Blueberries, blackberries and other fruits grown in Texas bounced back from heat and drought last season, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Tim Hartmann, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension specialist and assistant professor in the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences, Bryan-College Station, said a freeze in late March took out much of the crop from early blooming southern high bush blueberry varieties. Southern high bush varieties are considered by some to have better flavor and texture, but rabbiteye blueberries are generally better adapted and more dependable.
Later-blooming southern high bush and most rabbiteye varieties appear to have escaped major crop damage from the freeze, he said.
“I know Nacogdoches froze and further south didn’t get that hard freeze, but many early producers got frozen out,” he said. “Most later-blooming varieties should be OK. Last year, we dealt with heat and drought, and despite the freeze, this season has the potential to hopefully be better for some producers.”
Wetter weather in the eastern half of the state has caused some concern regarding fungal diseases that can impact berries this season and plants going into next season, Hartmann said.
Producers find success with blueberries
There are about 700 acres of commercial blueberries grown, mainly in the eastern part of the state, Hartmann said. Acres in Texas can yield 15 pounds per plant or up to 8,000 to 10,000 pounds an acre.
Many producers sell directly to consumers from their farms or at local farmers’ markets, but operations with larger capacity also sell wholesale berries to grocers, he said.
The biggest expense for berry producers is labor, Hartmann said. Some smaller operations bypass harvest labor costs by providing “pick-your-own” berries directly to consumers. A few larger operations use over-the-row harvesting machines.
Hartmann said increased competition from Mexico, Florida and Georgia have led to lower blueberry prices in markets around the state. However, producers near suburban/urban markets have an advantage because of the huge demand for locally sourced products.
“Pick-your-own can take a lot of the expense, but also comes with its own unique challenges,” he said. “One advantage Texas growers have is that they can market locally and many grocers seek out Texas-grown products because locally grown fruit is usually picked at a more advanced maturity stage than a product shipped from over a thousand miles away, and consumers will pay for that.”
Blackberries, other fruit trials improving options for growers
Hartmann said blackberries escaped the freeze. They tend to bloom late because plants need more warm days, or heat units, after receiving their required chilling as compared to blueberries or peaches. Most varieties require fewer chill hours as well.
Blackberries are a popular choice for home production, but they are also a good option for commercial production. Plants can produce for at least 10 years and may yield up to 10,000 pounds per acre when well managed.
Hartmann said Stephen Janak, AgriLife Extension program specialist and program coordinator with the Sustainable Fruit Project, has been collecting yield data on some new varieties from a large planting at Froberg Farms for three years, which will help with variety recommendations for Texas.
Many small producers market blackberry products like jams, Hartmann said. Other fruits like figs, pears, persimmons, plums and mayhaw are also grown for fresh fruit or canned options for local consumers.
Hartmann said AgriLife Extension continues to test new varieties of fruit, including berries, cider apples, plums, persimmons, apricots, figs and even new crops like golden kiwifruit for production in various Texas climates and soils. Apples are susceptible to several diseases, including cotton root rot in alkaline soils. Asian-European hybrid and a few Asian pear varieties perform well around the state, but are generally for backyard production, while European varieties are extremely susceptible to fire blight.
Apricot trees grow about as well as peaches, but they fruit very inconsistently, he said. Producers might realize a good fruit yield once in five seasons because the trees prefer a consistent climate like in California or the Mediterranean. Hartmann and a team of researchers will be utilizing a variety of methods, including high tunnel houses and testing over 100 varieties at various locations around the state to identify consistent fruiting types and management recommendations.
“In this day and age, if growers can produce quality fruit and value-added products, they can find a market for it locally,” he said. “If they’re close to an urban market, it’s even better. Fruit production requires a lot of management, but it can also pay off.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Soil moisture levels were very short to adequate. Rain was widespread across the district with some locations receiving over 3 inches. Area lakes and stock tank levels improved. Rainfall limited some fieldwork including fungicide applications in corn fields. Wheat fields were coloring and continued to dry down, but recent moisture caused concerns about sprouting in early maturing varieties. Harvest was expected to begin in the coming weeks. Corn conditions were good, however low-lying areas were declining due to excess soil moisture. Cotton growth was slowed due to excessive rains and cooler temperatures. Some cotton planting was delayed by wet conditions. Native and improved pastures responded to soil moisture and warmer weather. Hay pastures were being fertilized and sprayed for weeds in parts of the region, and some pastures needed to be cut. Cattle were doing well on pasture, and supplemental feeding slowed. The calf market was stronger.
Almost all areas reported rain, which improved soil moisture profiles and improved livestock water tank levels. Wheat across the district looked close to harvest. Pasture conditions improved, but more moisture will be needed to sustain warm-season grasses in the coming months. Stocker calves were still being moved off wheat pasture. Most producers were preparing for cotton planting.
Most of the district received continuous rainfall. Many areas were far too wet to get equipment into pastures and hay meadows. Fertilizing, plowing and cutting were delayed for producers. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate to surplus. Ryegrass and some other cool-season grasses were growing well. Warm-season pastures began to actively grow with warmer night temperatures. Producers were spraying weeds. Cattle prices remained strong in most classes, but slaughter cow prices dipped. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Horn fly numbers increased.
