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South and Central Texas cool-season crops look promising; prices will be higher

South and Central Texas cool-season crops look promising; prices will be higher

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While prospects for cool-season crops in South and Central Texas look positive, increased production costs and pandemic-related challenges will likely have a negative impact on pricing and producer profitability, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Producers in the Rio Grande Valley are planting cool-season crops such as onions, leafy greens, carrots and kale, said Juan Anciso, AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco.

The planting window is critical for cool-season crops due to the time they take to mature. Onions take 160-170 days from seed to harvest, cabbage takes 90-110 days, and carrots take 90-plus days for fresh market and 150-180 days for those being processed.

“It was dry for a while and that had a negative effect on a few early season plantings,” Anciso said. “But recent rains have helped these and other newly planted crops while not impeding the producers’ ability to plant more. We have also had generally mild and cooperative weather in most of the region.”

Anciso said although there were issues with some stands in late September and with irrigation water having a higher-than-normal salt content, plant stands are now looking good, and the overall prospect for cool-season crops is positive.

“Of course, this depends on whether or not the weather continues to cooperate,” he said.

Cool-season crop plantings in South Texas peak in October, and Anciso said conditions have been positive so far for these.

This year, onion acreage in South Texas is still at about 6,000 acres, with 1,500-2,000 acres of carrots planted.

“Grower diversification has led to a reduction in onion planting, as producers plant additional cool-season crops such as spinach, parsley, cilantro, collard greens, okra, celery and others,” he said. “Some growers in South Texas grow from 10-20 different cool-season crops.”

Anciso said the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic does not seem to have affected consumer desire for fresh produce.

“If anything, it looks like consumer demand for fresh produce has actually increased,” he said. “However, long-term effects from the pandemic, such as difficulty in getting some supplies and equipment, problems with transportation, and the increased cost of fuel and chemical inputs, have had a great impact.”

He said at a recent meeting, South Texas producers told him their production costs had gone up by about 30% from last year.

“Costs are up for chemical inputs, especially fertilizer and fuel,” Anciso said. “In addition, adequate labor is harder to find, and land rents have gone up as well.”

Anciso said a pleasant surprise in this year’s crop prognosis for South Texas was that there will actually be some citrus production.

“Things looked really bad after the freeze, and it appeared as though there would be no citrus production whatsoever this year,” he said. “And while many younger and older fruit trees died during the freeze, a number of healthier citrus trees that were from 5-20 years old survived and are producing again.”

He said the citrus industry in South Texas estimates that production might be 20% to 30% of that in a normal year.

“The estimate may be a little high,” Anciso said, “but the fact there will be any citrus production at all is remarkable. It looks like there will be grapefruit and oranges coming out of the Lower Rio Grande Valley again. However, we will have zero lemon and lime production, as these particular citrus trees were all killed by the freeze.”

Brace for higher prices

Anciso did warn, however, that although fresh cool-season vegetables and fruits from South Texas will be available, their cost at the grocery store will be higher due to the higher costs of production and other factors.

“Consumers can expect price increases on both fresh and canned vegetables,” he said. “Increased production costs will be passed along to the consumer. Of course, market prices for our cool-season crops will also depend on how competing crops in California, Florida and Mexico perform, but producers everywhere are experiencing higher production costs.”

Texas Winter Garden crops

“So far, the cool-season crop prospects for the Texas Winter Garden area are positive,” said Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist based in Uvalde. “We have already started to see some early cabbage, and that is looking good. Also, producers are starting to plant spinach and other leafy green cool-season crops, and conditions have been good for planting.”

Stein said recent moisture also helped with the breakdown of leaf or litter trash left from crop rotation, also benefiting the cool-season crop planting process.

He said one potentially negative weather factor may be the spate of heavy winds in that region.

“The wind gusts have been strong and blew around a lot of sand and other material that may have damaged some of the earlier cool-season crop stands, but that has been the only real negative in the weather to this point,” he said.

Stein also noted that, so far, pest and disease pressures in the Winter Garden area have been minimal.

“We have not seen any significant armyworm activity, and the rains have been moderate, so there hasn’t been any real disease pressure due to excess moisture,” he said.

While the weather has been cooperative for the producers, Stein said other factors also beyond their control have been less kind.

“There have been significant increases in the price of fuel, fertilizer and other production inputs,” he said. “While it looks like producers are on track for a decent cool-season crop result, these additional costs will surely have an impact on consumer prices and producer profitability.”

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