Vegetable growers across most of South Texas are hoping the unseasonably-warm winter will hold now that planting is beginning to wrap up across the Texas Winter Garden. While spotty rains have been mostly beneficial this year, heavy rains like those experienced two years ago that destroyed crops have not returned—yet.
Warm temperatures helped winter spinach crops arrive at market early, and some growers, like Nora Roberts on her Oak Hills Farm near Poteet, are still producing. Though the Poteet Strawberry Festival, a major annual festival in South Texas, is still several weeks away, strawberry growers say they may see an earlier-than-usual crop this spring and they expect a good harvest if the weather holds.
Roberts grows strawberries, blackberries, spinach, cabbage, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables on her 170-acre farm, and specializes in food-to-table marketing, though in recent years most of her crop is sold to H-E-B Food Stores for distribution to select stores statewide.
Roberts’ winter spinach crop started producing in early December, and is still providing fresh spinach to distributors, thanks in part to the weather and few disease outbreaks, as was the case following heavy rains two winters ago. Spinach producers south of Del Rio, an area once known as the spinach capital of the world, are also reporting an early and healthy harvest.
Near Uvalde, in Frio County, potatoes have been planted, but have not emerged; farmers are preparing fields for spring planting of many other vegetable crops. Oats and wheat have already been planted and farmers are preparing fields for corn.
Onions are being harvested in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and citrus harvest continues as well. Cabbage and carrots are reported to be healthy in the Valley region. Economically, vegetable farming in the Valley accounts for an estimated $60 million in annual production. The Valley is known for its summer and winter production of watermelon, cantaloupes, onions, leafy greens, carrots, cabbage and potatoes.
Across the Valley, warmer temperatures and dry conditions are allowing for continued harvest of sugarcane as well. Temperatures in the upper 80s and even two days in the 90s recently have farmers scrambling in anticipation of planting the first grain sorghum crops this year with cotton not far behind. Traditionally the Texas Valley produces the first bale of cotton each year.
Corn planting in the Valley, and as far north as the lower Coastal Bend, is already underway on some fields.
While less rain has helped to prevent major pest and disease in South Texas this winter, Texas AgriLife officials warn that weeds are expected to emerge earlier than usual, especially after spring rains begin. They recommend that growers stay on top of emerging weed problems and advise producers to scout regularly for warm weather pests, which could also be problematic this year, especially in sorghum fields, where sugarcane aphids probably survived the warm winter across large areas of South Texas.
North of the Valley in Zapata County, officials have issued red-flag wildfire warnings as a result of drying conditions, and say without more rain soon and additional high winds associated with weak frontal systems, the danger of wildfires will grow.
While a chance for late cool fronts could still bring unwanted cooler weather to the southern regions of the state, most agree the chance for freezing temperatures in Deep South Texas are unlikely.