Texas strawberry growers expect better yields and quality following back-to-back disappointing seasons, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Russ Wallace, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Lubbock, said weather was an issue early, but strawberry producers are now harvesting average to above-average yields and quality.
Much of the state’s strawberry crop were hit with freezing temperatures in January and February, Wallace said. Damage from temperatures around 18 degrees meant surviving plants were very small and needed time to recover. Some producers covered plants to protect them from freezing temperatures, but the cloth typically protects flowers only against lows around 27 degrees.
Strawberry plant recovery meant a delayed harvest, but Wallace said plants are making up for lost time.
“Overall, harvest is looking much better than the previous two years, and yields should be average to good,” he said. “They may have been slow to harvest, but plants are pushing hard now and looking better.”
Texas strawberry producers overcome challenges
Wallace said recent rains have improved growing conditions, though nearly all strawberry fields are planted into black or white plastic with drip irrigation systems.
Too much water can hurt fruit, Wallace said. It can dilute the brix measurements, which is the sugar content found in fruits like strawberries and watermelons. Typically, 9-13 brix are good for strawberries. Rainfall and humidity can also fuel fungus and mold outbreaks in strawberries, which can be devastating for the crop.
Severe drought can also negatively impact strawberries, but drier weather can help producers by reducing pest and disease pressure, Wallace said.
Growers also deal with a wide range of pests from insects to rodents, he said. Insects like thrips and lygus bugs damage fruit and crickets eat leaves. Birds peck at fruit, rabbits eat fruit and plants, and mice pick the seeds from the fruit.
“Strawberries are a challenge because there are a number of things that can impact production,” he said. “Growers have to be vigilant, whether it’s high humidity causing root diseases or covering plants with nets to keep birds away from the fruit. There are a lot of critters that like strawberries as much as we do.”
Interest in Texas strawberry production spreading
Planted acres and interest in strawberry production continues to grow across the state, Wallace said. Farms and strawberry acres are difficult to track, but from his experience there are likely more than 60 growers across various regions of Texas with around 400 acres in production.
Most large commercial producers grow their crop on 7-12 acres while smaller operations are from 1,000 plants up to 3 acres, Wallace said. Producers plant around 17,000 bare root strawberry plants or plugs per acre, depending on row spacing and their production capability and goals.
The production standard for Texas is about 1 pound of fruit from each plant. Typically, Wallace said, most strawberry producers can average 1-1.5 pounds per plant during a season.
Most Texas producers welcome consumers into the fields for “pick-your-own” strawberries. Prices have increased some this season, he said, and range from $3.50-$4 per pound up to $7-$8 per pound for strawberries near metropolitan areas.
Poteet, south of San Antonio, is known for its strawberries. The area boasts the state’s largest concentration of producers and recently celebrated with its annual strawberry festival. Wallace said other notable growers can be found around Lubbock, Fredericksburg, Tyler, Dallas-Fort Worth and the Austin area.
“It’s important for consumers to understand how much goes into growing strawberries, so I wouldn’t mind seeing even higher prices,” Wallace said. “Interest in growing strawberries is certainly growing, but acres are hard to tell. Some years I am hearing that acres are static, and then I come across a farm with 55,000 new strawberry plants.”
Texas strawberry production poised for growth
Wallace said he is updating AgriLife Extension’s Production Guide for Texas-Grown Strawberries based on ongoing research that should help guide producers and prospective growers.
Wallace and collaborators from AgriLife Extension, Prairie View A&M University and Texas Tech University received a third two-year Texas Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block grant designed to improve sustainability for Texas strawberry producers. Two previous grants focused on production methods like low tunnels and hoop houses and then weed control, plant stress, fertilization, irrigation, shading and other production techniques to improve crop yields and quality throughout Texas.
Wallace and other researchers have over 15 statewide trials with growers to evaluate strawberry varieties for their performance in the various climates and soils around the state.
