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Cabbage quality up, prices down in south Texas

Green and red leaves along with cabbage culls were strewn about the field as the harvesters sorted and cleaned the outer leaves from the cabbage in preparation for packing.

“We're waiting for St. Patrick's Day,” said Javier Rodriguez, Field Supervisor for Frontera Produce in Edinburg, Texas, while overseeing the cabbage harvest of Krenmueller Farms in South Alamo in February.

“We're hoping it will shape up to be a decent year,” said Rodriguez.

Parties and private dinners where the menu is built around corned beef and cabbage make the demand for the vegetable soar in March. And Krenmueller Farms has 385 acres planted to cabbage. That's enough to keep many an Irishman happy.

Workers were boxing and loading in the Alamo field. Even though it is easier to control quality when packing it in the shed, Will Steele, vice president of Frontera Produce, said 90 percent of his cabbage growers are going back to packing and controlling quality in the field.

“It saves 75 cents or more per box,” said Steele. And since cabbage in February was going for only $4 for 50-pound cartons of the medium size green heads, it's important to save money where you can so that both the farmer and the packing shed make a little money.

“It's imperative for the packing shed to work with the farmer so they both come out ahead. “It's critical to keep the farmer alive,” said Steele. “It takes both farmer and shed owner to survive in this business.

“Right now the market's not good,” Steele admitted, and they have to cut down their cabbage harvest. “We're pretty much just keeping up with the supermarket demand.”

On the bright side, it's been a good year for quality cabbage in the Rio Grande Valley, with plentiful fall rains and cool, dry winter weather. The cabbage being harvested is sweet, clean and firm, and pretty much insect free. It should be available through the end of April.

Although cabbage is primarily a Texas winter vegetable, a small harvest takes place year-round. According to the USDA, Texas growers harvest more than 9,000 acres, most of it planted in green cabbage, which is known for heavy density and high quality. Texas is third in the nation, behind California and New York, in overall production. Of the 9000 acres, the Rio Grande Valley is responsible for approximately 4000 acres of the vegetable.

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