Rain showers were reported across the district. Totals averaged between trace amounts up to 1.3 inches. A few farmers planted cotton before the rain. Producers were more positive about planting following the rainfall. Wheat fields were drying down and producers were reporting issues with thrips and stink bugs. Grasshopper populations were increasing. Some winter wheat was being harvested for hay. Pasture conditions improved following the rainfall and warmer temperatures. Producers were grazing some wheat fields. More rainfall was in the forecast for the rest of the week, and farmers were expected to increase planting activity as conditions improved. Cattle were in good condition.
The district received widespread rain with totals ranging from 0.5-1 inch of moisture. The rainfall will improve planting conditions and seedbed preparation. Soil moisture levels were very short to adequate. The moisture benefited small grain crops, recently planted and emerging row crops, and improved the soil moisture profile for future plantings. Most dryland wheat failed and was adjusted by insurance. Irrigated producers continued to apply water to wheat. Producers started planting peanuts, forage sorghum and cotton, but lower soil temperatures and wet fields were slowing things down. Winter wheat, corn and oat conditions were considered poor to fair. Rangeland and pastures greened up but were a long way from recovery, and overall conditions were very poor to adequate.
Areas around the district received 1-3 inches of rainfall. Pastures and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Topsoil moisture ranged from adequate to surplus. Pastures looked better as evening temperatures increased. Winter pastures were harvested for hay, and wheat and oats looked good. Corn was off to a strong start in most counties. Livestock conditions improved overall with more available forage. Nuisance flies were prevalent.
Daytime temperatures were in the mid-80s with overnight lows in the upper-50s to lower-60s. A very good rain fell across the district delivered anywhere from 1.3-5.5 inches. Moisture levels improved now ranging from mostly short to adequate. There was some damage from flash flooding. Several fences were washed out, gullies washed into fields, and some hail damage was reported. More rain was needed, but crop prospects improved. Fieldwork was delayed until fields dry. Soil moisture ranged from short to adequate. Corn and sorghum conditions should improve with moisture and cooler temperatures. Cotton plantings still needed more moisture. Some hay grazer was planted. Rangeland and forage conditions improved, but livestock were in poor to fair condition with many still receiving supplemental feed. Pecan orchards looked very healthy with minimal pest pressure. Alfalfa fields looked good. There was very little chili pepper and/or vegetable planting in the Upper Valley.
Most areas received 1.5-5 inches of rain, but more was needed. Tanks and lakes received some water, but more was needed. Producers were fertilizing fields and preparing to plant forages. Wheat conditions were fair to good. Producers were cutting and baling oat and wheat fields. Grain wheat fields were being harvested or nearing harvest. Some hail damage in wheat fields was reported. Some cotton was planted before the rain. Corn emerged and looked good after the rain. Cotton planting was likely to start at the end of May. Haygrazer fields looked good. Weeds were growing rapidly in pastures and crop fields. Pastures and rangelands were in poor to fair condition. Producers continued to work cattle. The cattle market softened some, but sale volumes were steady. Pecans were off to a good start.
Soil moisture levels improved from rainfall and ranged from adequate to surplus. Temperatures continued to rise. Rain put a halt to rice planting. Fields were very saturated, and some flooding was reported. Rangeland and pasture conditions were improving with the moisture. Forages were ready for harvest, but producers were unable to enter fields. Producers were scouting for fall armyworms. Rain was beginning to hamper producers’ ability to treat summer row crops. Heavy rains filled ponds.
Several rainfall events brought much-needed relief to most of the district. Precipitation amounts ranged from about three-quarters of an inch to just over 5 inches. The rainfall should benefit most pastures and recently planted crops such as corn, cotton and grain sorghum and reduce the need for irrigation water. Grain corn began silking. Pasture and rangeland conditions were improving, and warm-season grasses responded to rain and warmer nighttime temperatures. Producers were fertilizing pastures and controlling weeds. First hay cuttings and baling were underway and kicking off an optimistic start for hay producers. Livestock prices were steady to higher. Livestock conditions remained good. Sheep shearing should be mostly completed at month’s end.
Topsoil and subsoil remained adequate. Peanut planting started but will not be in full swing for a few weeks. Spring vegetables were doing well. Peaches were being harvested for the first time in several seasons. Turfgrass producers were harvesting a little bit of sod but were still trying to recover from heavy early season sales. Corn fields continued to reach maturity, and many were in the silking stage. Harvest will begin in some fields soon. Cotton planting was complete and most of the crop has emerged but was slow growing. Some cotton fields were squaring. Bermuda grass fields were nearing the next cut and baling for hay. Rangeland conditions were fair and continued to improve. The demand for hay decreased due to the adequate rainfall and improved pasture conditions. Cows were finding more green grass which was reducing the need for supplemental feeding. Livestock and wildlife were showing improved body conditions. Corn and grain sorghum fields were thriving with the recent rains. Dove and quail are pairing up for spring mating. Livestock market prices were steady to higher across all classes. Hay producers fertilized pastures before the rains.