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Texas blackberry production, 'u-pick' farms growing

Texas agriculture includes blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. See how production is growing in popularity and other fruit-growing prospects. Plus, catch the lastest crop and weather report.

Paul Schattenberg

June 10, 2024

10 Min Read
blackberries
U-pick farms like Goober Bubs Orchard and Bakery, Justin, Texas, are increasing in Texas.Tim Sutton, Goober Bubs Orchard and Bakery

While Texas is famous for its Ruby Red grapefruit and is the nation’s top producer of watermelons, some well-known but lesser-grown fruits like blackberries, blueberries and raspberries are finding their place in its fields, orchards and gardens.

“The lesser-known fruit crop with the most acres and most continued growth in the state would be blackberries,” said Larry Stein, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist based in Uvalde. “New Arkansas varieties of blackberries have been performing well and this year is no exception. And the new Arkansas varieties can be grown pretty much throughout the state.”

Brazos, Rosborough and Kiowa blackberries are also grown in the state.

Blueberries are another popular fruit for growers, but Stein said blueberry production is “mainly an East Texas thing.” They can, however, do well in other areas with more acidic soils, as long as drainage is good. 

According to AgriLife Extension horticulturists, the best blueberry for Texas is the rabbiteye blueberry. This variety, which produces deep blue, medium-sized berries, is grown commercially in East Texas, where the humid woodland environment is conducive to its growth.

A single rabbiteye blueberry plant can produce 15 pounds of berries per year, and the variety has grown in popularity due to its high concentration of antioxidants in the berry.

Growing at home growing in popularity

Many smaller fruit-producing farms in the state are “pick-your-own” operations or sell direct to consumers via stands or farmers markets.  

Greg Grant, AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Smith County, said in addition to consumer interest in pick-your-own operations and farmers markets, there has also been increasing interest in growing fruit at home.

“A lot of this started when COVID hit and from the growing interest by consumers to have more control over what they consume and to know where their food comes from,” he said.

Other fruits, prospects                                                 

Texas weather can be tough on many fruit varieties because of disease, drought, too little chill hours and extreme summer heat, Grant said.

Grant receives inquiries from people from northern climates who are looking to grow apples, cherries and other fruits that require higher chill hours and have a low chance of survival in most areas of the state. 

While stone fruits like peaches, plums and nectarines may fare well in the hot Texas climate, many of them live relatively short lives because of insect and disease pressure.

Fig trees, however, perform well in many parts of the state.

“Figs seem to be a regional thing, with the majority grown in Southwest and Central Texas, though some are grown in other parts of the state,” Stein said. “The fig trees that were planted in the Hill Country and Winter Garden areas came through the cold quite well this past year.”

Jim Kamas, AgriLife Extension fruit specialist in the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences based in Fredericksburg, said there are two small fig operations in the Texas Hill Country.

A new take on extended production

Jacy Lewis, AgriLife Extension program manager in the Department of Horticultural Sciences based in Fredericksburg, is helping increase the understanding of how different fruit varieties perform in the Texas climate. She is also developing production strategies to increase profitability and address climate-related obstacles.

“AgriLife Extension has begun a program to help producers navigate Texas’ conditions for other options by employing alternative production methods,” she said. “With a focus on sustainability under current climate and conditions in Texas, one of the more promising candidates for protected cultivation is raspberries.”

Lewis said this alternative production strategy will help growers have raspberry harvests at times when many fruit growers have completed the harvest of traditional hot-climate fruit. She said while various impermeable plastic coverings for protection from cold, frost and extending the growing season have been utilized by Texas food producers for decades, the use of shade fabrics for microclimate manipulation has been an underexplored technology.

“This approach allows a degree of control over important production parameters such as temperature, humidity, light and pest pressure that cannot be achieved in open field production,” she said. “There is the added benefit of protection from damaging effects of high winds, hail, frost and pests.”

Lewis said this will allow growers increased revenue from the ability to produce a complementary crop that extends their season into an underutilized market window.

“In our climate, plants will continue to produce fruit until the first hard freeze with no need for additional protection from frost,” she explained.

Sha said over the long growing season of many regions of the state, producers of traditional hot-climate fruit crops could benefit from raspberry production as a much-needed addition by taking specialty crop production into the fall.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

1-district-map-HR-web.jpg

Central

The district received rainfall ranging between 1-6 inches, and temperatures were above-normal with high dew points. Wheat and oats planted for grain were still in fields and were not looking good. The harvest was slow with producers leaving wet fields and working on drier areas. Unusually low wheat test weights were reported in most areas. Sorghum was in the heading stage and cotton plants were mostly in the squaring stage. Corn was in fair to good condition outside of low-lying areas with some yellowing observed. Later fertilizer applications on the corn crop were likely to help counter losses from the heavy rainfall. Pecan nut casebearer activities were minimal, but there were walnut sphinx caterpillar sightings in some areas. Pasture conditions were fair, but spring rains delayed the harvest of cool-season grasses and development of warm-season grasses. Livestock looked good, and sheep and goat prices remained high. Cattle conditions were good, and the market was strong.

