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Citrus crops struggle in South Texas after several years of severe weather

Citrus growers in South Texas are looking at the sunny side of several severe weather disasters. A look at the bitter challenges one man has faced.

MCALLEN, Texas — It has been a trifecta of weather woes for grapefruit grower Dale Murdeen in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s a lot to deal with,” he said.

He has been growing grapefruit for 40 years. He has seen a lot of weather during that time, just not all in consecutive years.

A hurricane in 2020 damaged his groves.

“It was hammered by flood,” Murdeen said.

Then in 2021 the February winter freeze, which he calls the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, weakened 20 acres of trees that he had to bulldoze.

“We were coming back relatively smoothly from the freeze,” Murdeen said.

That was until record heat hit this summer.

“You’ve got to have water to grow,” said Murdeen. “Now we got to wait to see if the clouds open up.”

Drought conditions mean little rain plus water restrictions limit irrigation.

“During the heat of summer we like to water every 20 days, if we can get it and that’s just not happening right now, you know, we’re having to spread that out to 30 plus,” said Murdeen.

He said rainwater is better for the crops than irrigating the groves.

“Fresh water from the sky is always better,” Murdeen said. “It doesn’t have the salts in it that typically we do from the river.”

Water from nearby lakes is used to irrigate the groves.

Plus, an economic storm is also making his work tough this year.

“Expenses are up, you know, the price of fuel, fertilizer, and everything’s through the roof,” Murdeen said. “Our costs have increased significantly.”

He said the extreme weather is not stopping the fruit from growing,

“I’d like to see that a whole lot bigger,” Murdeen said as he held a green grapefruit.

Yet, the weather is leaving its mark on his crop.

“What does that do the fruit?” said Murdeen. “Size, quality, that’s everything, you know.”

It is likely you will see as well as taste the weather’s impact on the grapefruit you will eat this fall.

“We just want the consumers to remember how good Texas grapefruit and oranges are,” Murdeen said.

The intense heat from the summer sun leaves him no choice but to look at the bright side of the drought.

“We want to get through the summer the best we can with the 110-degree heat and no water and get into the fall and winter and have that great vitamin C sitting on the shelf,” Murdeen said.

He is left wondering:

“What next?” he said “We’d like to experience a normal. I’m not sure we even remember what that is. It’s been so long.”

Yet, he is hopeful next year will bring better weather.

“I’m not sure what’s left out there,” Murdeen said. “We don’t get earthquakes, so who knows.”

He said he is not bitter and hopes his fruit is not either despite the wicked weather.

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