While prospects for cool-season crops in South and Central Texas look positive, increased production costs and pandemic-related challenges will likely have a negative impact on pricing and producer profitability, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Producers in the Rio Grande Valley are planting cool-season crops such as onions, leafy greens, carrots and kale, said Juan Anciso, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist, Weslaco.
The planting window is critical for cool-season crops due to the time they take to mature. Onions take 160-170 days from seed to harvest, cabbage takes 90-110 days, and carrots take 90-plus days for fresh market and 150-180 days for those being processed.
“It was dry for a while and that had a negative effect on a few early season plantings,” Anciso said. “But recent rains have helped these and other newly planted crops while not impeding the producers’ ability to plant more. We have also had generally mild and cooperative weather in most of the region.”
Prospects for South Texas cool-season crops
Anciso said although there were issues with some stands in late September and with irrigation water having a higher-than-normal salt content, plant stands are now looking good, and the overall prospect for cool-season crops is positive.
“Of course, this depends on whether or not the weather continues to cooperate,” he said.
Cool-season crop plantings in South Texas peak in October, and Anciso said conditions have been positive so far for these.
This year, onion acreage in South Texas is still at about 6,000 acres, with 1,500-2,000 acres of carrots planted.
“Grower diversification has led to a reduction in onion planting, as producers plant additional cool-season crops such as spinach, parsley, cilantro, collard greens, okra, celery and others,” he said. “Some growers in South Texas grow from 10-20 different cool-season crops.”
Anciso said the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic does not seem to have affected consumer desire for fresh produce.
“If anything, it looks like consumer demand for fresh produce has actually increased,” he said. “However, long-term effects from the pandemic, such as difficulty in getting some supplies and equipment, problems with transportation, and the increased cost of fuel and chemical inputs, have had a great impact.”
He said at a recent meeting, South Texas producers told him their production costs had gone up by about 30% from last year.
“Costs are up for chemical inputs, especially fertilizer and fuel,” Anciso said. “In addition, adequate labor is harder to find, and land rents have gone up as well.”
Good news about citrus
Anciso said a pleasant surprise in this year’s crop prognosis for South Texas was that there will actually be some citrus production.
“Things looked really bad after the freeze, and it appeared as though there would be no citrus production whatsoever this year,” he said. “And while many younger and older fruit trees died during the freeze, a number of healthier citrus trees that were from 5-20 years old survived and are producing again.”
He said the citrus industry in South Texas estimates that production might be 20% to 30% of that in a normal year.
“The estimate may be a little high,” Anciso said, “but the fact there will be any citrus production at all is remarkable. It looks like there will be grapefruit and oranges coming out of the Lower Rio Grande Valley again. However, we will have zero lemon and lime production, as these particular citrus trees were all killed by the freeze.”
Brace for higher prices
Anciso did warn, however, that although fresh cool-season vegetables and fruits from South Texas will be available, their cost at the grocery store will be higher due to the higher costs of production and other factors.
“Consumers can expect price increases on both fresh and canned vegetables,” he said. “Increased production costs will be passed along to the consumer. Of course, market prices for our cool-season crops will also depend on how competing crops in California, Florida and Mexico perform, but producers everywhere are experiencing higher production costs.”
Texas Winter Garden crops
“So far, the cool-season crop prospects for the Texas Winter Garden area are positive,” said Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist based in Uvalde. “We have already started to see some early cabbage, and that is looking good. Also, producers are starting to plant spinach and other leafy green cool-season crops, and conditions have been good for planting.”
Stein said recent moisture also helped with the breakdown of leaf or litter trash left from crop rotation, also benefiting the cool-season crop planting process.
He said one potentially negative weather factor may be the spate of heavy winds in that region.
“The wind gusts have been strong and blew around a lot of sand and other material that may have damaged some of the earlier cool-season crop stands, but that has been the only real negative in the weather to this point,” he said.
Stein also noted that, so far, pest and disease pressures in the Winter Garden area have been minimal.
“We have not seen any significant armyworm activity, and the rains have been moderate, so there hasn’t been any real disease pressure due to excess moisture,” he said.
While the weather has been cooperative for the producers, Stein said other factors also beyond their control have been less kind.
“There have been significant increases in the price of fuel, fertilizer and other production inputs,” he said. “While it looks like producers are on track for a decent cool-season crop result, these additional costs will surely have an impact on consumer prices and producer profitability.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
The region had above-normal precipitation, and cooler temperatures were prevailing. Soil moisture was adequate in most counties. Range and pasture conditions were generally good, as were crop conditions. All seeded cereal grains were emerging evenly and in excellent condition. The uncertainty in the price of inputs, particularly, the very rapid rise in fertilizer prices, was causing growers to reassess planting intentions. Soil moisture conditions were excellent, and soil temperatures have been declining, making for ideal planting conditions. Wheat planting activity began the harvesting of corn, and cotton was essentially complete. Yields were normal to slightly above normal. Stock tank levels were rising. Livestock were at about 95% in good condition.
Much-needed rain fell in parts of the region, but it was not sufficient. Conditions were generally cool and windy, and there were signs a first freeze may be coming soon. High winds further dried the region and kept some fieldwork from being done. The cotton harvest had just begun in some areas and was in full swing in others. Harvested cotton was looking good, and defoliation started in some fields, so harvesting there will begin soon. Winter wheat planting slowed due to lack of moisture, and planted wheat was emerging at about 30%. Some wheat fields were blasted by high winds and likely received some damage, but generally, wheat pastures and fields were in good condition. Grazing wheat was in good condition, and some stocker operators were looking to buy calves to put on it. Some farmers who had harvested their milo and corn were preparing their ground for the 2022 crop. In some areas, Coastal Bermuda was growing due to receiving small amounts of rain, and the region generally appeared to have an ample supply of hay going into the winter. Hay prices hovered at around $70 to $80 per roll, depending on quality. Fall weaning continued. Wildlife moved around in search of forage material due to poor pasture conditions.
