Winter vegetable crops were performing well in the Rio Grande Valley, and high demand and decent prices are making for a good start to 2022, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Juan Anciso, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, Weslaco, said the 2022 season had been good for growers so far. But cold fronts, production supply shortages and irrigation rationing are keeping growers humble and hopeful good conditions remain.
Anciso said cool season crops like onions, carrots, cabbage, celery and many varieties of leafy greens from spinach to cilantro were in good condition prior to the recent cold front and appear to have avoided significant damage. Temperatures reached just above freezing most nights but winds up to 20 mph were dropping wind chills below freezing.
Some leaf burn is expected but should not be bad if temperatures do not dip into the 20s, he said.
“There have been no real complaints about bugs or diseases, and conditions overall – from production to market – are much better than a year ago,” he said. “This cold front was a concern, but everything seems to be in decent condition. There is some concern about beet fields, but producers will keep the ground wet to protect the plants.”
Bounce-back year for winter vegetable crops
Producers in the Rio Grande Valley have been reporting average to above-average yields and below-average pressure from insects and disease, he said.
Market prices and demand for cool-season vegetables have been very strong, especially compared to this time last year, Anciso said.
“Last year was disastrous for a lot of producers,” he said. “Prices were low, and it was a bad production year between the winter storm, rains coming during harvest and problems with labor and trucking. There are still challenges, but the situation is much better this year.”
Anciso said better prices provide growers a better chance at profits due to higher input prices on everything from fertilizer and fuel to packaging and labor.
Vegetables are typically irrigated by drip tape that delivers water directly to plant roots, and fertilizer is spooned in for individual plants, Anciso said. Vegetables also require more nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium than row crops like corn or cotton.
Anciso said availability of crop maintenance supplies is of greater concern than higher prices for inputs.
“Some supplies like drip tape and plastic for low tunnels are in shorter supply than usual and therefor prices are higher,” he said. “But some things, if you can’t get it, you just can’t get it.”
Watching water, and Valley watersheds
Anciso said water is another looming concern for growers in the Rio Grande Valley. South Texas is a historically dry region, but irrigation has created year-round cropping opportunities due to its warmer climate.
Growers in the Rio Grande Valley prefer to control water rations for vegetable crops, Anciso said. Therefore, they prefer that the rain falls elsewhere in the watersheds that feed the lower Rio Grande River or the region’s primary reservoirs of Falcon Lake, between McAllen and Laredo, and Lake Amistad, north of Del Rio.
Falcon Lake’s capacity sits at 23% while Lake Amistad is around 48% capacity, Anciso said. Water districts are already rationing water allotments for agricultural production.
Anciso said it is still too early to tell, but water availability for spring-planted crops like corn, sorghum and cotton and the subsequent fall cropping season could be a concern. Lake Amistad controls downstream water flows that feed into Falcon Lake, but both are fed by watersheds in Mexico, west of the Rio Grande River.
It is a difficult spot for growers to be hoping for rain where it is needed and hoping against too much rain where it could put crops in jeopardy, he said.
“Growers want to avoid rainfall because it adds to crop maintenance when you have potential for more disease and pests. But the real problem rain presents is that it can cause production issues and delay harvest,” he said. “With crops like fresh vegetables, harvest needs to stay on schedule and any delay can leave produce rotting in the fields.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Winter Storm Landon arrived mid-week with ice, sleet, rainfall and temperatures into the teens during a few days. Rainfall and some scattered thunderstorms were welcome with most areas receiving 3-7 inches during the week. The rainfall events essentially wiped out severe drought conditions that have prevailed since early fall. Some soil erosion occurred and low water crossings were flooded, so some fields may require tillage before planting to smooth out water runs. The icy cold conditions frosted the winter oat crop and caused more damage to winter wheat. The extent of damage will be determined in the upcoming week as temperatures return to normal. Some growers were hoping to begin planting corn next week but will be delayed to at least mid-month now. The rainfall may encourage more corn acres to be planted. Some winter weed spraying was completed before the rainfall. Calving had not started, and the severe weather did not appear to affect livestock, but supplemental feeding was necessary.
Conditions remained very dry. A winter storm brought some much-needed moisture in the form of sleet and snow, but moisture totals were less than one-half inch. More moisture was needed. Winter wheat looked terrible, and the few stocker cattle remaining were being fed hay. Producers hope the moisture will help wheat recover. Cattle weathered the winter storm.
