Cool-season crop planting ramps up in South Texas

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo onion-agrilife.jpg
Plantings of cool-season crops like this field of Rio Grande Valley onions nearing harvest during a previous growing season peak through October.
Texas Crop and Weather Report – Oct. 27, 2020

Cool-season crops in the Rio Grande Valley are off to a good start after plantings were delayed by rain, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Producers in the Rio Grande Valley have been busy playing catch-up on planting cool-season crops including onions, leafy greens, carrots and kale, said Juan Anciso, AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist, Weslaco.

September was very wet, starting with rains generated by hurricanes and tropical storms, he said. But now, following days of sunshine and above-normal temperatures, planting operations are at full speed.

“Rains in September delayed early planting, but now planting conditions are perfect,” he said. “Plantings look to be on target.”

The planting window is critical for cool-season crops like onions, cabbage and carrots because of the time they take to mature. Onions take 160-170 days from seed to harvest, Anciso said. Cabbage takes 90-110 days, and carrots take 90-plus days for fresh market and 150-180 days for fields destined for processing.

Carrot planting typically begins in September, and cool-season crop plantings peak in October, so Anciso said conditions have given the newly planted fields a good start.

“It’s been warm, into the 90s during the day,” he said. “But a cool front is expected to put daytime temperatures in the 70s with lows in the high-50s.” 

Acreage for onions has declined in the last five years, from around 10,000 acres to 6,000 acres this season, Anciso said. Grower diversification has led to much of the changes.

Crops now include everything from spinach, parsley, cilantro, collard greens, okra, celery and more, he said.

“There’s not a lot of acres dedicated to any one crop like we see for other commodities, but there is a diverse range being produced,” he said. “Produce sheds want a little bit of everything, and they are getting it.”

Crops produced in the Rio Grande Valley are destined for major hubs around the state – Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas – but are also shipped throughout the Midwest to cities like St. Louis and Chicago. And some produce makes it to markets in New York.

Anciso said producers are hoping buyers don’t pull back because of financial impacts due to COVID-19, especially as demand for fresh produce has actually increased so far during the pandemic.

“We were expecting everyone might go to canned products, but it’s been the opposite,” he said. “Much of the market prices will depend on how crops in California, Florida and Mexico perform, but we are starting off on the right foot with good stands and good weather.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

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The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Districts

CENTRAL

Most counties reported short soil moisture. Crops and grasses were moisture stressed. Cotton and peanut harvests continued and neared completion. Pecan harvest was underway for early varieties like Pawnee. Livestock were in good to fair condition. Cattle prices trended upward, and sheep and goat prices remained the same. Armyworms came through but not as bad as expected. Wheat planting got off to a slow start with most producers waiting on some soil moisture. Producers were wrapping up small grains planting. Stock pond levels dropped drastically with the warm weather. Most row-crop farmers were finishing putting out dry fertilizer.

ROLLING PLAINS

Some areas in the district received much-needed rain. Most cotton fields reached the boll-opening stage and were ready to be stripped. Some producers noticed armyworms in wheat fields. Supplemental feeding of cattle continued in areas with pastures in poor condition.

COASTAL BEND

Isolated rains were reported, but soil remained incredibly dry. Temperatures were above average. Small shrubs and trees were showing moisture stress. Row-crop farmers were preparing for the 2021 corn, grain sorghum, soybean and cotton crops. Ratoon rice harvest continued. Texas Gulf Coast farmers were looking to plant wheat over the next two months as prices were rising. Dry conditions provided a window for a last cutting of hay. Pastures continued to decline with lack of rain. Winter pasture planting continued. Pecan harvest continued with fair to good yields. Livestock markets were soft, but there were good runs at sale barns. Fall weaning was in full swing. Livestock remained in good condition with supplemental feeding in drier areas.

EAST

Many counties needed rainfall. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate to short. Sabine and Harrison counties received as much as 2 inches of rainfall, and Henderson County received some scattered showers. Cherokee County reported producers were being forced to move livestock due to ponds and creeks running dry. Cooler night temperatures slowed the growth of warm-season forages, and hay production was winding down. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Cattle prices dropped. Fly populations were high. Grass burs became a problem in fields that normally do not have them. Producers and landowners were on the lookout for armyworms. Feral hog damage increased. 