“We’ve gained a lot of excellent knowledge over the past four years, and identifying the varieties, both old and new, that perform best in the various regions will be another big step,” he said. “I think Texas is poised for expanding strawberry production, and this research will be a big part of that growth.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Some counties received beneficial rainfall while others saw very little to none. Soil moisture levels were adequate to surplus. Two lakes in the district received some runoff and water levels have increased slightly, but most stock tanks were still not full. Recent heavy rainfalls over eastern parts of the district allowed cotton planting into good moisture. There was hail and rain damage to about 5% of the corn and grain sorghum stands. Temperatures remained mild. The week started off warm, then turned cool with cold nights. Cold nights slowed corn growth. Green-up was delayed, and heavy winter weed growth was reported. Stock tanks were observed with abnormally high amounts of algae and other vegetation. Rust and armyworms below thresholds were observed in some wheat crops in one northern county. Wheat was mostly grazed out. Warm-season grasses were slow growing due to the cool evening temperatures, but the rainfall should help them as temperatures warm. Spring-planted oats have headed out, but very little. Producers were in the middle of planting cotton. Cotton needed warmer weather to break the soil and come up. Wheat crops were not turning, a result of crop fill and heavy feeding damage by Hessian fly pupae. Wheat leaf rust pressure continued to intensify under moderate temperatures and moisture. Corn and sorghum were developing very well. First hay cuttings continued, and forage volumes looked good. Pastures were being grazed, and supplemental feeding was declining. Fly numbers on livestock were elevated. Producers were doing spring cattle work. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor to fair, and livestock were in good condition.
Conditions continued to decline and were mostly hot, windy and dry. Temperatures were in the 90s. Some areas reported some rain, with up to half an inch reported. The soil moisture profile was still very short. With the lack of moisture and higher temperatures all crops were starting to get burned and showing signs of stunted growth. Range and pasture conditions also were on the decline. Cattle were chasing green winter grasses, which were offering decent grazing. Warm-season grasses were struggling due to lack of moisture and cool night temperatures. Farmers were getting worried about planting cotton due to dry conditions. Wheat looked poor in some areas and promising in others. Some wheat was cut for hay. Farmers were worried about planting cotton in the dry ground. Corn and sorghum looked decent. Tank water levels were low.
The district received 0.5-8 inches of rain, and some fields were flooded. Heavy rains could also have an impact on cotton planting. The rain will have a positive impact on corn and sorghum. Some corn was near the tassel stage, and most fields looked excellent. Pasture conditions should benefit most. Some hail was reported, but crop damage assessments were ongoing. Some cotton stands were up, and producers were watching for thrips. The cooler temperatures slowed cotton growth, but fields were still in good shape. Wet conditions slowed farming activities, but most producers were on schedule. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to improve and look to be set up for good spring production. Ponds caught some water, but most were not full. Weed spraying continued. Warm-season pastures and hay fields were progressing well. Many producers were applying fertilizer to hay fields, which were growing fast. A little ryegrass hay was made, and growers were eager to cut and bale more but the weather has not cooperated. Livestock markets were high and climbing higher. Livestock were doing well.
Most of the district received enough rainfall to thoroughly saturate the ground. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate to surplus. Storms brought cooler temperatures, especially overnight. Fluctuations in nighttime temperatures slowed warm-season grass growth. Producers were cutting ryegrass for bales and silage. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good overall. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some supplementation taking place. Cattle markets remained firm with quality animals dominating buyer interest, and slaughter figures remained steady. Producers were able to back off hay usage and completely eliminate it in some areas. Wild pig damage continued to be a problem in hay meadows and pastures.
Some counties received up to a half inch of rain. Conditions remained dry. Wet and cooler weather was in the forecast. Weather conditions were cool and cloudy towards the end of the week. Some wheat fields were being cut for silage, and others were being grazed or will be bailed. A few corn planters were active. Other producers were preparing fields by applying pre-plant herbicides.
Rain was needed across the district. Rains up to 0.25 of an inch were reported in the southeastern part of the region. Producers were preparing fields for spring plantings with fertilizing and pre-watering. The soil moisture profile remained low across much of the region. The winter wheat crop was going downhill with each windy day, and most fields were in very poor to poor condition. Irrigated wheat was doing better than dryland fields, but pivots were having a hard time keeping up with water needs. Some producers were bailing or grazing winter wheat. Insect pressure was high with increased Russian wheat aphid pressure in some counties. The small grain silage harvest was underway and expected to become more active soon. Corn, sorghum and cotton planting was expected to begin soon. Cow/calf producers were feeding more on rangelands, but in several counties the cow/calf pairs were going to market due to lack of forage availability.
