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Cold, wet weather promotes some crops, hinders others

Cold weather, in some instances accompanied by drizzling rain, came to much of Texas, temporarily delaying harvests, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

In most instances, the cold put the handbrake on warm-season grass growth, their reports stated. Where it came, the moisture was for the most part welcome, and added to November rains, greened up winter pastures.

However, as with anything in Texas' diverse agriculture, what's a silver lining for some is just a dark, storm cloud for others. In many areas, planting of winter pastures was delayed by wet field conditions. Now, with overcast skies and cooler temperatures, the growth of already planted pastures has been slowed.

Collin County, like much of North Central Texas, has had a particularly hard time with too much of a good thing, said Rick Maxwell, that county's AgriLife Extension agent for agriculture.

"We estimate that only about 30 percent of our total small-grain acreage was planted for both wheat and oats," Maxwell said. "Only about 30 percent of the acreage planted to winter pasture was planted also because of the wet fall. Acreage that was in corn last year that would have been planted to wheat this fall will probably be planted back to corn or possibly grain sorghum."

Southwest Texas also received wet weather, but vegetable crops are doing fine this year, said Dr. Larry Stein, an AgriLife Extension horticulturist based in Uvalde who works closely with fruit and vegetable growers.

"The wet weather hasn't really hurt the growth; it just hindered the harvest," Stein said. "The quality is excellent. Cabbage quality is excellent. Spinach quality is excellent. The one thing that hurt us a little was the cold snap a few weeks ago that hurt the spinach, but it recovered and we're actively cutting right now."

Stein said producers are switching to growing baby leaf spinach to meet market demands. About 3,000 acres of fresh spinach grown in a year is harvested in the winter in his region. About the same acreage in spinach is grown for processing. Average yields are between 20 to 26 tons per acre.

"I'd encourage people to buy spinach," Stein said. "The quality is outstanding."

Stein noted that there's never been a problem with E. coli on Texas-grown spinach.

"Our spinach has always been perfectly fine," he said. "We've hand-harvested the stuff for years, but recently we've strictly gone to machine harvesting. Now we're doing an even better job of harvesting it and keeping it clean. I don't think we're ever going see an issue in our part of the world."

The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters:

CENTRAL: Two hard freezes finished off what was left of warm-season grasses. The cold weather required ranchers to increase supplemental feeding of livestock. Soils were drying out. A few producers still had to harvest a significant portion of their cotton. Pecans were dropping.

COASTAL BEND: Temperatures were below normal with light rainfall. Some fields were drying out, limiting the planting of wheat. Pastures were hit hard by sleet, snow and a hard freeze. Livestock producers continued to provide hay and supplemental protein.

EAST: Scattered showers fell across the region. Temperatures were much cooler and many areas received their first hard frost. Pastures in some areas were hard to get into, preventing producers from planting winter forages in time. Livestock were in fair to good condition with ranchers providing supplemental feed. Feral hog activity slowed but continued to be a problem.

FAR WEST: The pecan harvest was delayed earlier in the month by seven to nine days because of rain and a snow, but was in full swing again. Alfalfa and fall-planted onions went dormant. Cotton fields were being plowed under in preparation for next season. Growers were irrigating winter wheat. Rangeland and pastures are primed for another wildfire season.

NORTH: Soil moisture ranged from adequate to surplus. There was light rain and very cold temperatures, as low as in the teens in some instances, with frost in some areas. AgriLife personnel estimated that only about 30 percent of the total wheat and oats acreage had been planted because of the wet fall. Acreage that was in corn last year and that would have been planted to wheat this fall will probably be planted back to corn or grain sorghum. With all the wet weather,already planted winter pastures and small grains did not look good. Fields were muddy in some counties. Range conditions were also deteriorating due to the wet conditions. Hay supplies were limited, but livestock remained in good condition with supplemental feeding by producers in full swing.

ROLLING PLAINS: Temperatures dropped to the lower teens, with highs ranging from the upper 20s to low 30s. The freezing temperatures were expected to stop the wheat rust problems some producers had. Over the past three months, most of the district received less than 2 inches of rain, with most of that coming in November. With the lack of moisture and an abundance of dried and dead forage grasses, producers were beginning to worry about wildfires. The sunny, dry days were favorable for the harvesting of cotton, and only about 20 percent of the crop remained unharvested. Yields were above average, which surprised to most producers due to dry weather. Ranchers were providing supplemental feed to livestock on a daily basis, but without moisture, many won't be able to avoid culling herds in the coming winter months. Stocker cattle turned out for grazing in wheat pastures were looking good, but wheat growers also needed moisture. The pecan harvest was ongoing, but quality was fair at best this year due to nuts not filling.

SOUTH: Soil moisture levels were mostly adequate in the northern, eastern and southern parts of the region. In the western parts of the region, soil moisture levels were mostly short. A freeze caused rangeland and pastures to brown out throughout most of the region. Temperatures in the northern part of the region dropped to25 degrees, affecting perennial grasses and a lot of other vegetation. In the eastern part of the region, a slow, steady 2 inches of rain filled stock tanks and improved subsoil moisture. Hay remained in short supply. Peanut harvesting slowed due to wet conditions and a lack of sunshine to dry peanuts that had already been dug up. Young spinach seemed to have escaped any severe damage from the strong freeze. Harvesting spinach for processing was expected to begin soon. The harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables continued. Fall pepper plants were a total loss from the hard freeze. However, tomato plants were expected to recover and harvesting should resume in two weeks. Livestock producers increased supplemental feeding. Cattle remained in fair to good condition.

SOUTH PLAINS: A high temperature of 25 degrees early in the week was followed with a low of 13 degrees. Freezing fog and drizzle turned into a mixture of snow and rain. That was followed by winds gusting up to 50 mph and blowing dust. Soil moisture was short to adequate. The cotton harvest was nearly completed with some gins expected to complete operations by Christmas. Winter wheat continued to mature. Pastures and rangelands were in poor to fair condition. The cold weather stressed livestock, and ranchers continued to provide them with supplemental feed.

SOUTHEAST: Top soils were saturated. Rye and oat stands were in favorable condition. Only 20 percent of fall-bedding work on crop fields has been completed. Rain continued to fill ponds. Some pastures remained in poor shape from overgrazing and the lack of fertilization. Ryegrass pastures seemed to be doing well. Cattle were maintaining their condition. There was a shortage of hay in some counties because of the summer drought.

SOUTHWEST: Continued drizzling rain improved soil moisture level but delayed vegetable harvests. Low light levels because of clouds and fog slowed plant growth. Most vegetable crops escaped serious injury from a freeze on Dec. 5. Stemphylium leaf blight was reported in some spinach and lettuce fields, but horticulturists reported it was from switching to new production systems, and the problem was soon under control. The pecan harvest was nearly complete. Growers were preparing land for potato planting.

WEST CENTRAL: A cold front brought below-freezing temperatures for several days. Field activity was slowed or halted due to the weather. Wheat continued to do very well. The cotton harvest was under way and was expected to be completed by mid-January. Livestock producers increased supplemental feeding because of the cold and dry conditions.

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