SOUTH PLAINS

Very dry conditions continued across the district, but rain was falling with extreme cold and rain in the three-day forecast. Many farmers were holding off planting winter wheat due to a lack of moisture. Farmers continued to strip cotton. Grazing was becoming scarce and most producers were feeding hay. Irrigated wheat fields were not ready for grazing. Cattle numbers at the local sales were up slightly from this time last year.  

PANHANDLE

Topsoil and subsoil moisture conditions were short to very short. Pastures and rangelands were very poor to fair with most areas reporting poor to very poor grazing conditions. Sorghum was being harvested. Winter wheat was emerging. Corn harvest was mostly complete. Cotton conditions were poor to good. Cotton harvest should be underway after a week of forecast freezing temperatures.

NORTH

Topsoil moisture ranged from short to adequate. Sporadic rain delivered 1-2 inches of rainfall with mild weather conditions overall. A cold front pushed temperatures into the mid-60s. Conditions were very dry. Some stock tank levels were dropping. Hay producers were making a last cutting. Some producers were trying to plant their cool-season cover crops. The calf market was stronger than expected. Feral hog damages were reported in Camp County.

FAR WEST

Daytime temperatures averaged in the upper 90s, with nighttime lows in the low-40s. No precipitation was reported. Farmers dug and turned their peanuts and got them hauled to the shelling plant. Cotton producers continued to spray defoliant on fields. Harvesting began in the northern parts of the district. Some cotton producers were shredding cotton. Wheat planting was almost complete. Pecan producers and homeowners were seeing some husks opening and were hopeful for good crop quality. Rangeland and pasture conditions were dry, and livestock producers continued to monitor body condition scores in cattle, sheep and goats to develop a supplemental feeding program. Many cattle ranchers were planning to downsize their herd because there was not enough grass. Some ranchers started fall calving. Pima cotton fields were being harvested, and more defoliation continued. Upland cotton harvest will begin very soon. Pawnee pecans were being harvested. Western Schley pecans, which is most prominent in the district, will be harvested following freezes. Some alfalfa fields that received a last watering will be cut soon. Onions were planted in certain areas with good irrigation.   

WEST CENTRAL

Very dry conditions continued. Cotton harvest was busier this week with moisture in the forecast. Not much wheat was planted due to the dry topsoil. Pastures were dry. Livestock markets were steady, and many producers were feeding supplements. Armyworms were found on early planted wheat. 

SOUTHEAST

Conditions remained dry, and a burn ban was initiated in Walker County. Winter wheat was expected to be planted in Jefferson County. Harvest of the main rice crop was complete, but the ratoon crop was growing. Ryegrass was being planted for winter grazing, and there was hay to cut. Rangeland and pasture ratings were excellent to poor with good ratings being the most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to very short with adequate levels being the most common.

SOUTHWEST

Moisture conditions continued to decline across the district with no measurable rainfall reported. Rangeland and pasture conditions were declining. Producers will replant small-grain crops after some wet weather. Livestock were in good to fair condition, and producers continued supplemental feeding. Caldwell County reported falling calf prices with sheep and goat prices remaining steady. Wildlife were in good shape and white-tailed deer pre-rut was starting.

SOUTH

Most of the district reported short to very short soil moisture condition; Starr and Cameron counties reported adequate soil moisture conditions. Small areas of McMullen County received significant rainfall, and Starr County reported scattered showers. Peanuts were being harvested. Many producers were cultivating land and watching the weather. Strawberry planting was in full gear. Some fall brush work was being completed where necessary. Hay was being harvested. Winter wheat pastures continued to be planted. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline. Most row-crop producers were preparing fields for winter. Beef cattle producers were using rotational grazing to allow pastures to grow and prevent having to spend on supplemental feed. Deer season was quickly approaching, and hunters were providing deer with corn and cottonseed. Stock tanks were still holding up for livestock and wildlife. Preparations were being made for pecan harvest. Vegetable crops were all harvested, and farmers were preparing the soil for next season. Coastal Bermuda grass fields were still producing some hay bales. Citrus was being harvested.

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