Texas Crop and Weather Report – Oct. 20, 2020

Texas remained sixth in the nation for honey production in 2019, and is home to thousands of overwintering hives that contribute to the nation’s agricultural economy each growing season, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Beekeeper checks honey bee hives.
A beekeeper tends to one of 68 bee colonies staged for honey production and pollination near a 90-acre field of Silver River Sweetclover being grown for seed production. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell)

Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Bexar County, said Texas beekeeping falls into three categories – hobbyists, sideliners and commercial.

Hobbyists are backyard beekeepers who keep bees, typically less than 10 hives, to meet Texas’ agriculture exemption for property taxes and/or to produce honey for their household, to share and/or sell locally. Sideliners typically have 50-250 hives but also maintain a full-time job.

“The plight of the honeybee and beekeeping to protect populations is a part of the increasing trend of hobbyist beekeepers,” Keck said. “But around 75% of the residents who participate in our Beekeeping 101 course are doing it to get that ag exemption with the bonus being honey for themselves and to share with family and friends and maybe sell at local farmers markets.”

Commercial beekeepers are those who keep 500 colonies or more. Their livelihood depends on bee husbandry and by moving large numbers of hives around the state and nation to pollinate crops and/or produce honey.

In Texas for instance, a commercial beekeeper may deliver hives in the Rio Grande Valley to pollinate watermelon fields and move those same hives to the Texas Plains to pollinate cotton later in the growing season. Then in the summer they may move their colonies to South Dakota or North Dakota for clover honey production. 

Honey production and home base

Juliana Rangel, Ph.D, AgriLife Research honey bee scientist in the Department of Entomology, Bryan-College Station, said Texas is home to many beekeepers because they hold bees here in winter and then take them to other states for pollination services in February and throughout the year.

Rangel said as Texas is not among the states that require apiary permitting or registration, it is difficult to keep an accurate tally of beehives, activities like queen and bee sales and honey production.

The annual U.S. Department of Agriculture honey report in March 2019 showed 132,000 honey-producing colonies in Texas. By comparison, North Dakota, the No. 1 honey-producing state, reported 550,000 colonies. Texas colonies produced 7.4 million pounds of honey in 2019, according to the USDA report. Total U.S. honey production topped 154 million pounds.

Even though the top honey-producing states are North Dakota and South Dakota, California, Florida and Minnesota, Rangel said thousands of those hives are based, or at least overwinter, in Texas as the state offers a mild winter climate for bees.

“A lot of these major producers who provide pollinator services and produce honey have a residence in Texas, but travel throughout the year before returning their bees to the state in preparation for winter,” she said.

Honey production requires nectar sources from wildflowers like bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and almond verbena, Keck said. East Texas’ climate provides the best conditions for a long honey “flow” that typically starts in February or March and can continue until the end of the year, depending on temperatures.

“Honey bees produce throughout Texas, but there’s less production in West Texas because it’s dry and there’s fewer nectar sources,” she said. “Central Texas typically gets a sizeable flow in the spring and a tiny one in the fall. Freezes in the Panhandle limit production there, but there’s also an abundance of agricultural settings that they benefit.”

Honey bees prefer monocrops, or large swaths of a particular nectar source, whether it’s bluebonnets, cucumbers, fruit trees, watermelons or clover, Keck said. Native bees, on the other hand, prefer to pick and choose nectar sources.

The Dakotas are top honey-producing states because of massive fields of clover that provide a good nectar source for honey production, Rangel said. Bees are taken there in late spring and early summer for honey production.

Nectar harvest in Texas coincides with major wildflower blooms in early spring, Rangel said.

“Nectar harvest in Texas is short but abundant and spikes in mid-to-late spring. By early summer there’s not much, but then there’s a fall bloom that produces some honey as well,” she said. “During summer and after that bloom, those honey-producing hives are fed sugar syrup.”

Trends in beekeeping

Rangel and Keck said interest in honeybees and beekeeping is on the rise, but that the number of active beekeepers in Texas is difficult to nail down. Rangel believes the number of hobbyists likely stays steady due to attrition and addition each year. Keck said participation in AgriLife Extension’s Beekeeping 101 program, which is designed for beginners, suggests beekeeping is on the rise, especially in South and Central Texas.

“The number is at least staying steady,” Rangel said. “The problem when you’re a beginner is that you may be discouraged by a colony’s death in winter and wash out within three years, but you have new hobbyists starting. And over the last 10 years, because of pollinator awareness, the numbers have definitely gone up.”

Rangel said controlling Varroa mites is the biggest challenge for beekeepers. This pest can introduce dozens of viral pathogens that cause colonies to collapse if untreated. 

In Texas, Rangel said there are fewer crops that require foliar pesticide applications, which are detrimental to honeybee populations. The landscape is also populated with diverse plants that pollinators, including native bees and honeybees, can feed from year-round.

But urbanization is impacting that landscape, she said.

“People should be aware of the importance of pollinators,” Rangel said. “Bees provide pollination services that represent over $16 billion to the U.S. economy every year, and one-third of the food we eat is pollinated by honey bees. They just need to be aware that avoiding harsh chemicals to control weeds and planting pollinator-friendly areas on their properties can go a long way in protecting pollinators, including the honey bee.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

A map of the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension districts.
A map of the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension districts.


