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South Texas update: beneficial rains, damaging hail storms

South Texas crop update. South Texas crops in better shape at this stage than last year. Thunderstorms brought hail to both the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend.

Weather this spring has left a mixed bag of good and ill fortune for South Texas growers. From the lower Rio Grande Valley to Victoria in the north, coastal Texas has seen substantial and much needed rainfall across much of the region that nurtured most crops, but hail storms delayed watermelon harvest in the Valley and destroyed hundreds of acres of cotton in the Coastal Bend.

“Whether the weather has been a good or bad thing for crops just depends on where your farm is located,” reports Dr. Juan Anciso, associate professor for Texas AgriLife Extension Research Center in Weslaco. “The Valley received beneficial rains in the first three months of the year, which provided a good start to many crops. But May and now June so far has been dry. Most of our rain happened in a short period of time and it would have been better if it were spread out. But we are in better shape at this stage of the game than we were last year.”

Jeffrey Stapper, county extension agent in Nueces County, says promising rains in March and April have given way to dry, hot conditions in the field and dryland crops are showing extreme signs of stress as a result.

“If we don’t get showers in the next few days, we will see dire conditions in both grain sorghum and cotton, which was hit hard by recent hail storms,” he said.

Stephen Biles, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management agent in Victoria, says early season rains provided enough moisture to sustain grain sorghum crops in both Victoria and Refugio counties.

“We’re looking pretty good so far. Early planted sorghum is looking fairly good but the sorghum planted after those early rains requires more moisture to complete the cycle. Cotton is showing 10 to 12 nodes at this stage and looks pretty good, but again, we could use more rain in the days ahead,” Biles said.

He says corn around Victoria received good rains before silking and tasseling, but expectations have been lowered on yields and quality as soils continue to dry. 

Major hail damage in Coastal Bend and Valley

Along with beneficial rains, thunderstorms brought hail to both the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend. The RGV watermelon crop received extensive damage during an early-season hail storm.

“Some growers replanted and others waited to see if the plants would come back. Both strategies worked to some degree, but yields are going to be down and harvest delayed as a result,” added Anciso.

Ray Prewett, President of Valley Citrus Mutual and executive vice president of the Texas Vegetable Association in Mission, says one hail event in the Valley actually damaged a number of citrus trees that had to be cut back. He says it represents the first time in memory hail actually damaged the tree and not just the fruit.

“But overall, vegetables and citrus has had a good year and weather damages were spotty,” he says.

In the Coastal Bend near Chapman Ranch, almost all cotton was completely destroyed by a hail storm in Mid May. Stapper says even the stalks were beat down.

“It’s hard to say what each grower will do, but from what I hear, many are thinking it is going to be a year for insurance,” Stapper says.

Other Valley crops

Spring rains helped Valley onion producers early in the season, but heavy rains and wet fields slowed harvest and is blamed for disease that ruined most of the yellow onion crop. Anciso says red and white onions have fared much better, but disease and low market prices for yellow onions are making for a bad season.

Most RGV cotton is in bloom stage. Many fields planted by the middle of March had a lot of small to large bolls and many blooms. Pest insect activity was reported very low in most areas of the Valley the first week of June as fleahoppers and whitefly infestations were lower in most fields. However, whitefly infestations are still growing in some cotton fields and scouting remains a high priority.

John Norman, editor of the weekly Pest Cast Newsletter reports more beneficial insects in the Valley were observed the last week of May. He says this is probably one of the reasons why pest populations are lower. But syrphid fly numbers were reported higher this week. An average of more than one adult syrphid fly per foot of row was spotted recently in many fields.

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