Transportation, labor and food safety issues are moot if growers don’t have water.

And with much of Texas in exceptional drought conditions, grower-shippers are cutting back and considering options.

Water is the No. 1 issue for growers in the Winter Garden, said J Carnes, president of Uvalde, Texas-based Winter Garden Produce.

“The area in general is down in acreage, and 100% of it is due to water issues,” Carnes said. “We reduced our onion acreage from 900 to 600 acres because of water.”

That’s put other issues on the back burner, Carnes said. “There will be less harvest going on because less water equals less product,” he said.

The issue is coming to a head especially in West Texas growing operations, said Jeff Fawcett, sales manager for Edinburg, Texas-based Bagley Produce Co. Farmers draw from wells, which affects cities downstream.

In the Rio Grande Valley, water comes from the Rio Grande and reservoirs, which are another issue.

“There is real concern about our water situation here in Texas,” said Bret Erickson, president of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association. “It’s a frightening situation. Mexico has agreed to release a very small fraction of their overall water debt into the Rio Grande, but it’s literally a drop in the bucket.”

That short-term relief doesn’t solve the problems plaguing the rest of the state, said Jacob Sosebee with the Texas Vegetable Association, Mission.

“We’ve had recent discussions on what the Valley needs to do in terms of infrastructure development and so forth, but every region in Texas is having very different conversations about what they need to do address the drought conditions,” he said.

Several bills are in the Texas Legislature to address water conservation and management projects going forward, but for now growers hope for immediate relief.

“In our area, it’s a pray-for-rain situation,” Carnes said.