 36-40s, $8.50-9.50 for 48s and $7.50-8.50 for 56s.

For oranges out of California and Arizona, 7/10 bushel cartons of first grade valencias sold for $8-10 for 40s-48s, $12 for 56s, $13.50 for 72s, $14.50 for 88s and 113s and $12.75-14 for 138s.

In mid-October last year, opening season prices for Rio Grande Valley grapefruit had 7/10-bushel cartons of Texas fancy rio star 27-32s selling for $15.25-16.25, 36s $12.25-13.25, 40s $11.25-12.25, 48s $10.25-11.25, 56s $8.25.

For oranges, early varieties of 72s sold for $12.25, 88s, $11.25, 113-138s, $10.25.

Since the biggest part of Florida’s fresh grapefruit crop goes to export markets, higher export demand should increase grapefruit and orange prices this season, said Richard Walsh, marketing director for Healds Valley Farms Inc., Edinburg.

“We don’t have that many oranges here,” he said. “With what happened in Florida, it should make it easier to move oranges with the additional grapefruit demand we will have.

Shippers say they expect harvest to start on time with orange harvesting beginning Oct. 1, and grapefruit picking commencing by Oct. 15. Volume will increase substantially by the end of October and November with supplies available through May.

The Texas Valley Citrus Committee, Mission, estimates South Texas’ total citrus fresh market packout this season will be 9 million 40-pound equivalent cartons, up by 500,000 from last season.

Committee manager John McClung said the crop should produce average or better sizes and quality.

As the region is recovering from a prolonged drought, heavy summer rains have affected quality. And by mid-September, the region had no complications from Hurricane Ivan.

“There are some problems where the fruit is splitting and the peel is cracking,” he said.

The majority of the crop, however, McClung said, is looking good.

McClung noted that Texas’ 26,835 acres— which most all go to the fresh market—pales in comparison to Florida’s 800,000 commercial citrus acres and California’s 350,000 acres.

Of Texas’ citrus acres, 69% or 18,430 acres are grapefruit with 8,405 planted to oranges.