Louisiana citrus crop better than expected

Two years after the worst hurricane season in Louisiana history, the citrus industry is showing resilience. According to LSU AgCenter county agents in the two main citrus-growing areas of the state, the crop looks good this year despite a decrease in producers and acreage.

Alan Vaughn, the LSU AgCenter’s county agent in Plaquemines Parish, said growers in his area harvested a bumper crop of satsumas during the past month. Growers will continue harvesting satsumas through mid-December and have begun harvesting navel oranges, which will be available into the new year, Vaughn said.

Growers’ greatest challenge is getting the word out to former clients of the availability of fruit this year, he added. “There’s this perception that there is no citrus left in Plaquemines Parish, when in reality only the lower half of the parish lost trees,” Vaughn said. “Where we had 200 growers on 1,000 acres before the storms, we now have 100 growers on 500 acres.”

Replanting has been a challenge in the southern portion of the parish where farmers lost everything from tractors to packing sheds, trees and even their homes, he said.

“Since it takes about four years after planting to get to full production, some of the older producers are hesitant to start over,” Vaughn said.

In Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes, about 50 growers with 165 acres of citrus orchards are also enjoying a good crop this year, said Bobby Fletcher, the LSU AgCenter area horticulture agent for the region.

“We are six weeks into the satsuma harvest, and some navels also are now being harvested,” Fletcher said. “The satsuma harvest is 50 percent complete and should be finished by mid-December.”

The harvest of navels and other oranges should run through January, but selling the crop is also the challenge facing growers, Fletcher said. “Proper marketing of this perishable crop is always an issue. Satsumas do not travel well and must be sold primarily in the local market.”

Fletcher explained that growers in his area have an opportunity to meet the citrus demand in the state since the storms only caused minimal damage compared to the losses sustained in Plaquemines Parish.

“In my area, we are seeing growers increase their acreage for navel oranges due to post-Katrina demand,” Fletcher said.

According to LSU AgCenter’s Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources for 2004, pre-Katrina and Rita, the state’s citrus industry had a value of about $6.3 million — with $5 million of that coming from Plaquemines Parish.

Statistics from the same report for 2005 show citrus had a farm value of $4.5 million. More than 80 percent of the citrus acreage in Plaquemines Parish was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Louisiana citrus is sold in wholesale markets, fruit stands and roadside stands.

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