Texas growers have had to endure either a feast or famine of weather during the past two growing seasons.
2006 was marked by a prolonged drought that reduced planted acreage, crop yields and the amount of water available for irrigation.
Just the opposite is true for 2007. Record rains this summer have caused $200 million in agricultural losses to southern Texas, say Texas Cooperative Extension and Texas Farm Service Agency officials.
The Rio Grande Valley, Coastal Bend and Winter Garden areas of Texas were hardest hit as cotton, sorghum, corn, vegetables and hay crops were deluged by days of flooding, ending last year’s statewide drought. Hardest hit were Nueces and San Patricio counties.
Texas consumers won’t see a spike in vegetable prices as a result of regional harvesting activities in other states, officials say.
In the Winter Garden region southwest of San Antonio, watermelons, cantaloupes, onions and cucumber crops were either hit with too much rain during key periods of pollination or fields were too wet to harvest. In many instances, produce was left to rot in the field.
“The rains kept the bees from being able to pollinate the watermelon, cantaloupe and cucumber plants the way they normally would, and also kept the pollen dust from reaching or remaining at its target,” says Jose Pena, Extension economist at the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Uvalde. “It also affected onion color and quality and caused a good bit of rotting among the onions.”
Melon and cucumber yields were from 20 percent to 30 percent lower than average this year due to the rains, Pena says, and about one-third of the onion fields in the Winder Garden area went unharvested due to excess moisture.
“Along with pollination problems and excess moisture making it difficult or impossible to harvest crops, especially with heavy machinery, the rains caused disease problems like downy mildew and powdery mildew on the plant foliage,” says Larry Stein, Extension horticulturist at the Uvalde center. “And the wet fields made it difficult for producers to get in and spray for these diseases.”
The excess moisture also caused many crops to over-mature and made it difficult to address other problems, such as crop loss by scavenging coyotes, feral hogs and other wildlife, Stein says.
The state may not get much reprieve from the rain, either. Tropical Storm Erin, which came ashore northeast of Corpus Christi on Aug. 16, caused localized flooding in the Houston and Corpus Christi area.
And Hurricane Dean, a Category 2 storm, is heading toward the Caribbean.