A February freeze coupled with continuing drought and a hot summer has resulted in a slightly later start for most Texas grapefruit grower-shippers this season.
Nevertheless, they say quality should be excellent.
Growers expect fruit size to be on the small side, and the volume forecast also was down.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the 2011-12 crop at 5.1 million cartons, down from 6.3 million in 2010-11.
“It has not been an easy year,” said Ray Prewett, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.
Still, he predicted good-quality fruit and said, “We’re still optimistic about the season.”
Conditions have been dry in the Rio Grande Valley, he said, “but not quite as severe as in other parts of the state.”
Rio Queen Citrus Inc. in Mission started picking grapefruit the week of Oct. 17.
“We’re a little bit late this year,” said president Mike Martin. “It was a hot, dry summer.”
Picking at Rio Queen usually starts the first week of October.
Sizing on the early fruit was smaller than normal because of dry conditions, and maturity was a bit behind schedule.
“A little rain would help things size a little,” Martin said. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”
On a sweeter note, sugar levels on the early fruit were up, he said.
Healds Valley Farms Inc., Edinburg, Texas, was the first grower-shipper to start picking grapefruit this season, said Richard Walsh, marketing director.
The company, which picked its first fruit the first week in October, likes to “get the crop out there early” to get an idea of the size and availability for the coming season, he said.
Typically, the company would start a week or two earlier.
“The crop is down, so there wasn’t a big push to get started,” Walsh said.
The sugar content, he said, “may be higher than ever.”
Fruit size early in the season was running close to normal for Heads Valley Farms, he said — 48s, 40s and 36s. There wasn’t a lot of large fruit, but Walsh said that’s not too unusual.
“If we get some cold weather and some rain, this fruit will really size quickly,” he said.
Edinburg Citrus Association started picking grapefruit and navel oranges Oct. 17, said sales manager Ruben Shives.
Early fruit was small, peaking on 40s. Sizes usually are in the 36-40 range.
Although there’s plenty of irrigation water, it’s not as effective as rainfall in coaxing size out of grapefruit, he said.
Quality looked good in mid-October, he said.
He expects prices on size 36s and larger to be fairly firm, with 40s and smaller showing a range of prices.
Susie Lacy, sales broker for Ideal Sales Inc., Dallas, said prices typically start high and settle down as the season progresses.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture was reporting f.o.b.s on 7/10 bushel cartons of Texas Fancy Grade grapefruit of $18-18.35 for 27s, $12.35-14.30 for 36s and $9.25-10.30 for 56s the week of Nov. 7.
Martin said the smaller crop this season is an anomaly, resulting from the drought and other conditions.
“We normally don’t see a huge variance from one year to the next,” he said.