Texas Field Reports: Conditions Good for Crawfish Producers Amid Expanding Market

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell

Texas crawfish producers are expected to have a good year as demand continues to increase in larger markets, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Todd Sink, AgriLife Extension fisheries specialist in College Station, said early reports from crawfish producers in southeast Texas indicate it will be an average to above-average year.

“At this point, we’re about 8 percent lower in production than last year, meaning for every 10 pounds produced last year, we’re producing around 9.2 pounds,” he said. “That might sound bad but production was up so far last year that we’re still doing well.”

In 2016, a mild winter, coupled with heavy spring rains and wet conditions throughout the season allowed Texas crawfish producers to increase production around 19 percent, Sink said.

“Anytime we get a mild winter and it stays wet, it is typically good,” he said. “Crawfish are active longer and continue to grow. Last year was just out of this world.”

Mild winters can mean crawfish season can begin in early February, while cold winters can push the season kickoff into March, he said. Producers begin to serve local and area consumers as soon as crawfish exit dormancy and begin serving other markets as their numbers increase.

Sink said the crawfish market has expanded over the last 15-20 years.

“There are a lot more people eating crawfish nationally,” he said. “Crawfish used to be viewed as a strange little bug by people outside of Louisiana and southeast Texas, but it’s less taboo and there has been more and more demand for them.”

Sink said demand in Texas markets like Austin, Dallas and San Antonio has prodded producers to expand their capacity and has brought new producers into crawfish farming.

Prices can hover in the low-$2 per pound range for live crawfish from local producers, but it’s not uncommon to see $8-$9 per pound for live crawfish in distant markets when demand is high and transport costs are added, Sink said. Crawfish season peaks during Lent, between Fat Tuesday and Easter, when demand can push prices higher.

Texas is No. 2 in U.S. crawfish production, well behind Louisiana, but well ahead of the next state, Sink said.

“Louisiana produces about 90 percent of the crawfish, but they also consume about 90 percent of the crawfish they produce,” Sink said. “They typically serve local and area demand before they start sharing.”

Sink said most Louisiana crawfish farming compliments rice production, but most Texas producers grow their crawfish in permanently flooded ponds. There are seven large producers with 100-300 acres of capacity each, mostly in southeast Texas between Beaumont and Houston, but small-scale producers are entering the market as an opportunity for supplemental income as demand grows.

Good conditions this year are providing good opportunities for producers and decent prices for consumers, he said.

“We typically want to see about 600 pounds of crawfish per acre from our producers to be profitable,” he said. “This year, some producers are seeing 700-750 pounds per acre.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: Some areas received little to no rain while others received excess rainfall with some flooding. A cool front blew in and made for some very cool evenings. Gusty winds created some problems for farmers planting summer hay crops. Rust was in a large portion of oats and wheat, and numerous producers were baling oats. Most corn looked good, but some losses were expected due to excess moisture and flooding.

Overall, fieldwork was resuming in most areas. Many small grains planted for silage were harvested, with some outstanding yields reported. Bermuda grass was growing, however, cooler nights may slow the process down. Nearly all crops were two to three weeks ahead of schedule compared to a typical year, except for cotton. Cotton farmers were trying to plant, but the ground was too wet.

Pasture conditions continued to look favorable and summer forage started to make progress. Cattle and other hooved livestock were looking fit and thriving on the range. Cattle prices were on the rise. Feral hogs continued to damage corns fields.

ROLLING PLAINS: Cooler temperatures over recent weeks resulted in wheat doing very well, but leaf rust increased in susceptible varieties. Canola nearly completed blooming. Winter wheat graze out continued, and cows were doing very well with pastures in great shape.

There were some reports of significant increase in fire ant activity in pastures. There was an increase in insect activity affecting trees and homeowners’ landscapes, but nothing dramatic insect-wise on crop production. Conditions were excellent for producers to work.

COASTAL BEND: Heavy rainfall of approximately 2-7 inches in many areas delayed field work but helped moisture conditions. Crops looked excellent but needed drying conditions. Corn was at or near tassel and recent rains helped its progress. Cotton made good progress and was in the four-to-six leaf stage.

Sorghum was nearing boot stage in early planted fields, and rice planting continued. Pecan nut casebearer monitoring was underway and early moth catches indicated the targeted spray date will be early this year. Herbicide and fertilizer applications continued in pastures and hay fields with some weed spraying and cultivation. Pastures were saturated but lush and green. Livestock were doing well.

EAST: Several counties received beneficial moisture. A cold front moved through the district late in the reporting period bringing low temperatures down to the 40s and 50s. Pastures and hay fields continued to make good growth. Pasture and range conditions were fair to good. Subsoil and topsoil were mostly adequate with only Shelby and Tyler counties reporting short conditions. Producers continued to fertilize hay fields.

Forage producers in Anderson County continued to finish sprigging of Coastal Bermuda grass. Crops that were fertilized were growing very well. Vegetable producers were planting in Anderson County. Pea producers were expected to start planting soon. Watermelons were well ahead of where they were at this time last year.

Smith County farmers were working in gardens. Soil tests were performed around the county. Harvests of onions and potatoes began. Weed control was underway in lawns, pastures and ponds. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Producers were deworming cattle and goats.

Cattle prices in Gregg County were holding steady to lower. Polk County continued working calves and marketing cull cows and market-ready calves. Wild pig activity increased in Cherokee County and decreased in other areas.

SOUTH PLAINS: Most of the district experienced warm and windy conditions during this reporting period. Parts of Lynn and Yoakum counties received 1-3 inches of rainfall over the weekend. This rain provided a welcomed boost to wheat fields and rangelands. Winter wheat continued to mature and started to head out.

