Texas crop, weather report for April 16, 2013

Peach crop may have been cut by three-fourths by freeze

Peach blooms

The first thing that opens on a peach tree is the bloom, which makes it susceptible to late freezes, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Kathleen Phillips)

Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, rd-burns@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – What some have termed “crazy weather” appears to have cut potential peach yields by three-fourths or more in the major production areas of the state, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist.

Unseasonably warm weather punctuated by late freezes in the Central Texas, North Texas and Rolling Plains regions has knocked back the peach crop considerably, said Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Uvalde who works mainly with pecans, fruits, grapes and vegetable crops.

“We’ve definitely had some damage,” Stein said. “A lot of fruit has been lost, but there are still some peaches around.”

The damage varied by peach variety and growing sites, he said.

“At the best sites, (on higher ground) the cold air drained away, and in a lot of those instances there are a few peaches scattered around,” Stein said. “And it was also variety driven. Certain varieties — Redglobe was one — seemed to fare better than others.”

Two-minute MP3 Audio of Texas crop, weather for April 16, 2013 Two-minute MP3 Audio of Texas crop, weather for April 16, 2013

It’s hard to estimate the total damage as there are so many large and small producers growing different varieties on various kinds of sites, he said.

“We all hesitate to put that number out there, but I’d say the amount of crop we have (left) is about 20 to 25 percent.”

The good news is that the remaining crop should be of excellent quality — large and of good flavor — because of the thinning by the freeze, Stein said.

“And because we may be going into a droughty time, maybe having a short crop during a drought will be a silver lining as the trees won’t be as stressed.”

Of course, some peach-growing areas dodged the freeze, Stein noted. For instance, East Texas orchards were largely spared.

“It just depended upon where that cold air settled,” he said.

The High Plains and South Plains also received hard freezes, but there are few peaches grown in that area. There are some apple orchards there, but because apples do not bloom as early as peaches they should recover, he said.

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 April 8-15:

Central: Some producers were waiting for warm days to start planting sorghum. Pastures were green with winter grasses. However, native grasses were slow to green up due to cool temperatures. Soil-moisture levels were very good, but stock tank levels were low due to minimal runoff. Late freezes and frost damaged peach and vegetable crops throughout the region. Corn emergence was strong, and grain sorghum was just beginning to make stands. Neither corn or sorghum showed much lasting damage from the freeze. Livestock were in good condition.

Coastal Bend: The northeast part of the district improved from recent rains. Pecan trees were beginning to bud. Grain sorghum and corn looked good in that area. Some replanting of cotton had to be done due to soil crusting. Lack of rain in the western part of the region slowed growth and development of crops. High winds further dried out soils.

East: Much needed rain, from 0.18 inch to 2 inches, accompanied a cold front that passed through the region. The cooler temperatures slowed forage growth, and high winds reduced soil moisture. Wildfire danger was low. Pastures looked good, supplying better grazing for livestock. Most producers were able to stop feeding hay. Ponds were full. Producers were applying herbicides to control spring weeds. Vegetable planting slowed. Spring calving waned, with most spring calves already on the ground gaining weight. Bulls were turned out for rebreeding. Feral hog damage was reported in pastures, lawns and fields. Tent caterpillars were reported in many tree species.

Far West: The region had high winds, with temperatures ranging from below freezing to the high 80s. Red-flag warnings for wildfire continued to be posted for the entire area. More westerly counties got from 0.1 to 0.9 inch of rain. Pecan trees were budding, and watermelon growers began planting. Some alfalfa producers took their first cuttings of the season; others were two to three weeks away. Mesquite came out of dormancy, and more annual weeds were sprouting.

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

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts

North: Soil-moisture levels ranged from short to surplus. Some areas got as much as 1 inch or more of rain along with colder weather. Back-and-forth cool/hot/cold/warm days stressed plantings. Runoff from the recent rains was beginning to fill ponds. Winter pastures and wheat were doing well thanks to the weekly rains. Wheat was heading. Ryegrass and clover pastures were thriving. From 25 to 100 percent of sorghum was planted and 90 percent of soybeans. Most cattle producers fed hay for the last time this year as pastures were coming on. Livestock were improving. Fly populations were increasing. Feral hog damage was reported.

Panhandle: After unseasonably warm weather, a hard freeze hit much of the region. The freeze certainly reduced wheat yields and may have wiped out entire fields in some cases. Wheat producers were in a wait-and-see mode, with more freezing temperatures expected this week. Insect pressure also increased from green bugs, mites and Russian wheat aphids. Cold temperatures continued to delay corn planting in some areas. Cotton planting was expected to begin in a couple of weeks with sorghum following a week later. Pastures began to green up, but without more moisture, grasses were not expected to last long. Stocker cattle were being placed on wheat to be grazed out. Some areas were reporting heavy lice infestations on cattle. Most livestock remained in fair to good condition.

