Lack of Predicted Rainfall Good News for South Texas Winter Vegetables

After two consecutive years of serious disease problems and weak market prices, South Texas winter vegetable growers are getting a break this year, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco, said predictions of a wet El Niño winter have failed to materialize so far, and that’s made all the difference in the world for growers.

“Cabbage, onions and carrots in the Rio Grande Valley are doing extremely well,” he said. “There have been some disease problems, but nothing like last year when frequent rains promoted plant diseases that were out of control.”

Black rot, a bacterial disease, was a major problem on the area’s cabbage crop.

“We had rain events every five to seven days last year that flooded fields, set off plant diseases and ruined production,” he said. “On top of that, a very weak commodity market didn’t allow growers to make any money on the crops they did manage to produce.”

Not so for this year, Anciso said.

“We haven’t had the predicted El Niño rains, so we have had no disease problems to speak of. And the market is good this year. Prices fluctuate, but as a whole, the vegetable market is on the upside. It’s very encouraging. All this is good for growers. So far, so good.”

Rare, record-breaking rain events fueled by Hurricane Patricia last year practically wiped out severe drought conditions in Texas, according to weather experts. The second half of October was “classic El Niño, with rich moisture from the Gulf of Mexico drenching Texas with efficient rainfall,” they said.

Rains soaked into the soil and enhanced reservoirs, lakes, creeks and streams, which was hugely beneficial for the state’s agriculture, according to Dr. Barry Goldsmith, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville.

But too much of a good thing last year was bad for South Texas vegetable production, which normally produces a yearly crop worth some $60 million in the four-county Rio Grande Valley area, according to AgriLife Extension statistics.

Summer and winter vegetable crops include watermelon, cantaloupes, onions, leafy greens, carrots, cabbage and potatoes.

After several inches of rain Jan. 1-2, the month’s weather pattern “was filled with sunshine, frequent cooling fronts, plenty of wind – but little rain for Texas, including the Rio Grande Valley,” according to the National Weather Service website. And depending on activities of the subtropical jetstream, the potential for “average to below average rainfall will continue across Texas and parts of the southeast U.S.”

Bottom line, “uncertainty ‘rains’ in the February to April outlook,” the website states.

Anciso said the lack of rainfall is encouraging for vegetable growers.

“About 3,500 acres of cabbage were planted in the Valley between August and December,” he said. “The early planted cabbage has been harvested, and the late-planted will be harvested between March and May. What’s been harvested has been bringing good prices.”

The approximately 7,700 acres of Valley onions planted between late September and mid-November will be harvested beginning the last week of March and peak in April, Anciso said.

“We’ve had little disease on foliage, and stands have been excellent, above average. This is a complete turnaround from last year’s abundant bacterial problems.”

And the 2,000 acres of carrots, which are planted at roughly the same time as cabbage, are now being harvested and will continue through May.

“Carrots also had lots of foliar diseases last year,” Anciso said. “But they are especially healthy this year.”

Most Valley vegetable crops are sold in the major cities of Texas and beyond, all the way into Canada.

“Our vegetables are shipped straight north, straight up,” he said. “None go to either the east or west coasts. But the best news is that so far we have healthy crops to sell at good prices.”

Source: Texas AgriLife

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