Texas Field Reports: Grape Expectations Ripe for 2018

    Photo: Adam Russell, Texas AgriLife Extension

    According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts, vineyard owners and wineries in Texas have reason to be in good spirits this spring — in spite of some challenges in the form of severe weather in grape-growing areas of the state.  

    “There has been almost no rain since October, but  vines are growing well under irrigation. Bloom stage will be here in three or four more weeks,” said Dr. Pierre Helwi, AgriLife Extension viticulture specialist, Lubbock.

    Helwi said producers in the region have been fortunate so far in avoiding hail damage.

    “We have had good bud break and are seeing some small inflorescences, which is what we call clusters at this early stage of development, here in the West Texas High Plains,” Helwi said.  “And there have also been no significant losses from four recent freezes we have experienced, as the vineyard owners have been able to employ various techniques to keep the vines from freezing.”  

    Fran Pontasch, viticulture program specialist in College Station, who covers the Gulf Coast area, said vineyards there are doing “surprisingly well” in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

    “Growers and their grapevines  are especially resilient and grape production this year is very promising,” Pontasch said. “Fortunately, the grapes had already been harvested when Harvey hit, so there was no direct impact to last year’s crop. But the winds and flooding did some structural damage in some vineyards, such as knocking over trellises or causing support posts to sink. However, pretty much all of this damage has been repaired, and the producers are back to business as usual.”

    She also noted equipment lost due to the flooding has been replaced and is fully operational.  

    “A main cause of concern after Harvey was the potential for plant disease resulting from excess rainfall,” she said. “That can lead to root rot and downy mildew, but we did what we could to help prepare by letting producers know about the proper type and use of fungicides to combat these diseases. Fortunately, neither became an actual problem and there was no more disease found than in a typical wet year.”

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    Pontasch said one of the long-term post-Harvey effects is that many producers are taking additional precautions against flooding and are adding additional drainage in and around their vineyards.

    “They realize a ‘500-year flood event’ is likely to come about much sooner than anyone expected and they need to make sure they prepare for it,” she said.

    Brianna Hoge, AgriLife Extension viticulture specialist based in Fredericksburg, said the vineyard and winery business in the Hill Country continues to grow at a rapid pace and the quality of grapes used for wine production has “skyrocketed” in recent years.

    “Hill Country wineries are really focused on producing high-quality grapes for the making of high-quality wines,” she said. “And this year’s grape crop is looking excellent so far.”

    Jim Kamas, AgriLife Extension fruit specialist in Fredericksburg, said even though the area has received some rain, it is still necessary for many producers to supply drip or other irrigation in their vineyards.

    “While we could use some more rain, the irrigation has made up for that so far and vines are looking healthy and beautiful,” Kamas said. “We’re already at or close to budding in most vineyards, and things are looking very good for both grape production quality and quantity.”

    Kamas also noted the dry winter and spring have helped reduce pressure on grapes from root rot, downy mildew, Pierce’s disease and other common plant diseases.

    Michael Cook, viticulture program specialist in Denton, said expectations are high for another good wine grape crop in that region this year, though probably not as exceptional as last year.

    “Last year we had mild weather and great growing conditions for wine grapes, so the quality and quantity were both outstanding,” Cook said. “However, this year we had two freeze events with cold fronts that blew in toward the end of April, dropping temperatures more than 50 degrees in less than 24 hours. Those freezes damaged crops from the Red River down to Stephenville, including vineyards around Denison, Gainesville, Muenster, Decatur and the Stephenville and Dublin area.”

    He noted the two freezes primarily affected the early ripening white wine grape cultivars.

    “This year, although we had a more normal winter as compared to last year, we have had an ample amount of rain and vineyards in East Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area were not detrimentally affected by the freezes. Crops are developing well so far and overall it looks like it will be a good year for grape production in this area.”

    Dr. Justin Scheiner, AgriLife Extension viticulture specialist, College Station, said thus far the grape crop looks good from the Gulf Coast down to the Rio Grande Valley.

    “Some of the vines in the Rio Grande Valley are already past bloom and others seem to be coming along nicely,” he said. “As is typical, this area didn’t experience any big drops in temperature, so there was no frost damage to the grapes here. It looks like the grape crop in this area is off to a good start as well.”

