TORONTO — Texas is still pulling itself back together after last month’s unusual deep freeze, and citrus growers are dealing with heavy losses to this year’s crop and likely next year’s as well.
For Canadians, who rely heavily on Texas for citrus imports, particularly grapefruit, the result will likely be higher prices going forward.
Producers in the Rio Grande Valley, the heart of the Texas citrus industry, typically harvest more than 9 million cartons of grapefruit and oranges each year. This year’s yield will be a fraction of that, according to Fred Karle, owner of Karle Farms and board chair of trade association Texas Citrus Mutual.
“The remainder of our (orange) crop is gone, about 60 per cent of our grapefruit crop is gone. So instead of that nine million you mentioned, we’ve probably hit about 3.5 million and that’s it for this year,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.
The storm plunged much of Texas into freezing temperatures, overwhelming the state’s power grid, causing traffic accidents and ultimately leading to more than 50 deaths.
For citrus producers, the storm came at a particularly bad time, as February is when the buds start coming in for the following season’s harvest, putting future production in jeopardy. Texas Citrus Mutual estimates the storm caused at least US$300 million in damage to the state’s fruit industry.
“A lot of the blooms cooked in the freeze, and so the tree health and crop is one question. After having a very financially losing crop last year we’re left with some financial challenges, and we’ve used up a lot of our reserves,” said Karle. “It raises some real questions for our financial future, and then we’re in a drought situation down here too.”
For Canadians, the shortage likely means higher citrus prices to come, particularly for grapefruit, for which Canada is Texas’s largest export market.
In total, Canada brings in some 34,000 tonnes of grapefruit per year from the United States, and shortages in Texas mean importers will have to compete to source them from other markets.
“We hope we have enough fruit to supply the demand all the way up to Canada. It’s just a real question right now,” said Karle. “Some folks have estimated we might have a fourth of a crop.”