Rolling Plains: A recent cold snap dropped temperatures below freezing. Combined with the damage received from a freeze at the end of March, the most recent freeze will greatly diminish this year’s wheat yield potential. Trees were also showing signs of freeze damage. Fruit trees and ornamentals took the hardest hit. Pastures were not spared from damage either, with grass turned dull green, brown or black from damage. Young mesquite trees that were already budded out also showed signs of damage. Along with freezing temperatures, some counties received as much as 2 inches of rain. Another freeze was forecast for April 18. Leaf rust was reported in fields along the Red River. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Cotton farmers were bedding up fields and applying pre-emergence herbicides. Some producers who believed they had glyphosate-resistant weeds last year were applying yellow herbicides (dinitroaniline) before planting. Strawberries re-bloomed after the last freeze and berry development was proceeding well. Pecan nut casebearer traps were in place in anticipation of earlier-than-normal activity. The peach crop was expected to be light this year due to freezes in the mid 20s on March 25-26 during the bloom stage. Some later varieties still had some unopened blooms that were expected to produce a few peaches.

South: The region’s northern counties received scattered showers, but not enough rain to substantially improve rangeland and pastures. Soil-moisture levels remained short to very short as the drought continued. Where there was irrigation, growers began planting cotton and continued watering corn, wheat and potatoes. Rangeland and pastures in some areas were somewhat improved, but many livestock producers continued culling herds because of poor forage availability and the need to lessen feeding expenses. In Duval County, for example, cattle were being sold off on a weekly basis. Rangeland conditions were so poor there that livestock producers have had to continually provide large amounts of supplemental feed. Row-crop conditions in Jim Wells County were very poor. Many fields did not have any soil moisture for seed germination. Hay has been reported to only be available from outside the area, and then at a cost of $80 for a 1,000-pound round bale. In Maverick County, temperatures dropped into the mid-50s as a result of a cool front moving into that area with winds at about 60 miles an hour — adding stress to crops. In Zavala County, livestock producers reported some native grasses greening up but not enough to provide grazing. In Hidalgo County, the sugarcane harvest was completed, harvesting of citrus and vegetables continued, but row crops were in very poor shape. In Starr County, some onion producers continued harvesting, while others were waiting for better market prices. In Willacy County, planting of row crops was at a standstill. Many crops will not be planted there this year due to the severe drought. Those that have been planted were generally stressed. Even sorghum looked terrible.

South Plains: Most counties reported freezing temperatures. Lows on April 10-11 reached the low 20s, with below-freezing temperatures lasting 10 hours or more. As a result, there was additional freeze damage to wheat that was already damaged by a hard freeze the last week of March. More freezing temperatures were forecast for April 18. Topsoils were extremely dry except where producers began pre-plant watering. Farmers continued preparing fields, with many starting to pump water in order to have enough soil moisture to plant. Herbicide and fertilizer applications were ongoing. Pastures and rangeland needed rain. Cattle were mostly in fair to good condition.

Southeast: Rainfall varied from zero to as much as 5 inches in some areas. Most of the region could use more moisture. Montgomery County had lows in the 40s that slowed forage growth, and from 0.2 to more than 1 inch of rain. Parts of the county remained dry. In Burleson County, fluctuating temperatures limited warm-season forage growth. Corn and sorghum crops in that county were established and growing. Heavy rain in Chambers County benefited pastures and crops but delayed planting of rice. Fort Bend County had temperatures in the low 50s and high 80s along with scattered showers. Galveston County had severe weather with hailstorms.

Southwest: Conditions continued to deteriorate with warm and dry weather. Some areas received early April showers, others received little to no rain. Corn and grain sorghum were emerged. Wheat and oats headed out, and fields under irrigation looked very good. Cotton growers were preparing fields for planting. Livestock producers continued feeding hay.

West Central: Warm, dry, windy days with cool nights continued to be the norm. Some counties reported scattered rain with hail and sleet, but no substantial crop damage was reported. Soil-moisture levels further declined. The dry conditions limited small grain and sorghum planting. Winter wheat and oats started to head. Some wheat fields were zeroed-out by crop-insurance adjusters. Weed and insect control was under way. Rangeland and pastures greened up with forbs and grasses, which provided much needed grazing. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle. Stock-water tank levels were very low. Pecan tree bud break started, and growers were preparing to fertilize orchards.

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