Grain planting is underway again in South Texas as warm weather finally returns after a pair of late season cold fronts swept across the middle and upper coast regions, disrupting planting operations.
Despite cold nights and breezy days, the delay in field operations earlier this month was welcomed by many farmers as spotty showers added to soil moisture levels in some areas, moisture that farmers hoped would help seeds germinate after planting in the closing days of February.
Dryland acres particularly have suffered a drier-than-normal winter. But fields at farms bordering the Interstate 37 corridor overwintered far better than some areas in the Coastal Bend. With corn and grain sorghum planting back on schedule, farmers are in full swing. Grain producers in the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley are slightly ahead of schedule for mid-March, while in most of the Coastal Bend and across parts of the Upper Coast seeding generally started slightly later than average.
In a San Patricio County producer meeting last week farmers reported grain planting is nearly back on schedule across the county with dry fields and warm temperatures. Fields were prepped for planting in mid-February in hopes of an early planting that failed to materialize.
Coastal Bend farmers normally wrap up sorghum planting the first week of March and Extension officials say if good weather holds many farmers should have a chance to catch up.
San Patricio County Extension officials say while grain sorghum is now being planted, it may be a week or more before cotton planters begin serious work in the field. Cotton producers are looking to the last week of March to begin planting in the Upper Coast region, but cotton planting is already underway in parts of Deep South Texas where traditionally the first cotton of the year goes into the ground.
Cotton Needs 60 Degree Temps
"Sorghum is slightly more cool-weather tolerant than cotton," said Carl Harrison, a farmer in Willacy County. "When soil temps hit around 60 degrees or a little below we feel confident in dropping grain seed in the ground, but for cotton, we prefer soil temperatures above 60 degrees for good germination. With some of the newer varieties of cotton, we're seeing more cold tolerant seed, but we're still looking for that 60-degree level before we feel confident enough for optimum germination."
Across most of South Texas, daily temperature highs range in the lower 60s to the mid to upper 80s from day to day, and that allows a little more tolerance to cold weather planting.
In spite of some rain showers through January and February, lack of substantial moisture throughout the winter season concerns some Coastal Bend farmers, depending on their location. In parts of San Patricio County, for example, soil moisture is considered adequate in the western reaches of the county, but less moisture is available in dryland fields in eastern sections of the county.
While grain sorghum planting is underway in the Valley and cotton planting is moving forward at a rapid pace as of this writing, citrus producers are pleased as a brisk harvest continues this week. Many growers are reporting the orange and grapefruit harvest is continuing as weather conditions improved last week and are expected to continue.
Trent Bishop, Vice President of Marketing for Lone Star Citrus Growers in Mission, says his harvest is in full swing and is expected to wrap up in early April. He says it hasn't been the best year for citrus production in South Texas with expected yields down slightly for the company's popular grapefruit. But he reports orange yield is higher year compared to 2016. Also, on the positive side, grapefruit is selling a little higher than last year, helping to offset the smaller yield.
Overall, Valley orange production is up about 30 percent over last year, while grapefruit production is expected to fall about 15 percent.
Bishop says harvest is running a little ahead of schedule with only about 40 percent of the crop still in groves. That compares with more than 60 percent at the same time last year.
In the Upper Coastal Bend and Upper Coast regions of Texas, most corn is already in the ground.
To the west, in the Texas Winter Garden, winter spinach crops have all but wrapped up for the year, and specialty crops like strawberries in the Poteet area are reported doing well for this time of year. Vegetable planting for warm weather varieties gets underway near Uvalde in the next two weeks.