Most peaches, pecans undamaged by the freeze; jury still out on wheat
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – There were varied reports of damage to wheat, forages and fruit and nut crops from the hard freeze on April 15 from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel throughout the Central, Rolling Plains, South Plains and Panhandle regions.
A statewide summary of damage to wheat in those areas is pending. However, Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist for fruits, nuts and vegetable crops at Uvalde, was certain pecan and peach orchards were left mostly unscathed.
A large part of the reason for the lack of damage was due to preventive measures taken by orchard owners and managers, Stein said.
Download or preview a two-minute MP3 Audio version of this report.
“After the late freezes last year, a lot of people were on guard this year and ready to do whatever they could,” he said. “The big thing was watering before the freeze.”
In 2013, the Texas peach crop was hammered by two exceptionally late freezes, one in late April, and for some areas, another in May. This year, an early March freeze caused some alarm, but most peach varieties had not yet bloomed and buds were tight enough to escape damage, Stein said. In 2013, the extreme drought meant many orchards were stressed before the freeze, making them more susceptible to damage.
Preventive measures can also include applying irrigation water to trees during a freeze, he said.
“You can run water during the time of the freeze,” Stein said. “When water goes from a liquid to a solid, it’s going to give off heat. And as long as that’s happening, it’s not going to get below 32 degrees (at the tree level.)”
Pecans were also mostly left unharmed, he said.
“There were actually a few trees that were nipped back in a few locations, in the lower spots,” Stein said. “The good news is there was only a few primary buds were forced, and there will be secondary buds that will come that will make pecans. But a lot of the primary buds hadn’t forced yet.”
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 14-21:
Central: Most counties reported soil moisture to be in good condition, as well as rangeland and pasture, row crops and livestock. The region received about 1 inch of rain, which benefited wheat and oats. There was also a freeze, which damaged low-lying pecan orchards. The freeze also damaged some wheat, but the crop was expected to make a full recovery. Pasture conditions were improving, and hay producers were cutting ryegrass. Most row crops were planted, with soybeans and cotton already beginning to emerge.
Coastal Bend: High winds continued to hamper post-planting herbicide applications. Days were cloudy, but with very little precipitation. Livestock were still finding grass and forbs to graze, but plants were showing signs of wilting due to no rain and high winds. Crops were progressing slowly, being held back by wind, cool temperatures and lack of moisture. Rice was doing well on the limited number of acres planted. Due to the drought and lack of water, rice farmers in the lower three counties of the region on the Colorado River will not receive an irrigation water allotment for a third consecutive year.
East: The week began with very cold temperatures and ended warm and windy. The cooler nighttime temperatures slowed the growth of warm-season forages. Ryegrass was growing abundantly, and some was being harvested for hay. Henderson County reported freeze damage to blueberries. Windy conditions limited the application of herbicides to early morning or late evening. Hay supplies were dramatically short, but most producers were able to stop feeding it and were allowing the livestock to graze new-growth grass. Cattle and other livestock were in good condition. Houston County reported horn fly activity on cattle. Some cows were still calving. Ponds and creeks were at good levels, though there were reports of problems with aquatic weeds. Feral hog activity was seen in some areas.
Far West: Temperatures ranged from the 30s to the high 90s, with from 0.5 to 0.75 inch of rain falling in some areas. Fall-planted onions were at the six-leaf stage with bulbs growing. The April 15 freeze may have damaged some wheat. Pecan trees were at full leaf out, and cotton was being planted. Alfalfa growers were taking their first cutting. Farmers continued planting sunflowers and grain sorghum. A few fields were planted with corn for the purpose of crop rotation. Ranchers were working and branding earlier calves.
Panhandle: The week began with freezing weather, but temperatures rose above average by the weekend. Some areas received snow early in the week, with accumulations ranging from a trace to as much as 2 inches. More moisture was received later in the form of rain along with some hail. Soil moisture continued to be rated very short. Winds caused further soil erosion and raised wildfire danger. Farmers continued irrigating wheat and preparing for spring planting. Deaf Smith County reported that irrigated wheat required more water each day as the crop approached the flag leaf stage. Fertilizer was being applied prior to planting corn. Ranchers were managing spring calving while providing supplemental feed to herds. Many ranchers were taking stocker cattle off wheat pasture. Most ranchers reported good gains where stocking rates were limited.
Rolling Plains: As the drought continued, pastures and cropland remained in poor condition. Farmers were preparing fields for planting, but often spent their time just trying to prevent dry fields from being blown away by high winds. Producers were considering dry planting cotton fields soon, hopeful there would soon be a substantial rain. Ranchers were also left high and dry, with pastures having played out along with the winter wheat crop. Lack of grazing was forcing some producers to consider selling off the rest of their herd. Wheat began to head out; some was being baled for hay or put up as silage. Peaches appeared to not have suffered much damage from the April 15 freeze and were starting to leaf out by the third week of April, which is much later than average. A heavy rain was needed to fill area lakes and stock tanks. Burn bans remained in effect for several counties.
