With most of the citrus groves in Plaquemines Parish, La., destroyed by last fall's hurricanes, growers in the Lafourche-Terrebonne area are preparing to fill part of that market niche.
Bobby Fletcher, the LSU AgCenter horticulture agent for Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, recently meet with citrus growers in his area to help them prepare to fill the void left by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“We can't afford to have them each as little islands,” Fletcher said. “We need a cohesiveness in order to produce and market citrus effectively from this area.”
Prior to the storms, Plaquemines Parish growers were the commanding leaders in the state's production of $6.3 million in citrus, according to figures from the LSU AgCenter, which show that parish posted nearly $5 million of the total production in 2004. Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes followed — posting just over $900,000 of the remaining production.
The majority of Louisiana's citrus production is satsumas and navel oranges that are sold primarily at farmers markets, roadside fruit stands and other outlets in the state.
Growers in Plaquemines had been working on more comprehensive marketing plans, but Fletcher said growers in the Lafourche-Terrebonne area have not coordinated very much of their marketing efforts in the past.
So the purpose of the meeting was to get farmers from the area together and to start thinking as a group, Fletcher said, adding that it also was a time for the growers to ask pertinent questions of the experts in the citrus industry.
The Lafourche-Terrebonne area didn't completely escape damage from last year's storms. Hurricanes Cindy, Katrina and Rita all brought some problems, but most of them were relatively minor in comparison, Fletcher said.
“We experienced some citrus tree damage in the area, but it was nothing like they got in Plaquemines Parish and the surrounding area,” he said.
Fletcher also talked about the effect salt water has on citrus and let the producers know that the salt problem is not nearly as bad in the Lafourche-Terrebonne area as in the Plaquemines Parish area — where salt killed many trees.
Alan Vaughn, the LSU AgCenter county agent for Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, said more than half of the citrus trees in Plaquemines Parish have been destroyed by winds, saltwater intrusion and other problems related to the storms.
“There was some citrus in the Jesuit Bend and Belle Chase areas, but it was greatly reduced,” Vaughn said of the 2005 citrus crop in Plaquemines Parish.
That leaves large holes to be filled in the established market for Louisiana citrus, but growers in Lafourche and Terrebonne aren't the only ones looking to expand production to fill that niche. In addition to the meeting of Lafourche-Terrebonne area growers in Houma, two other meetings are scheduled in south Louisiana during the next few weeks.
In addition to discussions of citrus marketing, Fletcher also invited Jimmy Boudreaux, the LSU AgCenter Extension specialist for commercial vegetables and citrus production, and Donald Ferrin, an LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, to the meeting to share information on diseases, fertilization and the use of chemicals on citrus.
One issue Boudreaux touched on was pruning — particularly as it relates to storm damage. “Although I'm not a big fan of pruning citrus, if you have damaged trees, right now is a good time to get them pruned,” Boudreaux said.
The LSU AgCenter expert also told the growers now is the time to be fertilizing and applying herbicides to their trees to help increase production.
“We hope we won't get another freeze this winter, but we know that bare ground is warmer than covered ground. So applying herbicide now is still a good idea,” Boudreaux said. “The bare ground absorbs more daytime heat than covered soil, which is helpful to the trees.”
According to LSU AgCenter's Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources for 2004, Plaquemines Parish had 1,075 acres of the state's 1,330 acres devoted to citrus production. Lafourche Parish had 108 acres in production and posted a gross farm value of $710,000 that year, while Terrebonne growers had 46 acres and produced just over $213,000 in citrus.
Figures for 2005 are not yet available but will be posted at www.lsuagcenter.com  later this spring.