Weather presents challenges for Texas spring produce deal

04/16/2014 11:03:00 AM
Jim Offner

A drought continues to plague Texas winter-spring produce growers and shippers, although they reported enough cold and moisture to cause some delays in their crops.

“Most of Texas is still very dry, with 85% of the state rated in abnormally dry to drought condition, according to this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor,” Texas Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Lindsey Pope said March 28.

On the other hand, she said, many fruit and vegetable crops in South Texas had received some recent rainfall, which provided some relief from the drought conditions.

 

Running behind

The Texas watermelon deal likely is going to be late this year, said Jeff Fawcett, salesman with Edinburg, Texas-based melon grower-shipper Bagley Produce Co.

“We’ve had cold temperatures, under 60 degrees, which has slowed things down,” he said.

Bagley ships year-round, with an import deal from Mexico to complement its Texas production, Fawcett said.

“The market is decent, but it’s not stellar,” he said when asked what to expect when the Texas deal rolls around.

It was too early to predict where the market would be when the first Texas shipments came in, he said.

“It could go both ways,” he said. “We’ve had some bad weather. If the weather does make a turn, it may create a high market.”

Growers using tunnels likely were going to get an early-April jump on “open-ground” growers, Fawcett noted.

McAllen, Texas-based Val Verde Vegetable Co. reports some gaps in its October-to-April vegetable deal, although production generally ran on time, said Cliff Wiebusch, sales manager.

“We had quite a bit of rain back in December, which delayed some of our plantings,” he said.

 

Onions

The onion deal likely will be leaner this year due to weather problems, said Ray Prewitt, president of the Mission-based Texas Vegetable Association.

“We’ve had some onions harvested but behind the market schedule, and it looks like it’s going to be a challenge to get these onions ready for market,” Prewitt said.

The crop appeared to be “several weeks behind” normal, Prewitt said

“We normally just don’t get a lot of rain in the wintertime,” he said.

Onion prices have been “about average” for most of 2014 — mostly a result of reduced yields and colder-than-normal temperatures in the Tampico, Mexico, growing area, and Texas acreage was experiencing delays, too, said David DeBerry, director of category management at Edinburg-based Crescent Fruit & Vegetable LLC.

“In addition, bolting (seed stems) have developed in some varieties which is reducing yields in probably 30-40% of the acreage. Fortunately, the issues have been ones that are easy to find and grade out,” he said.

Onion acreage is down and timing is off, but there could be a bright side, said Don Ed Holmes, owner of The Onion House, Weslaco, Texas.

“Texas probably will star in mid-April, but I think, by then, Mexico will be on the way out,” Holmes said.

The timing is “interesting” and may leave a market window open to Texas, at least for part of the deal, Holmes said.

“What makes this exciting, is Idaho-Oregon is very close to finished. Those guys normally don’t finish until the last week of April or first week of May, and here they are finishing the last week in March,” Holmes said March 28.

Holmes said Georgia likely won’t start shipping any major volumes of Vidalia onions until May.

“So, basically, what you’ll see is South Texas is almost going to have this thing completely to itself, which has never happened, that I can remember,” Holmes said.

In that sense, the weather has been a friend, Holmes said.

“Plus, Mexico’s crop didn’t size up like they wanted it to,” he said.

Texas’ onion crop was shaping up well, Holmes said.

“For now, our crop looks very good, even though we’re not going to have the yields we had a year ago – I’m guessing they’re going to be off 10-15%, maybe 20%, less,” he said.

Uvalde, Texas-based Winter Garden Produce Inc. was still harvesting cabbage in late March, said J Carnes, president and owner.

“There’s not a whole lot out there, but what’s out there looks good,” he said.

Winter Garden Produce was looking to start its Texas onion harvest around May 1, Carnes said.

“Quality looks good but, kind of like the cabbage deal, it looks short,” he said.

 

Citrus

On the citrus front, production was “behind on movement,” compared to a year earlier, said Prewitt, who also is president of the Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

“We can’t get in to harvest the fruit as quickly and timely as we’d like,” he said.

Dennis Holbrook, president of South Tex Organics LC, a Mission-based grower-shipper of organic citrus and vegetables, said the colder, wetter weather has had some advantages.

“We’re seeing part of that in that citrus trees were very dormant and had a considerable number of chilling hours and so when they started flushing and putting out blossoms, we saw probably one of the heaviest blooms we’ve seen in a number of years,” Holbrook said.



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