There was rainfall up to 1.5 inches in most areas, and a cool front moved in. DeWitt County reported 7-10 inches of rain, which caused significant damage to some of their fields. Fieldwork and fall tillage were steady later in the week, but there were still some wet areas. A small amount of cotton was still being harvested. Ratoon rice was maturing and close to harvest. The pecan harvest continued. Range and pasture conditions remained in good condition for the most part. Good grass was available for grazing, and there were ample supplies of hay for fall and winter. Winter pasture planting was underway. A few producers were hoping to get another cutting of hay, provided the weather holds. Livestock were in good condition, and local auctions had big fall runs with weaning and culling.
Any added moisture from rainfall was short-lived due to extremely high winds, some more than 30 mph. Some areas of the region received as much as 2 inches of rain. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate to short. Cooler temperatures and lack of moisture slowed grass growth. Ponds and creeks were drying up. Producers began to supplement, but livestock were in fair to good condition. Fertilizer prices skyrocketed, worrying producers. Wild pig activity increased, causing damage to crops, pastures and landscapes.
Cotton stripping across the district was in full swing but was set back a little midweek due to winds gusting over 50 mph. Producers reported a very good sorghum harvest. Winter wheat was starting to emerge in areas where it was planted before the last rain. Peanuts were still being harvested, and the harvest was close to complete. Corn and milo were also in the process of being harvested. Cattle were in good condition.
Producers were deep into harvest with the corn crop close to being completed, except for late-planted fields. The grain sorghum crop was starting to be harvested, with some excellent yields being reported on both dryland and irrigated fields. Winter wheat was still being planted and will likely continue to be planted well into November. Early planted wheat for grazing was being irrigated in hopes of stocking the wheat very soon. There were still some hay and stalk fields being harvested for feed, and this should be completed soon. Cotton harvest was just starting, with many fields ready for stripping. Producers were concentrating on their remaining grain fields to finish up. Soil moisture for the region was about 60% short to adequate and 40% short to very short. Overall range and pasture conditions were poor to fair, and overall crop conditions were fair to good.
Soil moisture varied with some counties reporting adequate to short and some reporting surplus to adequate. There was some rain in the district, but high winds dried out much of the soil moisture. Corn, sorghum, sunflowers and soybeans were harvested. Winter wheat was in good to excellent condition. Pastures and rangelands were mostly fair, with some in good to poor or very poor condition. Cotton was in mostly fair to good condition. Pond levels were getting low.
The area received scattered rains, with some areas getting up to 1 inch. Two days of extreme winds quickly dried out soils. Growing conditions were good, and the cotton harvest was in full swing. The pecan harvest was well underway. Prices were very good on the better-quality pecans. Warm-season pasture grasses continued to grow, but time is running out as the region is only a few weeks from the usual first fall frost. Pastures were in good shape, and the moisture will help cool-season grasses for winter grazing.
The area received some heavy rains as a cool front moved in. Some fields held a lot of water for a few days, but better weather through the weekend helped dry them up. Some counties also experienced high winds along with heavier-than-normal rains. In other counties, the high winds dried out most of the moisture. Some hay remained on the ground and was waiting to be cut once the ground dried. Some oats were beginning to come up. Pastures were in a mix of good to poor condition. Some producers were getting a final hay cutting in this week. Rangeland and pasture ratings also varied widely, with good being the most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus, with adequate being the most common.
Cooler temperatures and rainfall up to 1.5 inches were reported across the region. Range and pasture conditions were good. The last hay cuttings were being baled for the season. Winter wheat and oats continued to be planted in some locations. Cotton has been harvested. Livestock were in fair to good condition heading into the upcoming winter season, and livestock prices were high. Fall calving and lambing were still underway. Some producers were supplementing in overgrazed areas. Wildlife was in good condition, with white-tail deer beginning their rut.
The region had generally mild weather conditions with very short to short soil moisture levels. In some areas, there were drier conditions with moderate to high temperatures, high winds and lower humidity. In some areas, high winds dried out topsoil, negating any moisture gains. The peanut harvest was underway, as was strawberry planting. Some producers were planting oats and ryegrass. Most row crops, including corn, grain sorghum and cotton were harvested. There was also some cool-weather vegetable harvest. Some farmers were harvesting sugarcane crops, and those with vegetables in the ground were fertilizing and irrigating. Other farmers continued to work their land, preparing rows for the next year’s crops. Citrus trees, especially grapefruit and orange trees, that survived the devastating winter freeze started to produce again. Pecan orchards were doing well but seeing lower yields than last year. Coastal Bermuda grass fields were dormant for the season, but farmers continued to irrigate using canal water. Watermelons and cantaloupes were finished for the season. Small grain crops and native pastures needed more rain. Pasture and range conditions continued to decline. Stock tanks were low, and livestock supplemental feeding continued. Ranchers prepared hay and other supplemental feeding options. Some ranchers were baling the last cut of hay, with round bales selling from $50 to $65 per bale. Cattle producers were actively selling their spring calf crop. Beef cattle conditions remain good, with volumes offered at the local market slightly less and cattle prices dropping. Food plots for wildlife have yet to germinate due to lack of rainfall as the area is gearing up for quail and white-tail deer season. There were reports of some chronic wasting disease in deer and a grass fire that burned 208 acres.