Texas crop, weather for March 5, 2013

Outlook for peaches and other fruit crops good thanks to colder weather

Spraying Peaches

A Rusk County peach grower sprays oil on his trees to prevent disease. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

Writer: Robert Burns, rd-burns@tamu.edu, 903-834-6191
COLLEGE STATION – Because of a mild early winter, it was touch-and-go for Texas fruit crops for a while, but everything now looks just peachy, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

“We’re very optimistic right now,” said Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Uvalde who works mainly with pecans, fruits, grapes and vegetable crops.

Fruit trees and many fruit crops require cold weather to grow, flower, and develop properly, Stein explained. This time is called “chilling hours” and is usually defined as the number of hours in a season when the temperatures fall below 45 degrees. Different varieties require different amounts of chilling hours.

“We were sucking air for a while on chilling hours,” he said. “We were really concerned. In fact, in the Hill Country I think they’re going to end up with 750 (chill hours) and probably be okay, but there were actually a lot of growers who were applying Dormex.”

Dormex is a growth regulator that helps overcome insufficient chilling hours, Stein said.

Two-minute MP3 Audio of Texas crop, weather for March 5, 2013Two-minute MP3 Audio of Texas crop, weather for March 5, 2013

Peaches are big business in the Hill Country, according to AgriLife Extension horticulturists, being primarily concentrated in the Fredericksburg area and surrounding counties. By some accounts, Gillespie County alone produces 40 percent of all the peaches grown in Texas.

There was also some concern about fruit trees blooming early, and therefore being subject to damage by a hard frost, Stein said.

“But we had a lot of cool nights, and the days have not really been that warm,” he said. “They started blooming early, but they slowed down, and this is March 5, and we think we’re going to be okay there too.”

Of course, weather is often unpredictable, he noted.

“Right now, we’re okay, but we could get everything out and then have a freeze in April. You never know,” Stein said. “A lot of old-timers say you’ve got to get past Easter, but Easter comes early this year in late March.”

There are not many apricots or cherries grown in Texas, but there are large amounts of blueberries grown, he said.

“But they (blueberry growers) should be okay too, as long as they did their homework on variety selection,” Stein said.

According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas total peach production was 4,900 tons in 2009, down from 7,900 tons in 2008. The 38 percent reduction in 2009 was due to an early freeze in April that wiped out some producers’ entire crop.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of Feb. 26 to March 4.

Map of the 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: High winds and no rain resulted in dry conditions. Vegetable producers were planting some crops under plastic. Wheat and oat pastures were hanging on with some disease issues. Growth of winter pastures slowed due to the lack of moisture. Corn and sunflower growers were planting. Some were planting sorghum. Fruit and ornamental trees were blooming early. Stock-tank water was very low.

Coastal Bend: The drought continued with no forecast of rain anytime in the near future. Some farmers were planting in soils with very limited moisture; maybe enough to germinate seed but not enough to sustain growth. Livestock producers continued to reduce herds as grazing was very limited. Temperatures were below normal with very high winds that further dried out soils and caused dust storms.

East: The region received little to no rain. High winds dried out soils. Cattle were in good condition, as were winter forages, which meant producers could reduce feeding hay. Vegetable growers were planting onions and potatoes. Feral hog activity continued.

Far West: A cold front came through, but the region received little to no moisture with its passing. High winds eroded more sandy fields and dried soils. Otherwise, weather was mild for late February, with daytime highs in the 50s to 70s, and nighttime lows in the 20s and 30s. Lamb producers planned to start shearing in mid-March. Farmers continued to prepare ground for spring planting.

North: The region saw cooler temperatures but no rain. Winds somewhat dried out topsoils, leaving soil moisture mostly short to adequate. Small grains and winter pastures were growing. Some producers were able to apply fertilizer between the rainfalls a couple of weeks ago, and winter wheat was coming along nicely. Farmers began planting corn. Pasture and rangelands conditions varied widely — from poor to fair to good. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Producers fed hay throughout the winter, and as a result, livestock were in good condition. Hay supplies seemed to be holding up. Stock-water ponds were low.

