Colder weather good for fruit crops
ROBERT BURNS/Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
A Rusk County peach grower sprays oil on his trees to prevent disease.
COLLEGE STATION -- Because of a mild early winter, it was touch-and-go for Texas fruit crops for a while, but everything now looks just peachy, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
“We’re very optimistic right now,” said Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Uvalde, who works mainly with pecans, fruits, grapes, and vegetable crops.
Fruit trees and many fruit crops require cold weather to grow, flower, and develop properly, Stein explained. This time is called “chilling hours” and is usually defined as the number of hours in a season when the temperatures fall below 45 degrees. Different varieties require different amounts of chilling hours.
“We were sucking air for a while on chilling hours,” he said. “We were really concerned. In fact, in the Hill Country I think they’re going to end up with 750 (chill hours) and probably be okay, but there were actually a lot of growers who were applying Dormex.”
Dormex is a growth regulator that helps overcome insufficient chilling hours, Stein said.
Peaches are big business in the Hill Country, according to AgriLife Extension horticulturists, being primarily concentrated in the Fredericksburg area and surrounding counties. By some accounts, Gillespie County alone produces 40 percent of all the peaches grown in Texas.
There was also some concern about fruit trees blooming early, and therefore being subject to damage by a hard frost, Stein said.
“But we had a lot of cool nights, and the days have not really been that warm,” he said. “They started blooming early, but they slowed down, and this is March 5, and we think we’re going to be okay there too.”
Of course, weather is often unpredictable, he noted.
“Right now, we’re okay, but we could get everything out and then have a freeze in April. You never know,” Stein said. “A lot of old-timers say you’ve got to get past Easter, but Easter comes early this year in late March.”
There are not many apricots or cherries grown in Texas, but there are large amounts of blueberries grown, he said.
“But they (blueberry growers) should be okay too, as long as they did their homework on variety selection,” Stein said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas total peach production was 4,900 tons in 2009, down from 7,900 tons in 2008. The 38 percent reduction in 2009 was due to an early freeze in April that wiped out some producers’ entire crop.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of Feb. 26 to March 4:
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported extremely dry and windy conditions persisted. Rangeland and pastures continued to deteriorate. Wheat and oats badly needed rain. Ranchers continued supplemental feeding of livestock. Corn planting was ongoing. Farmers began applying fertilizer and weed control on coastal Bermuda grass fields. Small trees and brush were budding, but growth was slow and weak. Lambing and calving were under way in some counties. Burn bans were in effect.
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported the drought continued with no forecast of rain anytime in the near future. Some farmers were planting in soils with very limited moisture, maybe enough to germinate seed but not enough to sustain growth. Livestock producers continued to reduce herds as grazing was very limited. Temperatures were below normal with very high winds that further dried out soils and caused dust storms.
Robert Burns has nearly 30 years’ experience writing about agriculture and agricultural-related research. He writes about Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service activities at the Overton Center and centers in Stephenville and Temple.