‘What next?’: RGV citrus growers deal with the aftermath of the freeze


PRIMERA, Texas (KVEO) — A $400 million a year industry is in jeopardy following the historic winter storm that impacted the state of Texas.

The citrus industry in the Rio Grande Valley has had a rough time since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The inside of a grapefruit from Dale Murden’s crop. He told KVEO that the inside of the fruit had been ruined when the pulp turned to ice.

“We’ve been in a lingering drought, we had hurricane Hanna in July, 20% of our crop was lost in Hanna, and then here in February, we’ve had the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. It’s like the perfect trifecta of disaster,” said Dale Murden, the president of the Texas Citrus Mutual.

He told KVEO that 55% of this year’s grapefruit crop, which makes up the majority of the citrus fruit grown in the Valley, was on the trees when the storm hit.

The temperatures in the low 20s killed all the citrus that had not yet been harvested, but that’s not all.

“We were starting to grow next year’s crop insincerity, and that’s the blow,” said Murden. “To have two crops that you are looking at losing. That’s the blow.”

Walking through the citrus crops, you couldn’t tell there had been any kind of damage done. The leaves are still green, while there is some fruit on the ground, the vast majority remains hanging on the trees.

It’s too early to tell exactly how much damage the storm caused to the citrus industry in the Valley, but there is a precedent that we can draw from.

In 1983 and 1989, the Rio Grande Valley saw freezing events that destroyed almost the entirety of the citrus crop.

When asked how he thought the 2021 freeze would compare to those freezes, Murden, who was a grower impacted by both, said this year was similar in scope to those.

Frozen grapefruit tree during the peak of the cold weather.

Those freezes cost an estimated $700 million in combined damage.

The initial estimate for this year’s freeze was $300 million dollars.

Murden told KVEO practically every grower in the region was impacted by the storm. He is unsure how many can come back from the loss.

“There will definitely be some growers that decide its too long term a return on investment, and I’m done,” he said.

He believes growers are a hardy bunch, and “others, from the minute they knew the freeze was coming, they were preparing for tomorrow to fight another day.”

Governor Greg Abbott requested a USDA disaster designation for Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties to help cover the losses from the storm.

Saturday morning, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for 77 Texas counties, which includes Hidalgo and Cameron County.

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