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    CENTRAL: Warm, dry winds depleted topsoil moisture. Rain was greatly needed as conditions were becoming very dry. Warm-season grasses were improving pasture quality. Pasture fertilization and weed control was taking place in most areas. Wheat and oats began to head out. Field work and planting of cotton and soybeans were in full swing. Despite high winds, pecan producers proceeded with zinc spray applications.

    Pasture conditions were improving. Sheep and goat markets were still strong. The cattle market was holding well. Tanks and rivers were beginning to deplete. Most counties reported good soil moisture. Nearly all counties reported good crop, rangeland and pasture conditions.

    ROLLING PLAINS: Days were hot and windy, initiating repeated fire warnings. Wheat damage was assessed after the last freeze, but there were more damaged heads due to high winds and high temperatures than freeze. Dry conditions are also causing problems in wheat. Some wheat blast was causing frayed heads. Tiller sloughing increased, and the yellowing of plants was moving up stems. Some moisture was received in the eastern counties.

    Conditions remained unfavorably dry in areas with absolutely no moisture. Farmers were preparing fields for the upcoming crop year but the lack of moisture is making it tough on producers to till properly.

    Livestock were in fair condition, but producers were feeding supplement daily and moving some cattle to wheat ground that was initially meant for harvest. The forecast called for some rain over western counties.

    COASTAL BEND: Some rain was received, which raised the soil moisture profile slightly, but soil moisture was still mostly short. Windy days caused fields to dry out rapidly. High winds caused damage to some emerged cotton. Late-planted and replanted cotton was coming up. Wheat was harvested. Corn in the southern portion of the reporting area was tasseling.

    Grain crops were doing well. Some producers sprayed for weeds and grasses in row crop and hay fields. Pastures and forages were declining due to lack of soil moisture, and as a result, producers were sending some cattle to market a little earlier than normal. Most livestock were still doing well.

    EAST: Cold temperatures, including frost, presented issues for most producers throughout the district. Anderson County reported wheat and corn had two nights of frost which caused 5-7 percent damage. Corn in Houston County was 100 percent planted and emerged. Warm-season grasses were stunted in Anderson, Harrison, Houston, Panola, Smith and Trinity counties, while cool-season grasses continued with very good growth.

    Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some supplementation taking place. Rainfall in Jasper County pushed rivers and lakes to flood stage, and many other counties reported standing water. Anderson County producers reported warm-season vegetable crops were stunted due to colder temperatures. Subsoil as well as topsoil conditions were reported by producers as adequate. Some Trinity County producers continued to feed hay.

    Cattle markets in Anderson and Houston counties reported slaughter prices in cows and bulls $2-$4 weaker per hundredweight, and calves $2 higher per hundredweight. Herbicide treatments were ongoing in Gregg and Wood counties for warm-season weeds. Wild pig damage persisted in Anderson, Cherokee, Henderson, Trinity, and Wood counties. Fly numbers continued to stay high in Houston County.

    SOUTH PLAINS: Extreme dry conditions continued with fire danger still a risk. Rain was in the forecast, and some good moisture was needed for wheat fields, pastures and preplanting. Some irrigated wheat looked fine but was about two weeks behind normal, which conditions probably helped grain development against late freezes.

    Some producers started harvesting winter wheat, and tonnage was down in non-irrigated fields. Pre-watering and spraying was at full steam in croplands while farmers wait for soil temperatures to rise another 10-12 degrees. Pasture, rangeland and winter wheat needed rain.

    PANHANDLE: Conditions were dry and windy. A late front brought cooler temperatures and some much needed moisture. Amounts varied from traces up to 1.4 inches in some areas. Soil moisture remained very short. More moisture was needed throughout the district. Pasture conditions were still poor. The moisture received was the first since last October for some areas.

    Winter wheat progressed with some freeze damage noted. Irrigated wheat continued to be watered even with the rain. Irrigated wheat fields were close to heading with the help of warm temperatures. Corn plantings should start soon. Some planters expected to put in corn and cotton soon, but nothing was planted.

    Rangelands continued to green up slowly, but normal spring green-up was behind schedule. Cattle were supplemented on most rangelands.

    NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels were mostly adequate across the counties. Another 0.5 to 2 inches of rain was reported around the district, along with windy conditions and below-average daytime and nighttime temperatures.

