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Agriculture Today

Good rains, but mild weather could put a ‘chill’ on fruit production

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February 15, 2012 | 4,629 views | Post a comment

COLLEGE STATION -- Recent rains greatly improved soil-moisture levels in many parts of the state, according to reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service county agents.

However, many parts of the state remained critically dry, including the Panhandle, South Plains, Far West Texas, and parts of the Rolling Plains and Coastal Bend areas, according to the reports.

The more fortunate areas experienced mild weather and timely rains -- as much as 6 inches in some areas, with 1 inch to 2 inches more common. The warm weather spurred the growth of winter wheat and winter pastures. It also raised farmers’ optimism in those areas for summer grazing and the planting of spring row crops.

For fruit growers, the mild winter may not be a great blessing due to lack of chilling hours, though that remains to be seen, according to AgriLife Extension horticulturists.

Chilling hours refers to the minimum amount of cold weather that fruit trees such as peaches need before they will blossom in the spring and produce a crop, said Keith Hansen, AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Smith County, Tyler. The amount of chilling hours needed depends upon the variety. There are low-chilling, moderate-chilling, and high-chilling varieties.

There are also different ways of calculating chilling hours, and some controversy as to which is the more reliable indicator, Hansen said.

One method involves counting the hours between 32 and 45 degrees, Hansen said. By this method, according to weather data collected at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton, the region has had 687 chilling hours.

Another method is simpler to calculate, only taking the number of hours below 45 degrees into account, including temperatures below 32, Hansen said. By this method, the East Texas region has received 746 chilling hours.

By either method, many of the varieties grown in East Texas are in fair shape, he said.

But there is yet another way of calculating chilling hours, the Utah model, which may spell trouble for some varieties, he said. By the Utah model, the hours above about 60 degrees are subtracted from the total, Hansen said.

“I think that may be where the concern is, with the warm weather we had in January,” he said.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the period of Jan. 30 through Feb. 6.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported some areas received great rains during the reporting period. Soil moisture levels improved, helping plans for row-crop planting within the next 30 days. The moisture, along with warm weather and sunshine, made excellent growing conditions for winter forages and clover. Cattlemen, however, were concerned that with the amount of clover growing there was high potential for bloat in livestock, and they were placing anti-bloat blocks in fields. In the region’s southern counties, drought conditions persisted. There was very little runoff and stock pond levels remained critical.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported as much as 2 inches of rain fell in some areas. The rain and warm weather greatly accelerated winter pasture growth. Topsoil moisture improved. Small grain pastures seemed to be slow going and were being moderately grazed. Winter wheat made good progress. Farmers were preparing to plant corn and sorghum. Trees were on the verge of budding. Lambing and kidding were under way. Livestock producers were maintaining herd numbers for now, and supplemental feeding of cattle continued in some areas.

Compiled from Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.

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