Despite cold winter, citrus crop is early, sweet

(11/01/18) BATON ROUGE, La. — Citrus growers were concerned that the cold temperatures last winter would destroy this year’s crop. But that has not been the case.

Barton Joffrion, LSU AgCenter horticulture agent in Terrebonne Parish, said the season is well on its way with satsumas looking really good right now.

“The agriculture department tested earlier than normal this year, and they ended early because the fruit was coming in so sweet,” he said. “They normally test the first or second week in September, but this year they tested in mid-August, and the fruit was even getting sweet then.”

The fruit passes the sweetness test once it reaches the 10 percent sweetness level.

The satsuma crop usually starts by Halloween, with navels by Thanksgiving, said Terry Breaux, a Terrebonne Parish grower.

Breaux was concerned about the number of trees he lost last winter, but the ones that survived are looking good.

“I lost between 300 to 400 trees of my trees during the winter, and I plan to plant about 300 to replace those,” he said.

Breaux is one of the last commercial growers left in the area, which had as many as 30 growers a few years ago.

Breaux’s father started the citrus grove about 30 years ago and when he’s at full capacity, there is room for about 1,200 trees.

“We’ve been fortunate even with the bad weather, insects and disease. It’s just a constant battle,” he said.

Joffrion said much of the citrus in the area is now being grown by backyard growers, and he has some advice.

Many home growers tend to have allow too much fruit to remain on their trees, which can cause problems.

“I’ve seen some satsuma growers with more than 500 pieces of fruit on their trees,” he said. “That’s way too much because it’s pulling a lot of the energy from the trees.”

Joffrion advises growers to get the fruit off the trees as fast as possible during the growing season, and after the season, take all the fruit off.

“We should have fruit from now through January, so if you’re in the market for fresh fruit, now is the time to look for it,” he said.

Breaux said he is a bit shocked to have navels coming in this early, as they are normally about a month later than the satsumas.

“I’ve been testing my navels, and I would say they are ready right now due to their sweetness, but I’m going to wait a few more weeks before I start picking,” he said.

Most of Breaux’s crop is marketed in Baton Rouge and Denham Springs. He hopes the crop will generate enough income for him to replant the trees he lost during the winter.

Breaux said keeping the ground bare around the trees helps it.

“I’ve seen some people put mulch around their trees, but I’ve found that keeping the ground bare helps to generate heat for the roots,” Breaux said. “The ground needs to be bare so the sun is allowed to heat up the ground around the trees during cold weather.”

Joffrion and Breaux are optimistic about the season and are encouraging citrus fans to take advantage of the early crop.

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LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Barton Joffrion and Terrebonne Parish citrus grower Terry Breaux check the sweetness of satsumas in Breaux’s grove near Houma. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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Although the satsumas are not as orange as most people expect, they are still coming in very sweet, according to Terry Breaux, a Terrebonne Parish citrus grower. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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Terrebonne Parish citrus grower Terry Breaux lost nearly 300 citrus trees during the cold snap last winter, but he still expects a good crop from the tree that weren’t damaged. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Barton Joffrion cuts into a navel orange to test for sweetness. He maintains they are very sweet for this early in the season. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

11/1/2018 4:32:01 PM
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