Recent Texas Freeze Damaged Grape, Pecan Crops

April 25, 2007

Farmers still recovering from the devastating drought conditions of 2006 are now sizing up their losses from the latest weather calamity to hit Texas: freezing temperatures.

The Easter weekend freeze damaged numerous crops, including an estimated 75 percent of this year’s grape crop in the fifth-largest wine-producing state.

“It was too much, too long,” Plains grape grower Neal Newsome said after losing 80 percent of his crop. “Everything was entombed in ice.”

The freeze also caused serious losses for crops of pecans, peaches, watermelons, cantaloupe and pumpkins, said Texas Cooperative Extension agent Jed Elrod.

But it came at an especially bad time for grape growers. They can expect two bad years out of five, said Dacota Julson, executive director of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had two in row now,” she said. Texas usually harvest 9,000 tons of grapes a year and last year’s crop was only 25 percent of that, Julson said.

Texas’ wine industry creates an economic impact of $1 billion from it 139 commercial wineries and 3,700 acres of vineyards, she said.

In Pecos County alone, where temperatures dipped below freezing for two days, agricultural losses were about $40 million, Elrod said.

About one-third of the losses came at one of the state’s largest vineyard, Mesa Vineyard east of Fort Stockton. It lost all its crop, a $13 million loss, Elrod said.

Grapes are almost entirely water and after they thawed “they just turned into mush,” he said.

Damage to the state’s pecan crop was “spotty,” with the Fort Stockton area hit hardest, Cindy Wise, executive vice president of the Texas Pecan Growers Association.

Belding Farms, near the Mesa Vineyard, was projecting a complete loss of pecans from about 68,000 trees on 2,200 acres. Elrod projected the farm’s loss at $25 million.

Some trees could still bear fruit, said the farm’s general manager, Glenn Honaker.

“I’m sure there will be some fruit out there,” he said. “Now whether it’ll be enough of a crop to pay harvest costs or not, I don’t know yet. We’re just really kind of waiting to see.”

The answer will come at the latest at the first part of June.

Texas agriculture is coming off its worst year, with drought losses to livestock and crops reaching $4.1 billion. The freeze is nothing compared to last year, said Travis Miller, a drought specialist with the cooperative.

“It would have to get progressively bad for Texas to have close to as bad a year,” Miller said. “Going into May (2006), we were dry just about the whole state. The season’s starting much better.”

March was the wettest on record, with a statewide average of 4.47 inches. That’s 2.73 inches above the average of 1.74 inches. The previous record was 4.19 inches in 1926.

That’s given many reason for optimism.

“The silver lining is the quality could be exceptionally high,” said Newsome, the Plains grape grower. The “minerals, flavors could be very concentrated because of the light load.”

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