Cold temperatures and rain were reported during the winter storm. Rainfall amounts ranged from one half of 1 inch to 6 inches. Wet soil conditions limited fieldwork. Many producers were waiting on moisture to proceed with some normal practices. Grain producers prepared their planters and secured seed. Corn planting will begin in the next two to three weeks. Winter pastures started to improve with increased soil moisture. Hay and protein were being fed at most cattle operations. Cattle remained in good condition with steady to higher prices at market.
Freezing rain, ice and snow came through the district. The moisture helped drought conditions, but more was needed. Panola County reported receiving 2-4 inches of rainfall. Pasture and rangeland conditions were very poor to fair. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were short to adequate. Winter forages were still poor in many areas. Peach tree pruning continued. Cattle sale volumes were lower, and prices were $4-$7 lower per hundredweight due to the weather. Livestock were in fair to good condition with supplemental feeding. Wild pig movement was high.
The district received trace amounts of moisture and extreme cold temperatures. Subzero wind chills were reported for a couple of days. Snow and rains delivered some moisture with some counties receiving up to 3 inches. More moisture was needed in most of the district.
Overall soil moisture levels were very short. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor to poor. Winter storm conditions were very cold with light snow. Snowfall added topsoil moisture with little evaporation loss due to low air and soil temperatures. The moisture could make a difference for some winter wheat.
Soil moisture ranged from very short to adequate. The district received 2-3 inches of rainfall before the winter storm delivered 0.5-0.75 of an inch to 2 inches of ice and snow. Frozen precipitation was melting into soils. Most oat fields remained in very poor to fair condition with some reports of good conditions. Winter wheat conditions were very poor to good. Warmer weather and moisture should help cool-season forages. Pasture and rangeland conditions were mostly good, but some were in very poor shape. Livestock were stressed by the cold weather.
Conditions remained extremely dry. Daytime temperatures ranged from the mid-50s with overnight temperatures in the mid-30s before the winter storm dropped daytime temperatures to a low of 22 degrees and overnight temperatures as low as 7 degrees with the windchill. This was the first deep freeze with snow throughout the district. The storm delivered much needed moisture. Rain, sleet and snow accumulations accounted to trace amounts to 1.5 inches of moisture after everything melted. Wheat seeds may germinate if the ground warms back up, but more moisture will be necessary to sustain the crop. Fieldwork such as discing was getting underway. Feeding and watering livestock was difficult with temperatures below freezing. Kidding and lambing began.
Rain, sleet, snow and ice added moisture to topsoil, but much more was needed. Freezing temperatures likely damaged and stunted winter forages. Dryland wheat was in terrible condition due to dry conditions. Some plowing and bedding were done in preparation for spring planting. Heavy livestock feeding took place due to lack of green in pastures.
Rain and freezing temperatures impacted work in pastures. Decent rainfall amounts were reported, with 1-3 inches in some areas. Some pastures were saturated or holding water. Freezing temperatures set winter forages back again. Crawfish producers were catching decent-size crawfish for the cool weather. Rangeland and pasture ratings were very poor to fair, and soil moisture levels were very short to surplus.
A cold front brought freezing temperatures and traces of rain up to 1.6 inches across the district. Dry conditions continued across most of the area. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to fair due to the lack of moisture. Winter wheat and oats were in poor condition. Cattle, sheep and goat market prices dropped slightly. Livestock were in fair condition. Producers continued to heavily supplement livestock and wildlife.
Soil moisture levels were short in the northern, eastern and western parts of the district and adequate in southern areas. Trace amounts of rainfall up to 1.5 inches were reported in parts of the district. Temperatures were very cold with lows in the mid-20s for six to eight hours and daytime temperatures of 31 degrees. Agricultural producers were preparing soil for planting, but many acres were already ready for crops. Corn and sorghum planting should start soon. Citrus and sugarcane harvest continued. Winter vegetables looked good with no frost damage reported. A blackbrush bloom was expected over the next two weeks. Fall oat and wheat crops were beginning to improve slightly due to the recent rainfall but the moisture was expected to be short-lived. Fieldwork came to a standstill but should resume soon. Rangeland and pasture ratings ranged from very poor to good with some producers reporting above-average conditions for this time of year. Livestock producers were busy feeding cattle and putting hay out due to very cold weather and dry conditions. The cold weather drove local wildlife to browse near roadsides. Ranchers were marketing livestock in higher-than-normal volumes. Prices for feeder cattle and quality cull cows were steady to a slightly higher. Stock tank levels were fair. Hay prices were increasing. A small percentage of Bermuda grass pastures remained in good condition, but most acres were brown following the frost.