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Freeze kills young crops in south Texas

Winter Garden vegetables take brunt of frigid temperatures Winter Garden farmers west of San Antonio are now estimating the hard freezes of Feb. 27 and March 4 will cost them millions of dollars, Texas Cooperative Extension reports.

The freeze caused light to heavy damage to onions, cabbage, spinach, peaches, lettuce, wheat and oats, said Joe Peña, Extension economist.

“We estimate in the neighborhood of a $10 million to $15 million loss,” said Peña. “That is just taking the approximate number of acres of cabbage and onions that were severely hit and some wheat. It was record-low cold weather for March, and there were also record-low temperatures for last week.”

Temperatures were below 27 degrees Tuesday night and stayed down for 10 to 12 hours, Peña said. The region was hit again Monday night with temperatures down to 16 degrees, but that happened much later during the night.

Therefore, whatever crops were struggling and barely hanging on from the Wednesday freeze were probably done in by Monday's freeze, Peña said.

“I was in an onion field (Monday) morning and it was gone, yet I was in another field next door to it and it was not so gone,” Peña said. “So we don't know, nobody knows, the extent of the damage.”

First, it is not known exactly how many acres were planted in the Winter Garden, which includes Uvalde, Medina, Kinney and Bandera counties, Peña said. Secondly, producers don't know if the crops are actually dead or if they will snap out after a while, he said.

“All we know is that the young cabbage and anything else young did not survive,” Peña said. “So, that means the cabbage for April-May harvest is almost completely gone. Also we know that the growing tips of spinach are dead.”

This will make the harvesting process very difficult because a machine doesn't know what is dead and what is alive, he said. “The wheat growing tip is showing signs that it was frozen, but we don't know if it is dead yet or not,” Peña said.

“Damaged wheat tends to tiller, meaning it puts out side lateral shoots, and therefore the yields will be down. But how much down we don't know yet.”

About 400,000 acres of wheat is planted in the region.

Most of the spinach had already been harvested, so losses are not as great for that crop.

The area grows some potatoes as well, but they are more protected because they grow underground.

“We plant onions in the fall but don't harvest them until May or June because they are very vulnerable,” Peña said. “They're going to lose a lot of onions. We have 3,000 acres of onions and I bet we're going to lose 1,500 acres at least.”

Peña said the freezing of these crops is just like the freezing that occurs in a backyard garden. When do you know that it's all gone? Two to three weeks later.

Some fields will be abandoned, and some fields planted in cucumbers, for example, will be replanted and could be harvested in May, Peña said.

Now producers are focusing on the warm-season crops of corn, sorghum, hay and cotton.

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