Jr. Fletcher, Vaughn, James A., Bogren, Richard C. | 10/6/2006 11:49:50 PM
HOUMA – Consumers will find an abundance of high quality Louisiana-grown citrus this year, according to growers and industry observers.
Despite last year’s hurricanes, growers in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes expect to harvest an excellent crop in 2006.
"It’s the best crop I’ve ever had," said Jim Terry of Franklin. "But I don’t know what I’m going to do with it."
Terry, who has about 300 satsuma trees on four acres, said because of last year’s hurricanes, he’s lost track of the wholesalers he previously sold to. So he has to sell most of his crop fresh at his farm. The retired aerial applicator said the storm surge from Hurricane Rita didn’t quite reach his trees.
Jerry Gisclair of Bayou Portuguese Farm in Larose lost more than 60 percent of his navel oranges last year as a result of Hurricane Katrina, but his satsumas survived.
"Last year, people thought the satsuma crop was lost more than it was," said Gisclair, who has 3,000 trees on 25 acres and sells fruit in Hammond, Ponchatoula and Baton Rouge. "This year, the crop will be good."
Dr. Bobby Fletcher, LSU AgCenter county agent in Lafourche Parish, said citrus growers in Terrebonne, Lafourche and St. Mary parishes number 30 to 35 and grow about 155 acres of citrus.
Farther east in Plaquemines Parish, the crop outlook is almost as good, but the number of growers and acres in trees has diminished considerably, said Alan Vaughn, county agent in Plaquemines Parish.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Plaquemines Parish had about 1,000 acres of citrus with 200 growers. Half the acreage was lost, and half of the growers are without trees in the area south of Port Sulphur, Vaughn said.
"The remaining crop is not 100 percent because the trees were stressed," he said. "Growers will harvest probably 80 percent of what they would have before the storm."
Joe Ranatza of Belle Chasse agreed that the southern portion of the parish doesn’t have trees or fruit to sell this year. Ranatza has 3,800 trees equally divided between satsumas and navel oranges. He has already started harvesting early varieties of satsumas and will move to later maturing varieties as the season progresses.
"We’re starting to pick now," he said. "We’re going to have an average crop. Our trees were injured and we’ve had a lack of rain, so the fruit is small. I hope we’ll have satsumas through Christmas."
Ranatza said that New Orleans represents a large portion of the selling area, but the smaller population along with fewer growers should mean plenty of fruit for consumers.
Although fruit is smaller than usual, "they’ll taste good and delicious, sweet and juicy," he said.
Vaughn said the satsuma crop is in good shape, but growers will harvest fewer navel oranges, which he expects will be smaller than in previous years because the trees were stressed by the weather.
"Local consumers should get plenty of fruit," Vaughn said. He expects growers will sell to the local market and be less likely to ship their crop out of state.
Besides losing their trees, growers in southern Plaquemines Parish lost their homes and equipment. It may be several years before they have a crop to sell, Vaughn said.
Although it takes 4-5 years for a tree to be fully productive after it’s planted, many growers have not yet started planting in large numbers because they’re using their resources to replace their homes, Vaughn said. Then, they can buy equipment and start re-planting their groves.
While they’ll be seeing plenty of Louisiana citrus in the markets, Louisiana shoppers won’t see fresh citrus from Florida this season. Florida citrus growers are facing citrus canker disease, which was spread throughout the state by a series of hurricanes beginning in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While citrus canker affects the outward appearance of the fruit so that it may not be sold on the fresh market, the fruit may be used in processing to make juice. Processing accounts for about 90 percent of all Florida citrus and 95 percent of Florida orange production.
The canker outbreak led to a USDA quarantine on shipping fresh Florida citrus to other citrus-producing states, including Louisiana. Vaughn said, however, that other citrus-producing areas of the world may direct more of their production to Louisiana, so he’s not sure how the Florida quarantine will affect Louisiana prices.
"Our market will continue to be a quality market, Vaughn said. He added that he doesn’t anticipate any dramatic changes in prices, and plenty of local fruit will be available in local markets.