Temperatures swung back and forth between warm and cool. Soil conditions remained dry. Conditions were developing for a near-historic dry October. Cotton and peanut harvests continued with good to excellent yields reported from irrigated fields. Final hay cutting continued with good yields reported. Some pastures showed moisture stress, and fall grazing was declining. Grain and cotton harvests were wrapping up. Small grains needed more rain, and plantings slowed due to lack of moisture. Some continued to plant in dry soil. Some producers sprayed for fall armyworm. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some supplemental feeding. Stock tank levels were starting to decrease.


Warm, dry and windy conditions contributed to topsoil moisture depletion. Wheat producers halted planting in drier areas. Some producers will need to replant emerged wheat fields that suffered wind damage. Cotton producers were considering defoliating cotton in preparation to harvest before the freeze. Pastures showed good stands but have begun to dry out.  


Above-average to near-record warm temperatures prevailed with a few isolated rains reported. Soil moisture conditions continued to decline due to dry weather. Ratoon rice crop harvest was underway. Some producers were beginning to no-till drill ryegrass and oats for winter grazing. Many producers were expected to delay the bulk of the winter pasture seeding until after Nov. 1 to avoid armyworm damage. The final hay cutting continued with fair yields reported. However, hay may be in short supply this winter, so ranchers were stocking up in anticipation of a dry fall, winter and early spring. Livestock were in good condition with supplemental feeding providing about 20% of the total diet. Livestock water availability continued to be a concern. Pecan harvest was in high gear with fair to good yields.


Producers across the district were getting their last cutting of hay. Many have an abundance of hay baled for the year. Winter pastures continued to be planted. More rain was needed for planted fields to progress. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Several nights brought in cooler temperatures. Cattle markets took a big hit with feeder calf prices. Livestock were in fair to good condition, but Houston County reported major problems with the flies. Producers were on the lookout for armyworms. Feral hog activity continued, causing damage to pastures and property. 


Dry conditions continued across the district. Farmers were busy stripping cotton while others were waiting for defoliants to take full effect before stripping. Pumpkin producers were wrapping up harvest. There was strong demand for pumpkins this season. Irrigated winter wheat was emerging. Cattle were in good condition with supplemental feeding.


The district reported very short to short topsoil and subsoil moisture levels. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to very good. Corn harvest continued, and crop conditions were fair to good. Cotton conditions were also fair to good with cotton stripping beginning to ramp up. Grain sorghum was being harvested, and sorghum silage harvest was wrapping up. Winter wheat plantings continued, and some irrigated fields were emerging.


Topsoil moisture throughout the district was adequate to surplus. Dry weather continued with temperatures dropping into the mid-60s in some counties and nightly temperatures into the upper 40s a couple of days. Landowners took advantage of good weather conditions to perform prescribed burns. Producers were baling the last cutting of hay and preparing pastures and fields for cool-season forages and crops. Cotton and soybeans were being harvested in some counties. Wheat was planted. Armyworms and cooler weather were affecting grass growth for some producers. Livestock were in good condition. Feral hogs were the big problem for producers and landowners.


Temperature highs were in the upper 90s with lows in the mid-50s. No precipitation was reported. High winds started to dry areas out. Many cotton producers were stripping or spraying defoliant. Most dryland cotton was averaging about 3/4 of a bale per acre. Wheat plantings were on hold due to lack of moisture. Pumpkin patches were open for picking. Pecans were filling in, and Pawnee pecans were being harvested. Rangeland conditions were still poor and needed rain. Producers continued to feed livestock and wildlife. Ranchers were making drought plans and shipping some cows or moving them to parts of Texas with grass. Goat and sheep breeding season were underway. Good spring rains will be needed to support a healthy lamb and kid crop. The cotton crop seemed very good. Most alfalfa farmers were irrigating for one last clipping. Irrigated pastures looked decent. 


Cotton harvest started and will ramp up soon. A lot of cotton was being sprayed with harvest aids. Planted wheat needed moisture. Some fields were dry planted, but other producers were waiting for rain before planting. Livestock were in fair condition and being provided supplemental feed. 


Conditions were dry. Rangeland and pasture ratings were excellent to poor with good ratings being the most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate being the most common.


Moisture conditions continued to decline with no rain reported across the district. Caldwell County reported that all corn, cotton and sorghum had been harvested. Gillespie County reported armyworm and desert termite pressure from armyworms. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Producers were providing supplemental feed due to drier rangeland conditions. Wildlife were in good condition with the first signs of an early rut appearing.  


Warm weather conditions continued with short to very short moisture levels. A cold front arrived late in the reporting period. The district received scattered showers with amounts ranging from traces to 2.5 inches. Cotton harvest was wrapping up. Peanut harvest and strawberry planting were underway. Small grains were being planted, but moisture was needed. Hay was being harvested and sold in large quantities. Starr County reported hay baling and buffelgrass seed harvest. Beef cattle and calves were going to market. Prices were declining in areas where herds were being culled due to lack of moisture. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline due to lack of rainfall. Livestock were in good condition and receiving supplemental feed. Dove hunting was going strong with good numbers reported. Whitetail deer season was approaching. Pecan producers were preparing for harvest.

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