Writer: Rod Santa Ana III, (956) 968-5581,firstname.lastname@example.org
Contacts: Dr. John da Graca, (956) 968-2132,email@example.com
Ray Prewett, (956) 584-1772,TCM@cngmail.com
Dr. Kevin Crosby, (956) 968-5585,firstname.lastname@example.org
WESLACO — It will be a few days before growers know for sure, but citrus, sugarcane and winter vegetable fields in South Texas may have escaped serious damage Wednesday night as temperatures rapidly dipped below freezing and, in some areas, into the perilous 20’s.
Several hours of temperatures in the low to mid-20’s can kill citrus trees and split sugarcane stalks, but fortunately for growers and the area’s economy, this latest cold snap apparently was just shy of causing the unthinkable.
Lower Rio Grande Valley growers, already beaten by years of drought, record-low commodity prices and ever-rising expenses, are hardly in any shape to withstand the agricultural devastation that would have come with slightly colder or longer-lasting low temperatures.
Dr. John da Graca, deputy director at the Texas A&M Kingsville Citrus Center at Weslaco, said his office has received no reports from growers of any serious damage.
“It’s still a bit early, but it appears temperatures weren’t low enough for long enough to cause significant damage to either the unharvested citrus crop still on the trees or the trees themselves,” he said.
Ray Prewett, executive vice president of Texas Citrus Mutual, also said it was too early to call, but added he was concerned about the citrus area northwest of Mission.
“We may get some defoliation out there, but I don’t expect any fruit problems,” he said. “For any growers affected, it would of course be significant for them, but I don’t think we’re looking at anything major or widespread. But we’ll just have to sit tight for a few days before we know for sure.”
While the Valley grows dozens of tender fall and winter vegetables, only the hardiest, including cabbage, lettuce, carrots and onions, are still in the ground in late December and early January, according to Dr. Kevin Crosby, a vegetable breeder at the Texas A&M Agricultural Reserach and Extension Center at Weslaco.
“Any peppers that were still out there may have been hurt, but temperatures weren’t low enough to seriously harm any of the other crops,” he said.
Only half the Valley’s sugarcane crop had been harvested by Wednesday, leaving some 21,000 acres exposed to the cold.
Humberto Vela, personnel director at the W. R. Cowley Sugar House in Santa Rosa, said it would have taken several hours of temperatures in the mid-20’s to damage roots or freeze and expand the cane’s juice to the point of cracking the stalks.
“It will take approximately 10 days to see what effects, if any, this cold will have,” he said.
On the positive side, the cold may have disrupted the life cycle of the many insect pests that cost growers millions of dollars annually in managing their populations.
Looking forward to this year’s cotton crop, John Norman, cotton IPM entomologist at the Weslaco A&M center, said, “We’re hoping the cold snap killed off the host plant material on which boll weevils survive the winter.”