Texas olive producers face another season of setbacks due to weather conditions, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Like in 2021, the 2022 olive fruit crop is expected to be a near-total failure, said Stephen Janak, AgriLife Extension program specialist, Hallettsville.
Janak said Texas olive orchard acres are difficult to track, but the last survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported around 1,200 acres in 2017. Due to the consistent annual growth since, he estimates Texas olive production to be around 3,000 acres.
“The last census makes olives the fifth largest fruit crop in the state,” he said. “Growers were planting more acres even after the winter storm because olives have great potential in parts of Texas.”
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Janak estimates Texas has moved into second place for olive acreage in the U.S. behind California. The USDA reported California had around 12,800 acres in 2021 with a yield of 55,000 tons last season.
Texas’ burgeoning olive industry has been aided by recent Texas A&M AgriLife Research variety trials and grants from Texas Department of Agriculture, Janak said. Trials provide useful data and trends regarding tree variety performance and identify what locations, microclimates and soils work best for trees and ultimately fruit yields.
Janak said olive trees are very resilient to the various stresses Texas climates present, but harvesting consistent yields can be difficult because olives fruit on year-old growth. Every tree in trials held north of U.S. Route 90 died back to the ground during Winter Storm Uri as temperatures dipped to highs of 12 degrees with sub-zero temperatures recorded. Around 50% of those trees showed new growth, but many died later due to summer stresses.
Trees south of Route 90 showed damage, but fared much better, Janak said.
“There is no question the area with the greatest potential for olive production are areas southwest of San Antonio,” he said. “But there are also microclimates that have been identified, including coastal areas that have shown great promise. We’ve just found that areas southwest of San Antonio report the most consistent crops and orchards north of Highway 90 tend to experience more freeze damage.”
Texas olives face hard seasons, hopeful future
Olives were first planted in Texas around 1995 and were becoming an increasingly successful niche crop for hobbyists and Texas olive oil producers between 2015 and 2020.
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Some Texas olives may be held back for pickling, but 100% of commercial acres are grown for olive oil production, Janak said. Most olive acres are planted in the Arbequina variety, which produce small fruit that provide little flesh but have very high oil concentrations.
Janak estimated Texas growers produced the most total pounds of fruit in 2020. But in 2021, Winter Storm Uri caused widespread crop loss and major damages to olive orchards.
The 2022 season looked promising in trees that experienced new growth following the freeze, but trees inexplicably did not develop buds. Janak suspects inadequate tree management and irrigation during extreme drought conditions over winter months stressed trees.
Some of the problems with this year’s failure were likely related to poor diagnosis and rehabilitation trees following freeze damage during Winter Storm Uri, Janak said. There was also a concern about too few chill hours this season as temperatures remained mild until January. But Janak suspects the combination of up and down temperatures and drought stressed trees beyond their capacity to flower and bear fruit.
AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension are providing guidance where science-backed recommendations exist, but much of the knowledge is gained through trial and error, he said.
“It has been an incredibly demoralizing past two seasons after seeing good progress year after year,” he said. “It’s been hard, but everyone is hoping for a great season next year.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Soil moisture levels were very short, and crop conditions continued to deteriorate due to drought. Daily temperature highs were setting all-time records. Forecasts for the next 10-14 days called for record heat, windy conditions and no rain.
All dryland fields were beginning to dry up. Only irrigated fields looked good, and even some of those crops were starting to suffer. The first tasseling fields of corn were reported. The first silking plants were showing, but unfortunately the stage was occurring during record heat and drought conditions.
Replanted cotton was emerging but showed signs of drought stress. Scouts were monitoring for mites and other early season pests. Hay feeding continued for most livestock producers, and those that had grazing early were almost out. Cattle were in good condition.
Conditions were very dry and limited moisture was received from recent thunderstorms. Hailstorms were reported. Temperatures were near or exceeded 100 degrees daily with windy conditions reported. Wildfire was a daily threat, and many small fires were reported. Motley County reported beneficial rain amounts, and cotton producers were plowing following the moisture.
Cattle were still being fed cake due to lack of grazing. Pastures and crops looked decent in some areas, but high temperatures and winds were reducing soil moisture. Dryland wheat looked bad in areas with some field abandonment occurring, but in other areas it looked fair. Some Coastal Bermuda grass fields were reported to be in good condition and being cut and baled.
There was a concern about quality if hay producers reduced fertilizer applications. Hay prices were also a concern due to the high input costs. Sudan and hay grazer emerged but needed rainfall. Corn and sorghum looked good with ample moisture for now. Cattle looked good and were grazing down winter pastures with some already on Bermuda grass or native rangelands.
Dry and windy conditions continued. Irrigated crops continued to grow well, but most crops were declining. Lack of rain and extreme high temperatures caused some corn failure. Most corn reached or was approaching silk stage. Grain sorghum was heading. Cotton that emerged was holding on but could fail if it doesn’t rain soon.