Hail damage assessments were being made in wheat fields, particularly in northwest Hale County where some fields were destroyed. Planting of corn and sorghum began this week.  Minimum soil temperatures 8 inches in depth were in the low- to mid-60s. Preparation continued for spring planting.

PANHANDLE: Temperatures were up and down for the reporting period. The week started off with cool temperatures and some moisture then warmed to above average temperatures and back to cooler temperatures by week’s end. Most areas received some moisture, and it hailed in some areas. More moisture was needed throughout the district.

Dryland wheat started to head out. Corn planting was in progress. Preplant preparation for cotton, corn and soybeans was underway. Wheat fields were fertilized. Range conditions improved. Supplemental feeding stopped. Fences were being rebuilt where March wildfires damaged or destroyed them.

Crop outlooks were good at this point. Cotton planting will begin around May 10. It looked like planted cotton acres would increase about 25 percent in Randall County this season, with sorghum acres down about 25 percent. Many producers were tired of fighting sugarcane aphids, especially with limited products that seem to hit and miss on effectiveness.

NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from adequate to short. Conditions were dry for the most part this reporting period with very cool temperatures over the weekend. A small amount of rain fell. Rains helped with nitrogen fixation, and pastures responded almost immediately.

Stock ponds received much needed runoff to help water levels. Winter wheat was doing well. Soybeans that have emerged were looking decent. Most corn looked good. All corn was planted and most all emerged. About 25 percent of the cotton, grain sorghum and soybeans was planted.

Rangeland and pastures were coming on strong with a mix of winter grasses finishing up and warm season grasses getting started.

Pastures looked very good for livestock and most ranchers stopped feeding hay and supplements. Cattle looked great and most ranchers finished calving. There were quite a few stocker calves still on wheat pastures, and they will likely stay until wheat plays out. Cattle looked good. Flies were starting to bother cattle. Feral hog activity died down somewhat, though a sounder was seen in a suburban neighborhood.

FAR WEST: Temperature highs were in the 90s and lows in the 40s. Precipitation reported for the reporting period averaged between 0.3-2 inches of rain. The soil profile was slowly building up. Corn emerged and was off to a good start. Sorghum was a little over three-quarters planted, and what had emerged looked good.

Some early cotton will probably go in the ground in the next reporting period. Pastures were greening up and looked much better. Producers continued to feed livestock and wildlife.

WEST CENTRAL: Weather conditions were very seasonable, with warm days and cool nights. A few areas reported scattered thunderstorms. All areas needed more rain soon. Field preparations continued for cotton planting next month. Row crop producers were spraying spring weeds in preparation for planting. Fields were being planted for summer hay.

Some acres were being planted in grain sorghum, but overall sorghum acreage was down from a year ago. Early planted sorghum and corn was up and looked good. Wheat fields looked good. Some producers were harvesting wheat fields for forage and hay. Winter wheat was starting to head out, and some was being laid down for hay. Hessian flies were reported in wheat in some counties. Wheat in some areas was stricken with leaf rust.

Rangeland and pastures were in good condition with spring green-up. Forages were growing and cool-season plants were maturing. Warm-season grasses were starting to green up. Small-grain fields were grazed. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Cattle looked good. Yearling cattle continued to be shipped. Most were heavier than expected. Pecan orchard work was very busy at this time.

SOUTHEAST: Livestock were in good condition. Jefferson County experienced heavy showers, which kept fields saturated, and parts of Lee County received around 4 inches. The recent rains provided good soil moisture. Farmers were looking forward to drier conditions to catch up on the side-dressing fertilizer and field work.

Brazos County experienced some cooler temperatures over the weekend. Winter annuals were maturing and setting seed. Summer pastures were still on hold with cool evening temperatures. A few light showers helped with growth but high winds dried out the soil moisture. Mosquitoes were starting to surface where the water was still standing.

Weeds were in full bloom and folks were waiting for the wind to die down to be able to spray. Soil-moisture levels throughout the district ranged widely from adequate to surplus with most ratings in the adequate range. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely, from excellent to poor, with fair ratings being most common.

SOUTHWEST: Spring green-up continued. Most of the district received 1-4 inches of rain, which helped subsoil and topsoil conditions improve. Corn and milo looked good, and cotton planting was also finalizing. Pastures looked great. Spring lambing and kidding continued, and livestock continued to be in good condition.

SOUTH: Conditions were good throughout the district. Temperatures were mild. Some counties received more beneficial rainfall, which helped keep soil moisture at adequate levels. Rain reports ranged from a half inch to 4.5 inches. Some rangeland and pastures in parts of the district were beginning to dry due to persistent north winds and lack of moisture.

Crops looked good overall. Hay producers were preparing for their first cutting, and some were already producing hay bales. Corn began to tassel, cotton planting continued and carrot harvesting began. Grazing opportunities improved for some producers. There were reports of lush, green pastures in areas that received significant rain. The cattle market remained the same in some areas.

Nearly all row crops were planted with minimal acreage remaining. Although crops were in various stages, heat units were expected to help most fields compensate and catch up with earlier-planted fields.

In Zavala County, temperatures were unseasonably cool but beneficial for late-planted fresh market spinach. Harvest of spinach fields was expected by the end of the next reporting period. Livestock on native rangeland and pastures continued to provide ample supplies of grazing forage; as heavy rains helped native plants respond well.

Some insect pressure was reported in some crops. As a precaution, some producers contracted aerial applicators to apply pesticides on corn and sorghum crops. Cotton made good progress, and wheat was maturing well. Onion harvests were weeks away. Irrigation continued in corn fields. Sugarcane, vegetables and citrus harvesting continued in Hidalgo County.

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