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Texas freeze may affect demand for California citrus

Issue Date: March 10, 2021
By Kevin Hecteman

The deep freeze that hit Texas last month may have buyers of grapefruit and Valencia oranges looking to California to take up the slack—but to what degree isn't clear.

The mid-February cold snap cost Texas citrus growers about $230 million in crop losses, not including replacement of trees too badly damaged to remain productive, according to the Texas Farm Bureau. Rio Grande Valley citrus farmers lost nearly all of their Valencia crop and about 60% of their grapefruit.

"I'm sure we're going to see a little bit of a bump in our grapefruit market, especially just because of the volume that's here in California," said Casey Creamer, president of California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, while expressing condolences to Texas farmers.

"I think all Californians, especially citrus growers, are thinking about our colleagues in Texas," Creamer said. "What happened to them is absolutely devastating. We've been through freezes over here, and just the disaster that brings not just to growers but the entire community—we're just hoping that there's some sort of relief."

In a typical year, the California and Texas grapefruit crops would overlap by one or two months, said Brian Razzari, product manager at Markon, a Salinas-based marketing cooperative. Texas usually wraps up in May, and California typically starts harvesting with good volume in April, he added.

"Texas grapefruit would have supplied a very large portion of grapefruit per week from March-April," Razzari said. "With loss of the crop, demand is certainly up early for California grapefruit and will help to get more large fruit harvested off earlier, but will also lead to lack of large grapefruit—36 count and larger—for the summer months."

California farmers grew about 9,000 acres of grapefruit in 2018-19, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture crop report, with a market value of nearly $56.6 million.

Citrus demand overall remains elevated compared to pre-pandemic days, Razzari said, noting that last year's California grapefruit season and this year's short Texas season may lead to supply issues down the line.

"There's a possibility of grapefruit gapping in September and October due to high and early demand now and also the possibility of Texas grapefruit not starting in October due to freeze repercussions," he said.

On the Valencia orange side, juice orders that would have gone to Texas Valencias will now go unfilled until California's harvest starts in mid-April, Razzari said.

Creamer said 75% to 80% of California Valencia production goes to the fresh market.

There were 29,000 acres of Valencia oranges in the state in 2018-19, with an on-farm crop value of $103.4 million, according to the CDFA.

Creamer said California Valencias had a good year in 2020, thanks in part to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers to Families Food Box program, which bought commodities otherwise without markets because of the pandemic and routed them to food banks for donation to people in need.

As for 2021, he's not yet ready to make any predictions.

"The quality this year on the trees has been excellent, and I think we're expecting the same thing when it comes to the Valencia year," Creamer said. "But as far as market projections right now, I think it's still a little bit too early to tell what's going to happen."

Too much sun could be a problem for California Valencias this year, he said.

"One of the concerns we have: It's warmed up a little bit," Creamer said. "So how's the fruit going to hold on? That's always a concern right now, with the crops that are ready to be harvested now.

"The other big concern is the drought, water allocations and what that's going to do—tree stress, potentially, or more groundwater pumping is necessary to keep the trees alive," he said. "So there's a lot of variables before we get to the summertime."

Razzari said heavy demand due to the pandemic led to a supply gap last September.

"We are not expecting a gap this year but will keep an eye on how demand shapes up through the summer," he said, noting that another orange variety will also factor into the California market this summer.

"The California navel crop is expected to run into July, and potentially push back a lot of customers from taking Valencias," Razzari said. "As for what we see right now, this may extend the California Valencia crop into our next navel crop around late October and early November."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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