Pasture and rangeland conditions were good to excellent. Subsoil and topsoil moisture were short to adequate. The week started off dry and warm before rain showers came in mid-week delivering up to 1.5 inches. Storms brought cooler weather and high winds. Winter wheat and oats were headed out, and grain heads looked good. Corn was planted and emerging. Summer grasses were starting to emerge. Sunflowers and soybeans were planted, and grain sorghum planting was underway. Horn and stables flies were starting to become a problem. Some grasshoppers were emerging. Livestock conditions were good and improving, and spring calves were everywhere.
Temperatures were near normal for this time of year. Areas received 0.5-2 inches of rainfall. Windy conditions were drying out fields, and some field preparations were made. Many producers put out fertilizer on Coastal Bermuda grass fields before the rains. Pastures were trying to green up but needed more rain. Rangeland conditions were declining. Warm-season grasses were slow to emerge due to cooler temperatures. Cattle were being fed hay and supplements. Stock ponds were low. Cattle markets remained good to excellent. Stocker steers sold steady and feeder steers were $4-$5 higher per hundredweight. Feeder heifers were $5-$8 higher per hundredweight. Oats and wheat were being cut and baled. Bales were selling for up to $125. Sudan grass was being planted. Corn and sorghum emerged, but both needed rain. Preparations continued for cotton planting. Producers were beginning to see some pecan nut clusters in trees. St. Augustine lawns were showing root rot damage.
Most of the district received 1.5-3 inches of rainfall. Grasses were growing, and livestock were in good health. Stock tanks were full. Winter wheat, oats and ryegrass looked good. Pastures were in good condition, but ryegrass was beginning to decline and were being cut and baled. Rain delayed some hay cutting and fieldwork. Summer grasses were coming out of dormancy and looked excellent, but cooler night temperatures were stalling growth. Producers were putting out fertilizer to take advantage of the rain, while others were waiting for warmer temperatures. Rice planting was delayed by rain. Heavy rains in some areas could make the rice crop very late. Row crops were emerging and looked promising. Corn was in good shape. Cotton planting was underway.
Areas reported no rain up to 3 inches, and more precipitation was in the forecast. Some flooding was reported. Recent rains should help planted dryland crops and ease irrigation demands. The rain should also improve pasture and rangeland conditions. Creeks and ponds were still low. Much of the dryland wheat was disked under, and the remaining irrigated wheat should yield well. Relatively cool temperatures and overcast skies mitigated soil moisture losses but were holding back grass growth. Row crops benefited from recent rains and fertilizer applications. There were some reports of rust in wheat and oats, and producers were spraying fungicide. Producers were fertilizing and controlling weeds in pastures and hay fields. Corn and sorghum looked good with the rain. Livestock conditions were fair to good and continued to receive feed. Spring shearing continued. Wildlife were in good shape, and several turkey sightings were reported.
Wheat and oat crops continued to mature, and fields were being prepared for harvest in the coming weeks. Corn crops looked good and continued to develop, and some fields were tasseling. Cotton planting continued but should wrap up soon. Emerged cotton was weedy, and farmers were spraying. Cotton growth stages were from germination to full squaring in southern parts of the district. Grain sorghum looked good as well, but rice stink bugs and head worms were observed in fields along the Rio Grande River. A few fields had small numbers of sugarcane aphids. Peanut producers were active in fields preparing for planting. Crops and pastureland were steadily improving. Pecan orchards were already green and following the normal irrigation pattern. Most summer vegetables were planted, including watermelons and cantaloupes. The Coastal Bermuda grass hay was ready for a first cut. Livestock conditions were good, and supplemental feeding continued. Pasture and rangeland conditions were improving rapidly for cattle and wildlife. Beef cattle markets continued to see below-average sale volumes as strong selloffs occurred earlier in the year.