South: The region had cooler weather with temperatures mostly in the mid- to upper 70s. Some rain in the Frio County area was associated with the cold front. Otherwise, the region remained largely dry with little or no rain at all. In the northern part of the region, cotton planting and field preparations increased. Potatoes had finished flowering, and irrigators were watering corn, wheat and oats. All winter wheat had headed out, and most corn had emerged, while nearly all sorghum was planted. Soil moisture throughout the area was short to very short. Rangeland and pastures were fair, but forage quality and quantity was beginning to decline due to the lack of rain. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued at a steady pace, as did herd culling and shipping of fall calves. In the eastern part of the region, dry and windy conditions prevailed. Winter wheat was progressing well with all of the crop headed in some counties. All corn was planted and emerged. Also, grain sorghum and sunflowers were all planted. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, 40 percent of cotton was planted. Soil moisture ranged from 100 percent adequate to 60 percent short. Range and pastures were in fair to poor condition. In the western part of the region, cool temperatures slowed down cotton development for about three days. There were reports of temperatures in the low 40s in some areas. Pastures continued to provide fair to good grazing for livestock despite the cooler weather. Pecans under irrigation were developing well, and corn, cabbage and onions were all in good condition. Wheat and oats were turning color as they neared maturity. In the southern part of the region, growers were irrigating onions, tomatoes and melons. In Hidalgo County, the spring onion harvest was ongoing, as was the planting of sesame and harvesting of citrus, sugarcane and vegetables. In Willacy County, all cotton and sorghum was planted. Soil moisture ranged from mostly short to 100 percent adequate.
South Plains: Lubbock County received from 0.14 to 0.76 inch of rain on April 19 and 20. Other counties also reported rain. Mitchell County got from 0.5 to 0.75 inch. Swisher County reported rain in the eastern portion of the county, while northern and western parts of the county remained dry. The moisture will allow producers to work problem fields that had been too dry because of the risk of erosion from gusting winds. Many counties didn’t receive any precipitation, and producers were pre-watering in hope of establishing a cotton crop. On April 15, temperatures dipped as low as 22 degrees and remained below freezing for several hours in some areas. Many orchard and vineyard operators took measures to prevent freeze damage, including controlled burns. Hale County also reported freezing temperatures, but the damage to winter wheat appeared minimal. Rangeland and pastures were in mostly fair condition, with ranchers providing supplemental feed at some locations. Cattle were in mostly fair to good condition.
Southeast: In most areas, soil moisture was adequate, but some counties reported 50 percent short. Rangeland and pasture conditions varied widely too, from very poor to excellent, with good to fair ratings being the most common. Winter annual grass growth had nearly stopped. Warm-season grasses were emerging, but generally needed more moisture. Galveston County had heavy showers in some parts of the county. Montgomery County reported warmer temperatures, but winds continued to dry soils. Otherwise, conditions were ripe for rapid forage growth. Growing conditions in Walker County were also very good. Forage clover was blooming throughout the county. Waller County had colder-than-normal nighttime temperatures.
Southwest: There were a few very light, scattered showers across the district, but generally the region remained dry. Some counties reported sub-freezing temperatures had damaged young corn and sorghum. However, peaches, other fruit and select field crops came through the freeze with only isolated, light damage to new leaf tips. In the eastern parts of the district, livestock remained in good condition with good grazing available. In the western counties, grass growth was minimal, and supplemental feeding of livestock remained necessary.
West Central: Days were mild with cool nights. Dry, windy conditions continued, making wildfire danger high. Many areas reported isolated rain showers, but accumulations were not significant. The late-season freeze, with lows dropping into the 20s, was expected to have affected some crops, including pecans and fruit, but it was too soon to assess damage. Most of the damage likely occurred only in low-lying areas. Farmers were nearly finished preparing land for planting spring crops. Warm-season forages were planted, as well as some corn. Cotton producers were applying yellow herbicides to control winter weeds. Grain sorghum planting was underway. Wheat was in the final maturity stages but in poor condition due to drought stress. Very few acres were expected to be harvested for grain. Some wheat was harvested as hay, but most fields were already grazed out or abandoned. Rangeland and pastures improved somewhat as warm-season grasses and forbs greened up. Recent rains were expected to further improve pastures and rangeland, but more moisture was needed for continued good growth. Stock-tank water levels continued to drop. Livestock producers continued supplement feeding, with many considering further herd reductions due to the drought.