Conditions are so favorable for an outstanding Texas peach crop this year that he almost hates to talk about them lest he jinxes the crop, joked Dr. Larry Stein, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist for fruits, nuts and vegetable crops at Uvalde.
“We’ve probably had the best chilling year we’ve had in many, many years,” Stein said. “We had a lot of cloudy, cool wet weather – not necessarily extremely cold weather, just cool and wet – which is ideal chilling weather for fruit trees. So the bloom on the trees has been just phenomenal this year, and the crop is potentially outstanding.”
Chilling hours are typically the number of hours of temperature between 32 and 45 degrees that a fruit tree needs to break dormancy. The minimum number of chilling hours a peach tree needs to produce a good crop varies with the variety, but this year all trees have received what they needed and more, he said.
This is true throughout the state, and not just in the Hill County, where a large part of the state’s peach crop is produced, Stein said. In previous years, good filling weather was offset by late freezes, but he doesn’t expect that to happen this year.
“Right now, we’ve dodged the bullet, so far, so to speak, on late freezes,” he said. “You almost don’t want to talk about it because we don’t want to jinx it going into the spring.”
Stein said if there are no hard freezes in the next two weeks, the crop will stay in very good shape.
“Old-timers say Easter is the cutoff date for late freezes, and Easter is coming up this weekend,” he said. “So hopefully, we get past Easter and we’re done with the cold for this year.”
But even a late cold snap in the next two weeks is unlikely to hurt yield potential in many orchards now, Stein said.
“Most trees have bloomed out and we’re into the fruit-set stage, and once you have a small peach there, it will tolerate the cold pretty well,” he said. “Right now, it looks very promising.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Soil moisture, overall rangeland and pastures, and crops were in good condition. Producers were waiting for ground to dry for planting. Stock-water tanks were full. Small grains looked extremely good. The warmer weather stimulated winter forage to provide good grazing. Producers were applying herbicides to knock back weeds. Summer pastures had not started to green up yet. Cattle remained in good condition. Fruit trees were budding out, as were other trees and ornamentals. Pecan bud-break was in full process, with some growers beginning to spray for pests. Bees were beginning to swarm.
East: The region had several days of sunshine, warmer temperatures and windy weather, which helped dry out some areas. Fields in other areas still had saturated soils or standing water. More rain was expected this week. Forage conditions improved rapidly with the return of warmer sunny weather. Wet soils hampered fertilizer applications and weed control. Potato growers had to replant after the first sets rotted due to the wet conditions. Fruit trees were in full bloom. Insects of all types were beginning to emerge. Fire ants were an increasing problem due to the saturated conditions. Feral hogs were active. Beaver damage was on the rise in Harrison County. Cattle were holding their weight. Most producers stopped feeding hay and were tapering off feeding supplements. Beef markets remained extremely strong. Calving season continued. Spring cattle work began with producers vaccinating their herds.
Far West: The region had seasonal temperatures and no precipitation. Windy conditions on March 26 caused high fire danger in some counties. Subsoil and topsoil moisture were adequate to short. Pastures and rangeland were in fair condition and starting to green up. Cattle were doing well. Winter wheat was in fair condition and quickly improving from moisture received the previous week. Upland cotton was 100 percent planted. Oats were in fair to good condition. Alfalfa came out of dormancy and was growing.
North: The region had mild temperatures and scattered showers with mostly cloud-covered skies all week. One inch to 2 inches of rain fell across the region. Topsoil moisture was mostly adequate to surplus. Pastures continued to improve. Soils remained too wet in many areas to plant crops. Where conditions allowed, farmers were strip tilling and fertilizing. Irrigation of wheat, alfalfa and prewatering for summer crops was very active. Wheat looked good compared to the last several years, though insect activity was building, with reports of greenbugs and Russian wheat aphids. Stock-water tanks were full. Livestock were in good condition. Supplemental feeding of livestock and spring calving continued.
