In advance of an expected cold snap, a helicopter flies low over a field to push warmer air closer to the ground. Photo courtesy of Bret Erickson of J&D Produce.
Cold, wet weather has been hampering harvest in Texas this week, and growers were preparing Jan. 3 for an overnight freeze.
“We’ve had a lot of cold days, but tonight the weather is expected to drop to its lowest point and possibly stay at that level for multiple hours,” said Dante Galeazzi, president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association. “If that happens, unfortunately we would see damages across many commodities. A lot of preparations are underway as growers are doing what they can to ward off potential frost damages as much as possible.”
Bret Erickson, director of business development for Edinburg, Texas-based J&D Produce, said the company was concerned about the duration of freezing temperatures.
“The current forecast is for below-freezing temps to last 8-10 hours, which would be disastrous for our crops,” Erickson said. “Our farm managers have been working overtime the last few days preparing for this cold blast, including lots of watering to try and keep ground temperatures up, physically covering some of our more valuable items, placing special heaters in some fields, and even flying helicopters over our celery fields during the coldest hours of the morning to try and move the warmer air just above the ground’s surface down to ground level to help us gain a couple of degrees at field level.
“It’s definitely a nail biter right now,” Erickson said.
Trevor Stuart, salesman for Edinburg-based Frontera Produce, said the company has been harvesting as much product as possible in expectation of the coming cold snap, but the weather — including some ice buildup on crops — has hindered the process, delaying the usual harvesting start time from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. on one day.
“It hasn’t stopped us, but it’s definitely slowed us down,” Stuart said.
He did not expect too much damage to cabbage from the low temperatures, describing the crop as fairly hardy, but said the cold could persist through the end of the week.
“It could get interesting the next couple days,” Stuart said.
Cold weather was also expected to affect production in numerous Mexico growing regions.
“Many of the states expecting the cold weather have zones producing fresh fruits and vegetables, like Tamaulipas, which will have onions that are nearing full maturity and harvest,” Galeazzi said. “The commodity, duration of the cold, and (the) state of maturity will really determine the amount and type of damages. Things like leaf or tip burn, internal freeze damage or external skin burns are possible. Even worse could be the freeze kills not just the fruit, but the entire tree or plant.
“Many times, it’s hard to tell the full extent of the damages until a few days or a few weeks after the weather event,” Galeazzi said. “There’s going to be a lot of growers busy taking precautionary measures to do what they can to mitigate cold damage all this week.”
Companies harvesting product from other regions in Mexico had so far not encountered any particularly worrisome weather.
Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales for River Edge, N.J.-based Vision Import Group, said cool temperatures and rain have slowed harvesting of limes, but he expected fruit would size up as a result of those conditions. That product is sourced from Veracruz, Oaxaca and Michoacan.
Nogales, Ariz.-based Bernardi & Associates had not seen cold affecting its Mexico crops, most of which are coming from Culiacan, said salesman Manny Gerardo.
Brian Bernauer, director of operations and sales for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers, said weather was not expected to affect the tomato deal in Culiacan.