BATON ROUGE, La. — The warm days and cool nights of the south Louisiana fall and winter seasons are ideal for producing fresh, sweet citrus. And Louisiana's harvest is reaching its peak for the holidays.

"We're seeing an excellent crop this year and not much storm damage," said Alan Vaughn, county agent with the LSU AgCenter in Plaquemines Parish, where approximately 200 commercial growers have about 1,000 acres in production — about half the commercial citrus production in Louisiana.

Because citrus is cultivated in areas where temperatures are moderate, the trees can be grown across Louisiana south of I-10 and I-12, Vaughn said.

Although Tropical Storm Isadore and Hurricane Lili played havoc with other crops in Louisiana, Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said the citrus crop there — primarily satsumas — had no problems from the storms.

As a result, Louisiana consumers should find high-quality, locally grown citrus readily available through at least mid-January, according to Wayne Bourgeois, resident coordinator of the LSU AgCenter's Citrus Research Station near Port Sulphur.

"Just about everybody is picking fresh fruit right now," Bourgeois said. "The quality's better than normal."

Louisiana growers produce 17 varieties of citrus — ranging from Washington navel oranges and the popular satsumas to grapefruit, sweet and sour kumquats, and blood oranges.

In Plaquemines Parish, orchards line the highways, and roadside stands are plentiful from Belle Chase to Boothville. For shoppers who don't want to make the trip south of New Orleans, Louisiana citrus is abundant in grocery stores and fruit stands across the state.

Vaughn said this year's navel orange and satsuma crops will remain strong until mid-January, when production will begin to taper off.

"Louisiana citrus gives the state's residents a higher-value crop," he said. "They can enjoy wholesale prices at roadside stands and enjoy oranges, satsumas, grapefruit and other citrus products picked at the peak of flavor."

Citrus fruits don't continue to ripen after they're picked, but they'll store for a month or more in a refrigerator and not lose quality, Vaughn said.

Citrus production brought almost $7 million to the state's producers in 2001, according to data compiled by the LSU AgCenter.

Rick Bogren writes for the LSU AgCenter.