Terrebonne citrus ripening early; Plaquemines normal time

HOUMA, La. (AP) — One of the last commercial citrus growers in south Louisianas Terrebonne Parish says he lost hundreds of trees to last winters cold, but hopes that a good crop in his remaining trees will let him fill his orchard back up again.

I lost between 300 to 400 trees of my trees during the winter, and I plan to plant about 300 to replace those, Terry Breaux told the LSU AgCenter.

The crop is ripening and sweetening earlier than usual, Breaux and LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Barton Joffrion of Houma said in a news release.

That doesnt seem to be the case in Plaquemines Parish, the heart of Louisianas citrus business.

Not any earlier than normal. But I ate a navel yesterday and it was very good, said Ben Becnel of Ben & Ben Becnel Inc. in Belle Chasse. He said he lost about 100 young citrus trees to last winters freezes, but has about 3,000 left.

Stuart Riley, who has a small citrus farm in Port Sulphur, also said fruit seems to be ripening about the usual time.

There is a feeling that the fruit seems sweeter this year in Plaquemines Parish, AgCenter agent Joe Willis wrote in an email. He said that hadnt been expected because there was so much rain.

There is also an overall plentiful crop which is a blessing and a curse. The commercial growers have plenty to sell but the backyard orchard is also loaded. Therefore, sales are lagging, he wrote.

Plaquemines Parish contributed $6.1 million of Louisianas $11.6 million citrus business last year, compared to $230,300 in Terrebonne Parish — one of eight parishes with citrus crops worth at least $100,000, according to the LSU AgCenters annual report. Other top citrus-producing parishes were Vermilion at $1.5 million, Beauregard with $1.2 million and Iberia at $1 million, Lafourche at $442,400; St. James at $202,200, and St. Mary at $103,700.

The state agriculture department tested satsuma sweetness earlier than usual in Terrebonne Parish, and ended early, Joffrion said.

Joffrion said Terrebonne Parish had as many as 30 citrus growers a few years ago, but now there are only about five. Many older growers got out of the business after recent freezes, he said in a phone interview.

Breaux, who hopes to get back up to about 1,200 trees, said he is surprised to have navel oranges ripening now, because theyre normally about a month later than satsumas.

Ive been testing my navels, and I would say they are ready right now due to their sweetness, but Im going to wait a few more weeks before I start picking, said Breaux, who markets most of his crop in Baton Rouge and Denham Springs.

Yard trees now provide much of Terrebonne Parishs citrus, Joffrion said. He had a tip for those growers: pick fruit as soon as it ripens, because leaving it on the branch saps energy from the tree.

Ive seen some satsuma growers with more than 500 pieces of fruit on their trees, he said. Thats way too much.

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

Becnel said he grows some satsumas bred to bear fruit early, and began selling their fruit in early September.

They are getting really good, he said. The best time is mid-November to New Years, or even into mid-January.

Becnel said, Ive seen satsumas sell into March and early April, as long as we dont get any freezes.

HOUMA, La. (AP) – One of the last commercial citrus growers in south Louisiana says he lost hundreds of trees to last winters cold, but hopes that a good crop in his remaining trees will let him fill his orchard back up again.

Terrebonne Parishs Terry Breaux tells the LSU AgCenter that his crop is sweetening earlier than usual.

LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Barton Joffrion says the state agriculture department tested satsuma sweetness earlier than usual, and ended early in Terrebonne Parish.

That doesnt seem to be the case in Plaquemines Parish, the heart of Louisianas $11.6 million citrus business, where fruit seems to ripening later.

Joffrion also has a tip for backyard growers: pick fruit as soon as it ripens, because leaving it on the branch saps energy from the tree.