Rolling Plains

Wheat producers across the district were grateful for the rain but needed dry days to get harvesting equipment into soggy fields. Most areas were reporting a good bushels-per-acre wheat harvest. Cotton was being planted where the soil was dry. Producers were reporting a noticeable emergence of flies and grasshoppers in some areas.

Coastal Bend

The district continued to experience hot and dry conditions but received much-needed rainfall late last week. The rain came with some storms, which produced hail damage to the west end of the district. There was some stress showing in row crops. Corn and grain sorghum were maturing rapidly and rice was beginning to head out. Stinkbugs continued to be a problem in some cotton fields, and while hot, dry conditions were beginning to impact cotton plants, most cotton still fared well. Hay harvest continued, but current production still fell short of normal levels with herbicide applications continuing in pastures. Livestock fared well, but supplementation was beginning due to declining forage conditions. Producers faced tough management decisions regarding livestock. Cattle remained in good condition with strong prices.

Southeast

The district received more rainfall with flooding and saturated fields reported in most areas. Severe storms in Hardin County left many without power and high winds damaged several areas in San Jacinto County. Gnats, flies and mosquitoes were increasing in number. Early rice was growing but some fields were unable to be planted due to wet weather and damp soil conditions. Pasture conditions were very poor to excellent. Hay production was delayed in some areas while conditions were improving in others. Soil moisture conditions were very short to adequate. Cattle conditions were good to excellent, and the market remained strong.

South Plains

The district received modest rainfall totaling between 0.3 to 0.8 of an inch. Some producers planted cotton early and many farmers should finish planting this week. Corn was in good condition and plants started to emerge. Pastures continued to improve, and cattle were in good condition.

Panhandle

Scattered showers and thunderstorms with hail were reported in some areas. Some hail damage was reported, including heavy losses in a few cotton fields and injury to recently emerged corn. Wheat harvest was happening quickly with 90% of fields being chopped for silage. Overall, soil moisture ranged from short to adequate with pasture and range conditions varying from poor to fair. Overall crops were in poor to good condition. Pastures looked decent, but some areas may need a reduction in cattle numbers without precipitation.

North

The district reported several storms with tornadoes, high winds and hail that left damage throughout the area. Some areas received up to 7 inches of rainfall and flooding in low-lying areas. The wet conditions caused many wheat and oat fields to move past harvest maturity. Wheat head conditions continued to decline due to rainfall. Corn crops looked decent in well-drained fields, and very little planting activity was observed in cotton, soybeans or grain sorghum crops. Some low-lying areas reported a reduction in perennial grass due to frequent standing water. Soil moisture conditions varied from adequate to surplus with range and pasture conditions being fair to excellent.

Far West

The district reported extreme heat and isolated severe thunderstorms with daytime highs ranging in the mid- to upper-90s in the higher elevations, with highs well above 100 degrees in lower areas. Rainfall averaged between trace amounts and 1 inch. Moisture improved range, soil and planting conditions. There were reports of hail up to 2 inches in diameter and a tornado in the southern part of the district. Cotton planting progressed quickly with virtually no topsoil moisture, and growers were working through fields non-stop. Winter wheat was grazed out or baled for hay. Corn and melons with ample irrigation were coming along well. Onions were being harvested, and hay and alfalfa were growing well. Mesquite trees were blooming. Livestock were in fair condition, but food and water were still being supplemented in most areas and flies were becoming an issue.

Southwest

Rainfall averaged 3-4 inches with temperatures in the 90s. There were reports of strong winds in most areas that caused minimal damage to trees and row crops. Row crop conditions looked good despite the hot temperatures and lack of moisture. Dryland corn was beginning to stunt, and warm-season grasses were beginning to seed. Bermuda grass hay fields were being cut and baled and pastures were beginning to decline due to the windy and hot temperatures. Backyard gardens were perking up from the small amount of rain and sunshine. Livestock looked good, and whitetail does were having babies and becoming more active. Cattle body conditions looked good.

South

The district received rainfall ranging from zero to 4 inches with hot, humid conditions. The grain sorghum harvest started in many areas. Sudan and Bermuda grass fields were baled. Corn was a few weeks away from harvest. Sesame pods were being set, and fields looked clean of insects. Very few crop fields were being irrigated as most irrigation districts were out of water allotments. Turfgrass was being harvested. Hay was being bailed in many places, with producers in some areas gearing up for their second cutting. Fruit and vegetable producers were harvesting and moving their crop as quickly as possible. Cotton fields were flowering. Pastures were green and lush, and irrigated hay fields were in good condition in some areas with a few areas suffering from the extreme heat and dry conditions. Livestock conditions ranged from poor to good. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued in some areas with many landowners planning to thin their herds to prepare for a dry summer. Cattle prices were strong.

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