Panhandle: Temperatures were near to above average most of the week with no precipitation. Producers were cultivating cotton ground and applying preplant herbicides and fertilizer. Spring calves were being weaned. Irrigation of wheat, alfalfa and prewatering for summer crops was very active. Wheat looked good in some areas compared to the last several years, but the hot dry conditions were causing it to go downhill in others. Weeds such as Kochia and Russian thistle were a problem in rangeland that lost turf from years of drought. Some producers were opting to graze out their wheat by placing more stocker cattle on fields. Insect activity on wheat was building, with greenbugs and Russian wheat aphid being reported. Flies were already being seen on some cattle. Cattle remained in fair condition. Pastures were greening up with cool-season annuals. Rangeland and pastures varied from poor to fair condition, with most areas reporting good to fair. Supplemental feeding of livestock and spring calving continued.
Rolling Plains: The agricultural outlook continued to improve on the heels of a mild and moisture-filled late winter. Rain fell across parts of the region for the second week in a row, with some counties reporting between 0.5 inch and 2 inches. Cropland was in good shape for spring fieldwork. Rangeland grasses were expected to show significant growth when sustained warmer weather returned. Winter wheat was improving. Livestock were in good condition. Peach trees were still blooming and beginning to leaf out. Stock-water tanks and lakes still needed runoff.
South: Scattered showers – some light and some a bit heavy — continued. Soil moisture remained mostly adequate. Although most of the area had partly cloudy to fairly clear skies, wet field conditions continued to delay planting, especially in the northern parts of the region. In the northern part of the region, some producers were planting hay. Potatoes were flowering and in good condition, and corn planting continued, with some early planted corn already emerging. Grain sorghum planting began. With warmer temperatures, spring forages were greening, but winter annuals continued to compete with warm-season grasses. Supplemental feeding of livestock declined, and cattle body condition scores remained fair to good. In the eastern part of the region, light rains coupled with sunshine boosted rangeland and pasture grass growth. Farmers in Jim Wells, Kleberg and Kenedy counties were still not able to begin planting any additional row crops due to excessive moisture in all fields. In the western part of the region, winter oats remained in good condition. Coastal Bermuda grass was good and green, and crop farmers were actively preparing soil and purchasing seeds for planting. Ranchers were lightly culling cattle, with hopes of building up their base herds, and supplemental feeding was light. In the southern part of the region, fields remained wet. There were reports of weed problems in row crop fields. Sugarcane harvesting remained at a standstill due to wet conditions, but citrus and vegetable harvesting continued. Fields were still too wet in many areas for tractors to make their way in to plant.
South Plains: The region had generally warm weather with clear skies, though wind gusts did reach 42 mph one day. Winter wheat continued to progress, with primary tillers beginning to joint in some fields. Producers were preparing for planting, applying herbicides, shredding stalks and listing seedbeds. Rangeland and pastures were in mostly fair to good condition, with warm-season grasses beginning to green up. Cattle were mostly in good condition and expected to improve during the next few weeks as pastures further improved.
Southeast: Soil-moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, but were mostly in the adequate to surplus range. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, mostly from excellent to good, with fair ratings being the most common. Pasture production was coming along well. Vegetables were being planted as field conditions allowed, but soils were too wet in many areas to plant anything. Some fields dried enough to allow corn planting. Corn planting in Waller County was still delayed due to wet conditions. Livestock water tanks were full. Cattle were eating less hay as warmer weather brought on grass growth. Livestock were in fair to good condition.
Southwest: Recent rains and sunny conditions jump started spring growth. Grasses were starting to grow. Soil moisture remained high throughout the region. Some corn emerged, and the planting of sorghum would resume as field conditions allowed. Temperatures were normal for this time of year. Livestock and wildlife had better grazing, but still may need to be supplemented until full spring conditions arrived.
West Central: The region had mild weather with warm days and cool nights. The warmer daytime temperatures dried out pastures and fields enough for producers to re-enter. Field activity and preparation continued for spring cotton planting. Some grain sorghum was planted. Cotton producers were spraying for spring weeds. Corn planting was underway where moisture conditions allowed. Winter wheat continued to improve and progress quickly. Some wheat was in flagging and/or boot stages. Rust on wheat was still being reported, with producers treating as necessary. Rangeland and pastures remained in good shape and continued to improve with warm-season grasses breaking dormancy and beginning to grow. Recent moisture and warmer temperatures initiated a fast spring-like green-up. Livestock remained in fair to good condition with green grass and other forages available. Most livestock producers no longer had to provide supplemental feed . Fruit and other trees were budding out.