Drought's end helps Louisiana citrus

"June brought almost 20 inches of rain to the station and pretty much saved the crop." Bourgeois said, explaining citrus in the area had suffered because of really dry weather during the early part of this year's growing season.

Speaking at the Citrus Station's Field Day, Bourgeois said the Louisiana citrus crop is about average or a little better this year.

"It's not a bumper crop, but I haven't heard anyone complaining about not having enough fruit to sell," he said.

Bourgeois also said Louisiana growers are doing a good job of moving their crop to the consumers through roadside stands, farmers' markets and grocery stores.

LSU AgCenter county agent Alan Vaughn of Plaquemines Parish said grant money from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry is helping growers with a campaign to raise awareness about Louisiana citrus and when the fruit is available.

"We want the citizens of Louisiana to know that we have some of the best citrus in the world grown right here," Vaughn said.

As for the break in the drought and its effect on the citrus crop, Bourgeois explained that saltwater becomes a problem for citrus growers in lower Plaquemines Parish – particularly during a drought.

"Saltwater intrusion is a major problem, because the salt is taken up through the roots of the trees, and this causes a loss of production and can actually kill the trees," Bourgeois said.

In addition to reports about the citrus crop, other LSU AgCenter faculty members gave updates on research on controlling Formosan termites and other pests. Some of that research is being conducted at the AgCenter's Citrus Station.

LSU AgCenter entomology professor Gregg Henderson explained how he is testing the use of natural products in the control of Formosan subterranean termites, red imported fire ants and mosquitoes. He said one of the controls being explored is a plant extract called nootkatone, which is from the roots of vetiver grass.

"Nootkatone has been used in the perfume industry for years and for flavoring in orange soda," Henderson said, explaining lab studies have shown the plant extract can kill Formosan termites and some other insects.

"The plan now is to determine what effect it has on plants before it can be used in the nursery or citrus industries," Henderson said.

In other reports, LSU AgCenter entomology professor Seth Johnson explained work that's being done to control the citrus leafminer and leaf-footed bugs in citrus.

"We are continuing to try biological controls of the leafminer, and since 1995 a parasitic wasp, Ageniaspis citricola, has been used to keep the populations low," Johnson said, adding that the wasp worked well until the drought years of 1999 and 2000 – when it seems to have disappeared.

Johnson said there now are plans to import another citrus leafminer parasite from Florida that is more tolerant to dry conditions.

As for the leaf-footed bugs, Johnson said new behavioral research was begun this year.

Monte Nesbitt, a researcher from Auburn University's Gulf Coast Research Station, also discussed satsuma research the Alabama university is doing with cold hardiness, fruit size and postharvest shelf-life.

Following the discussions, the field day participants took a tour of the research station's citrus grove to examine this year's crop.

According to the LSU AgCenter's Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, citrus was grown on nearly 1,400 Louisiana acres in 2002, and the gross farm value for the crop was $8.8 million.

Johnny Morgan is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: [email protected]

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