Panhandle: The region received more moisture in the form of snow along with high winds early in the week, with higher temperatures by week’s end. Snow accumulations ranged from a trace to as much as 19 inches. Producers with stocker cattle were challenged by the snow and wind trying to get hay and water to cattle. Soil-moisture levels were mostly short to adequate. Wheat was mostly in poor condition, but was beginning to improve with the recent moisture and warmer weather. Rangeland and pasture continued to be mostly in poor to very poor condition.

Rolling Plains: The recent snow and rain replenished soil-moisture levels enough to make farmers happy. Some counties received some rain followed 1.5 to 8 inches of snow, which improved winter wheat and rye pastures almost overnight. Encouraged by the precipitation, cotton producers listed fields and marked off rows. Livestock were in fair to good condition, with producers continuing to provide supplemental feed. However, many lakes and livestock tanks still were critically low. Most peach trees had not yet bloomed.

South: Nights continued to be cool and days mild, with low humidity and persistently strong winds, all of which caused havoc on rangeland, pastures and crops. Frio County farmers had to stop planting corn due to the strong winds. Some fields had to be replanted. Potato fields also suffered wind damage. In McMullen County, winds in excess of 40 mph rapidly dried out rangeland and pastures, and ranchers had to increase supplemental feeding. Cattle in that area were under nutritional stress, which was worsened with the onset of spring calving. Jim Wells County farmers were planting crops under dry conditions, hoping for rain. High winds there blew soils, further limiting forage availability for livestock. In Maverick County, winter oats and some wheat were doing well under irrigation. There were wind gusts of up to 60 mph that lasted for nearly two days. The drought continued, and only livestock yards were maintaining cattle herds of any size. All other Maverick County ranchers have sold most of their cattle. In Zavala County, spinach and cabbage harvesting was very active. Extreme dry conditions continued there, stressing dryland wheat and oats. Onions were progressing well, with pre-plant irrigation very active. Also in that area, some producers planned to begin planting corn and sorghum soon. In Hidalgo County, harvesting continues on vegetables, citrus and sugarcane. Starr County farmers finished planting spring row crops. In Willacy County, sorghum planting, which began about three weeks ago, remained at a standstill because of extremely dry soils.

South Plains: Blizzard conditions in the north part of the region closed schools, businesses and highways. Snow amounts varied, with Lubbock County receiving about 4 inches while the more northern counties got 8 to 12 inches. Winds as high as 50 to 60 mph caused deep drifts. Fields with little or no cover crops or wind-opposing furrows did not retain much snow. In those areas, most of the snow ended up in ditches and piled along buildings and fencerows. Consequently, although soil-moisture levels were somewhat increased, that improvement could be very spotty. Warm weather followed the storms and the snow was quickly melting. Bailey County reported some stocker cattle losses due to the extreme conditions. Most of the southern part of the district received a only a light dusting of snow or scattered showers along with blowing dirt. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in fair condition, with some isolated areas reported in good condition. Cattle were mostly in fair to good condition with supplemental feeding continuing. Producers proceeded with field preparations as conditions allowed. The snow moisture was welcome, but significant rains were still needed to bring the soil profile up to levels that will support this year’s crops.

Southeast: Dry and cold conditions hurt winter annuals and dried soils. In Burleson County, farmers began planting corn with good progress because of dry conditions. Pastures were dry with limited cool-season legume and ryegrass growth. Bermuda grass pastures and hay fields broke dormancy and began to grow because of warm temperatures. In Orange County, freezing temperatures and frost held back spring-forage growth.

Southwest: Extremely dry and windy conditions persisted. Rangeland and pastures continued to deteriorate. Wheat and oats badly needed rain. Ranchers continued supplemental feeding of livestock. Corn planting was ongoing. Farmers began applying fertilizer and weed control on coastal Bermuda grass fields. Small trees and brush were budding, but growth was slow and weak. Lambing and calving was under way in some counties. Burn bans were in effect.

West Central: Weather continued to be dry and windy with mild days and cold nights, which had a negative effect on livestock, rangeland, wildlife and crops. The danger of wildfire was high. Winter brush-control efforts were under way. Dry soils were expected to have a negative impact on spring and summer crop planting. Winter wheat was maturing fast and turning brown. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline. Some warm-season grasses tried to break dormancy, but frosts set them back. No winter grazing was available, and ranchers continued supplemental feeding of livestock. Stock-tank water levels dropped further, with some having gone completely dry.

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