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Livestock producers were feeding hay and supplements. Some understocked pastures had some available forage with good nutrient value, but most rangelands and pastures were stressed from drought and overgrazing. Hay was still in fair supply for most operations.
Many producers were culling deeper and hauling livestock to markets. Livestock market prices remained steady or a little higher. Pecan spraying for nut casebearer was in full swing.
Subsoil and topsoil conditions were mostly adequate. Temperatures were above average with high winds. Spring crops were struggling in some areas due to recent weather conditions but looked good in other parts of the district.
Hay production was in full swing in many areas. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. High fertilizer prices were still a major concern. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Wild pigs remained a problem for most counties
Some counties received some much-needed rain. Rain reports from across the district varied from 0.5-1.8 inches. The moisture should allow cotton farmers to start planting, but more rain will be needed to keep crops going. Cattle were on supplemental feed, and many cattle producers were making hard culling decisions.
Soil moisture levels were very short to short. Some producers were still working around storm damages and losses from the hailstorm and high winds on May 1. Center pivots were damaged, and equipment, vehicle, building and livestock losses were still being reported. Winter wheat in some areas was devastated.
Parts of the district reported some light, scattered showers, but drought conditions persisted. All row crops and pastures will need significant rain soon to have any success this growing season. Crop, rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor to poor across the district.
Soil moisture was mostly adequate. Hotter temperatures should speed up the curing process for winter crops. Winter wheat was doing well and starting to turn in some areas. Dry conditions allowed more crop planting. Corn looked good. Beans and cotton were starting to emerge.
Grass was growing in pastures, and livestock were in good shape. Summer fly populations were taking off, including stable flies, deer flies and some horseflies. Cattle weights looked good as summer grass production was underway.
The daytime temperatures were in the high 90s to just above 100 degrees with overnight temperatures in the 60s and 70s. High winds and threat of wildfire continued. Thunderstorms were prevalent across the central portion of the district with a wide range of rainfall totals, up to 2 inches, reported.
Tornadoes were reported in Pecos County, and high winds caused damage to trees, fences and buildings. Cotton was planted on acres with very good water and drip tape under the row. Rainfall will be necessary for emergence. Most cotton in the Rio Grande Valley was emerged, and Pima and upland cotton looked good.
Rolling cultivation and side-dress fertilizations were underway. Most melons looked good, but several pests were clipping leaves. Pecans were setting clusters and loading up nicely. Pastures remained bare and some fields were being watered to get the hay grazer up and going.
AgriLife Extension offices were receiving calls regarding dead trees, grasses and plants. More cattle, sheep and goats were sold and shipped. Alfalfa fields looked good where there was sufficient water and proper fertilization. Sudan grass was being planted.
Some areas received rain while others stayed dry. Temperatures over 100 degrees were causing pastures to become extremely dry. Very few fields were planted in summer annual forages. Livestock producers were culling herds deeper. Some irrigated cotton was planted, but irrigated corn was struggling to keep up in the afternoons.
Irrigated wheat was maturing fast in the heat and will be harvested soon. Dryland farmers were still waiting on a rain to plant. Insect pest problems were increasing.
Soil moisture conditions were very short to adequate. Crops, rangelands and pastures were struggling from the lack of rain. Rangeland and pasture ratings ranged from very poor to excellent, with fair ratings most common.
Farmers were saying rice was extremely dry, and cow pastures were not growing enough grass to keep up with grazing. Soil moisture conditions were fair in some areas, but high temperatures and winds were causing moisture decline.
Very hot and dry conditions continued with record-high temperatures reaching beyond 100 degrees across the district. High winds were compounding the problem. Wheat and oat harvests started. Early planted corn looked decent, but later-planted fields showed drought stress, and sorghum needed rain.
Pastures and rangelands continued to show signs of drought stress and continued to decline with hotter temperatures and lack of moisture. Irrigated hay pastures remained productive. However, actual forage density was low due to the lack of adequate moisture. Supplemental feeding for livestock continued. Lambing and kidding were mostly complete. Livestock were in fair condition.
Northern, eastern and western areas reported very short soil moisture while southern areas reported short moisture levels. Several areas received rainfall, with amounts varied from trace rainfall up to 5 inches. Rainfall should help forage production. Temperatures were very hot and exceeded 100 degrees during the day.
Conditions were also windy. Irrigated vegetables and Coastal Bermuda grass looked good. Aphids and fleahoppers were reported in some cotton, and midge in some sorghum. Stink bugs and sugarcane aphids were reported in rice crops. Dryland sorghum acres were abandoned. Some crops were recovering. Citrus producers were irrigating orchards.
Grazing and water conditions improved significantly over the past two weeks for some cattle producers, but conditions were critical for crop and cattle producers in some areas. Feed and seed prices continued to rise. Cattle ranchers were culling herds deeper. Producers were relying on hay and other supplemental nutrition.
Stock tanks were low and declining. Cattle sale volumes returned to normal in areas that received rainfall. Hay bales reached $80 in some areas. Feral hogs were starting to enter residential areas searching for food and water.