Texas spinach growers were reporting fewer planted acres due to COVID-19, but excellent quality and growing conditions this season, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said the spinach harvest has been in high gear for several weeks. Quality has been exceptional due to favorable weather conditions and very few disease issues.
The lone challenge has been market demand as COVID-19 continues to affect restaurants, cutting the demand for some spinach products. Growers reduced planted spinach acres 10% this season due to the market uncertainty.
“The big buyers are buying, but spinach is not in super high demand like it could be,” Stein said.
Dry weather with low humidity and cool nights were the major contributor to excellent quality this season, he said. Low humidity means lower disease potential, and cool temperatures make spinach develop a full body and adds thickness to the leaves.
Temperatures were below 45 degrees, which is good for spinach, Stein said. Temperatures haven’t been exceptionally cold – between 25 degrees and 45 degrees – and there have been no extreme temperature changes or driving rain that can affect leaf quality or thunderstorms or hail that can damage crops.
Insect and disease pressure hasn’t been bad either, Stein said. Development and adoption of new spinach varieties with disease and pest resistance over the last four to five years have helped growers fight potential pests.
“Cucumber beetles have not been a problem this year, and I think we’ve found more leaf-spot resistance in the last few years as well,” he said. “By looking at these varieties from around the world and adopting resistant variety characteristics we’ve really helped the industry fight disease and insect pests.”
Spinach harvest to market
Spinach harvest started in November and goes to April, he said. Texas producers grow three kinds of spinach – baby leaf, larger leaf, and savoy, or curly spinach.
Curly has more body and flavor is typically cooked like cabbage. Smooth leaf spinach, which includes baby leaf and larger leaf, is typically processed, frozen or bagged or boxed for restaurants, though some still is canned.
Texas produces around 3,000 acres of spinach, including 1,000 acres that are cut for processing. Most acres are cut for the fresh market and most of those acres are cut only once to meet aesthetic marketability standards at grocers.
“It’s a challenge to recut spinach for the fresh market,” Stein said. “The leaves have a cut edge that develops razor burn, so it’s tough to sell even though it’s quality is good. Second cuttings go to processing, but there’s less acres being processed nowadays.”
Stein said some organic spinach acres, which is a tiny percentage of planted acres, will be recut, but most producers don’t because second cuttings aren’t as marketable due to aesthetic standards.
“Producers are doing OK,” Stein said. “They’ve been able to sell everything, but the reduction in acres is noteworthy.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Consistent rainfalls, including 4-6 inches of snowfall, and cool conditions occurred. Moisture conditions improved dramatically. Pecan harvest continued with very good yields and fair to good quality, but prices were bad. Small grains looked very good. Wheat stands improved, but most fields showed mixed leaf stages depending on when the seed germinated. There were many reports of muddy conditions in pastures. Conditions for this time of year will be exceptional following some sunny, dry days. Producers were seeing heavy flushes of winter annual weeds, and weed control will begin when fields dry. Winter forage crops were in decent condition and being grazed. Livestock were in fair condition with supplemental feeding. Soil temperatures were creeping upward, and a small amount of pasture green-up along the warmer south facing slopes was reported. Tanks were full.
Areas of the district received much-needed moisture. Cattle producers continued supplementing cow-calf and stocker operations with protein supplements and hay where forages were limited. Winter wheat pasture conditions were gradually improving.
Some scattered showers with above-average temperatures were reported. Soils were being prepared for row crop planting, and producers were getting their planting equipment ready. Moisture conditions should be adequate for planting unless conditions change. Weeds were emerging, and some fields were too wet to access for herbicide application. A few aerial applications for weed control were reported. Winter pastures of oats, wheat and ryegrass were producing well with recent moisture and mild temperatures. Some pastures with winter forage were still too wet for livestock grazing. Livestock were in good condition and continue to be fed both hay and protein. Hay quantities were below average, and cattle prices were holding steady.
Rain and snow rolled through the region saturating the ground and filling up ponds. Shelby County reported 5.5 inches of snow as well as rain and sleet. Gregg and Panola counties received so much precipitation that the ground was water-logged, making it difficult for producers to access pastures and fields. Cattle prices were up. Livestock were doing fair to good with supplemental feeding taking place. Wild pigs remained active and caused damage to pastures and properties.
The district received half an inch of rainfall. The rainfall and a recent snowstorm have improved soil conditions, but more rain will be needed before planting season. Winter wheat was in poor condition across the district. Most dryland wheat did not emerge, and irrigated fields were in poor condition due to drought. Cattle were being fed hay due to the lack of available forage.
Topsoil and subsoil moisture conditions were mostly very short with reports of short topsoil moisture in central areas of the district. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to very poor. Winter wheat fields were in poor to good condition. Deaf Smith County producers were on hold until spring planting. Fieldwork continued with compost and manure still being applied. There were few cattle out on pasture due to limited emergence of small-grain plantings.
Topsoil moisture throughout the district was adequate to short. Some counties experienced light rainfall and up to 0.75 of an inch, which moistened soils. Farmers reported good wheat conditions. Winter grazing pastures looked good, and stock ponds were full. Cattle were in good shape. Feral hog activity was extremely high.
Temperatures were in the mid-30s overnight and between the upper-50s and mid-60s during the day. Trace amounts of rain were reported in some areas. Cattle on the rangeland were in overall good condition due to proper stocking rates and supplemental feeding. Beef cattle producers were beginning to sort bigger calves and preparing them to ship within the next quarter. Winter wheat and oats perked up following recent moisture events, but below average production was expected. Pecan producers were managing orchards after completing harvest.
Temperatures warmed, but a cold front was expected soon. Counties reported several days of rain. Winter grasses were not doing well. Forage legumes were beginning to germinate while oat pastures were rebounding somewhat. Ryegrass should be growing well soon. Livestock were in good condition. Rangeland and pasture ratings were excellent to very poor with fair ratings being the most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate levels being the most common.
Scattered showers delivered up to 1.5 inches of rain across the district. Cool weather conditions slowed growth of cool-season forages. Fields were being prepared for corn and milo. Kinney County reported winter wheat and oats were up and doing well. Caldwell County reported cow and calf markets were low. Supplemental feeding of livestock and wildlife continued.
Soil moisture conditions were adequate to very short around the district. Mild temperatures and rainfall ranging from drizzle to 1.75 inches were reported. Many areas reported 0.5-1 inch of rainfall. Wheat and oat plantings continued. Native grasses were dormant. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor, and supplemental feeding continued. Hard freezes in the first half of January brought pasture growth to a halt. Fall-planted crops sprouted due to recent rains, but growth was limited. Hay producers were selling hay for $65 per round bale on average. Producers hoped a return of normal, warmer temperatures will improve pasture and fall crop conditions. Wildlife were searching for winter weed growth. Farmers were preparing soil for the next growing season.