    Most corn farmers completed planting, and fields were emerging and looking good. Some concerns regarding late frost remained with early beans starting to emerge. Some cotton was planted, but most farmers were waiting for warmer temperatures. Farmers were waiting for warmer temperatures to plant soybeans and grain sorghum.

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    Grazing wheat was mostly headed out, and producers were starting to pull off heavier stocker calves to adjust for declining forage as needed. Livestock looked good. Cool-season pastures were experiencing significant growth. Bermuda grass was greening up, but growth was slow due to the cooler than normal soil temperatures.

    Feral hog activity was extremely bad this spring due to heavy rains followed by sunshine, which promoted movement.

    FAR WEST: Temperatures ranged with highs in the mid-90s and lows in the 40s. Rainfall was less than 0.15 of an inch. Drought conditions continued, but now with extreme wind and sand storms. Sand drifts were over roads, into lawns, around barns and porches and getting into homes. Fieldwork slowed to a minimum. The only work done was what was needed to keep sand from blowing.

    Corn, sorghum and watermelons were growing well, but deer and rabbits were feeding on them as they were the only thing green in the area, many locals have come up with the idea of installing rabbit hutch units all over, to keep the rabbits away from the crops at least until they are fully grown. Fires were still blazing around the area. Mesquite trees were green. Chili peppers were planted. Marking of some lambs was ongoing, and producers were expected to begin shearing and selling ewes soon.

    WEST CENTRAL: Counties throughout the district saw some scattered showers but were still in desperate need of rain. Rangeland and soil moisture conditions continued to decline rapidly with high winds. High fire danger conditions persist, and many burn bans were in effect. Sorghum planting and field preparations continued. Wheat and oat fields were very short on moisture and not growing much.

    Stock tank levels continued to decline and could become a serious issue this summer if runoff producing rains do not materialize. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. The market continued to be active, and demand was good with heavy cattle at $2-$4 per hundredweight higher. Stocker steers and heifers sold steady. Feeder steers and heifers were also steady.

    Packer cows and bulls were $5 lower per hundredweight due to drought conditions throughout West Texas, the Panhandle, New Mexico, Western Oklahoma, Wyoming and Kansas, which was blamed for the high numbers of cows and bulls sold. Pairs, bred cows and replacement heifers were steady.

    SOUTHEAST: Walker County was experiencing very nice growing conditions with the exception of cooler nights. A small amount of spotty rain was received. Rice planting in Jefferson County was coming along well. Crops and livestock appeared to be in good condition going into summer. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to poor with good ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate being most common.

    SOUTHWEST: Dry, windy conditions continued. Rain fell over portions of the district with amounts ranging between 0.25 and 1 inch. Rain increased soil moisture and improved pastures considerably. Fertilizer and herbicide applications were delayed due to rain. Cool nights continued and slowed Bermuda grass growth. Row crops were doing well. Spring sheep shearing continued. Livestock conditions were good on average.

    SOUTH: Northern parts of the district reported mild, warm weather conditions with adequate to short moisture levels. Southern parts of the district were hot and dry with short to very short soil moisture levels. Eastern parts of the district reported warm, dry conditions. Western parts of the district reported dry weather conditions with some rainfall but short to very short soil moisture levels persisted. Winds dried scattered rainfall quickly.

    Maverick County reported good rainfall of about 1 inch in some areas. Potato fields were flowering, and some early planted fields were being prepared for harvest. Corn fields started to tassel. Wheat and oats continued to dry out and mature. Pasture and rangeland conditions remained fair to good. Supplemental feeding started to increase some, and cattle body condition scores remained fair to good.

    In Zavala County, cabbage harvest was very active. Spinach producers reported production and harvest would be extended into May. Livestock remained in good condition due to adequate forages in rangelands and pastures for grazing. But rangelands and pastures were drying out and showing stress in some areas. Grass was in short supply, and stock tanks were beginning to dry out. Spring calf development was being hindered by poor grazing conditions. Supplemental feeding of cubes and hay for cattle continued.

    Corn, sorghum and cotton did well with no insect pressure. Pecans were in full foliage development, and irrigation water applications were expected. Hidalgo County reported harvests of citrus, vegetables and sugarcane. Onion harvest was very active despite weak prices. Some late harvest of cabbage continued.

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