WESLACO — The recent cold blast responsible for so much chaos throughout the
state may have helped agricultural producers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Temperatures that failed to drop below freezing likely improved the quality
of citrus, made sugarcane easier to harvest and knocked back populations of
insect pests in onions, experts say.
“Temperatures here didn’t manage to drop below 34 degrees; so as long as it
doesn’t freeze, it’s mostly good for agriculture in deep South Texas,” said Dr.
Bob Wiedenfeld, a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station soils scientist at the
Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at
“January is when our citrus tastes the best,” he said. “Sugars accumulate in
cold weather, so our citrus is very sweet right now. The leaves of sugarcane
tend to dry up with this cold weather, which makes mechanical harvesting easier,
and it helps knock back populations of insect pests.”
Dr. T-X Liu, an Experiment Station entomologist, said the cold snap slowed
the buildup of insect pests in onions at a very critical time. Rio Grande Valley
onions are planted in October and harvested in April.
“This is the time of year that onion growers watch for populations of onion
thrips very closely,” he said. “Before this cold snap, thrips populations were
increasing rapidly, meaning growers were preparing to treat those populations
with insecticides. But now, their populations have dropped, or at least slowed
down their rapid increase for a couple of weeks, which is very good news for
The tiny thrips puncture onion plants’ leaves to feed on juices. This
debilitates plants, reduces their yields and leaves them vulnerable to bacterial
diseases, Liu said.
Dr. Luis Ribera, a Texas Cooperative Extension agricultural economist at the
Center, said the estimated $2 billion dollar loss to California’s citrus,
strawberry and avocado crops due to sub-freezing temperatures would boost citrus
prices and increase imports of those products.
“What’s bad for Florida or California citrus crops is usually good for us in
that citrus prices will go up for our growers,” he said. “And we’re likely to
see an increase of imports of citrus from Mexico and Brazil, as well as an
increase of avocado imports from countries like Chile.”
Dr. Juan Enciso, an Extension vegetable specialist, said the Valley’s winter
vegetable crop was benefiting from the cold in lower levels of insect pests and
“At this time of year, the major winter crop out in the fields is onions, but
we’ve also got smaller acreage of cabbage, greens, carrots and celery,” he said.
“All insect and disease levels are relatively light now thanks to the cold
weather. Worm levels are relatively low in the cabbage and leafy greens they
like to eat. Disease levels are also low, although we’ll have to see what the
drizzle we’ve had will do to disease levels.”
The cold probably will not delay the mid-February plantings of the Valley’s
watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew and tomato crops, Anciso said.
“One of the biggest problems in growing crops in our subtropical climate is
the lack of a hard winter to knock back insect pest populations,” Wiedendfeld
said. “So anytime we can get cold temperatures that don’t drop below freezing,
they generally leave us in pretty good shape.”
Short soil moisture in some areas of the Valley may be a problem as growers
gear up to plant cotton and sorghum in mid-February, necessitating pre-plant
irrigation, Wiedendfeld said.
Humberto Vela, manager of public relations and safety at the state’s only
sugar mill in Santa Rosa, said 60 percent of the area’s sugarcane crop was still
in the field, but doing well.
“Cool weather helps the sugars accumulate so we’ve been having good sugar
yields in our harvest to date,” he said. “In order to start seeing damage to the
crop, temperatures have to drop to 26 degrees for at least four hours, and we
got nowhere near that. Barring any delays, we should finish harvesting the crop