Citrus and Salt Water
News Shorts
Posted: October 02, 2023
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    Orange groves grow next to the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. (AP/Stephen Smith)
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    Oranges that fell from trees during a drought lie near an irrigation hose in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
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    Kim Dillon shows a cluster of unripe oranges in a grove in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
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Citrus growers in south Louisiana face lots of problems. Hurricanes, flooding, bugs, freezes, and drought hurt their plants. But now farmers have a new concern. Salt water creeps up the Mississippi River. That could kill citrus seedlings.

Usually, the mighty flow of the Mississippi keeps salt water from reaching too far inland. But the summer was very hot and dry. The Mississippi holds less water. It moves slower. Salt water from the Gulf of Mexico seeps into the ground. It contaminates fresh water. This is called saltwater intrusion.

Officials believe adult citrus trees will survive. But seedlings are much more sensitive to the salt.

There is some good news. Unlike hurricanes and freezes, saltwater intrusion is slow-moving.

Farmers “are scrambling to explore options,” says agricultural agent Anna Timmerman. “But the beauty of this is that we have some time.”

Growers brainstorm other ways to water crops. Some store rain water. Others haul in fresh water. Some even work to remove salt from the water. But that’s expensive.

Engineers are raising the height of an underwater levee. That barrier helps block or slow the salt water. Barges brought in 15 million gallons of fresh water.

For more than 300 years, farmers in south Louisiana have grown a variety of oranges. But hurricanes in particular are tough on the industry. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina damaged more than half the citrus trees. Many farmers quit growing the fruits entirely.

The saltwater intrusion on the Mississippi hasn’t yet harmed orchards. But state officials and local farmers watch the situation closely. Most of all, they pray for rain—lots of it.

You visit the Earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. — Psalm 65:9