The rule also applies to suppliers of imported oranges during the Texas citrus shipping season, which typical lasts from late September into May, according to Ted Prukop, interim manager of Texas Valley Citrus Committee, Mission.
The USDA issued a final regulation effective in July, reducing the minimum size required under the marketing order for oranges and grapefruit grown in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and for imported citrus shipped during the Texas season.
Minimum size requirements for oranges decreased from 2 6/16 inches (138 fruit per carton) to 2 3/16 inches in diameter (163 fruit per carton). The USDA also revised the minimum grapefruit size from 3 5/16 inches (54 fruit per carton) to 3 inches (64 fruit per carton) in diameter. The USDA also loosened the minimum grade requirements from fancy to fancy and choice, Prukop said.
“This rule provides additional oranges to meet market demand, helping to maximize fresh shipments,” according to the regulation, published in the Federal Register.
Prukop said shippers believe reduced shipments from Florida because of citrus greening disease is opening the door for more demand for Texas citrus, including smaller fruit.
According to the USDA, the Texas Valley Citrus Committee believes there is a shortage of fruit available to supply the fresh market, which Texas growers can help fill. During the 2013-14 season, Texas companies moved about 5 million cartons of grapefruit and 3 million cartons of oranges, Prukop said.
According to the Federal Register, Texas Valley Citrus Committee members believe consumers prefer smaller fruit.
“Hopefully it is helping the market and will get more fruit packed into fresh boxes,” Prukop said.
The USDA said there are 13 registered handlers of Texas citrus who are subject to regulation under the marketing order and about 150 producers of grapefruit in South Texas.