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Texas flooding wreaks havoc on crops

While the agriculturally rich Rio Grande Valley has been spared the brunt of the most recent storms and flooding in Texas, nine months of above-average rain has taken its toll in the fresh produce growing areas, with many acres having already been lost.

“We’ve had 60 inches of rain from the fall through the spring,” said Jimmy Bassetti, president of J&D Produce Inc. in Edinburg, TX. “No one has been spared.”

These May rains, which have produced flooding in many areas of the state, as well as Oklahoma and Kansas, have not delivered the same punch to south Texas. Many cities in the Rio Grande Valley have tallied impressive rain totals for the month, but they are still in single digits. In comparison, Houston received 10 inches of rain during one 24-hour period over the Memorial Day weekend.

“We didn’t get hit with that,” said Bassetti, “but we have had constant rains throughout our planting and growing and harvesting seasons.”

Bassetti was reluctant to put a number of it, but he said the Texas spring onion crop was probably the hardest hit, losing about 30 percent of its acreage. He noted that other fresh crops, including melons and vegetables, have been hit hard and the late spring and early summer harvest should be curtailed a bit because of it.

Jed Murray, general manager of Texas and Mexico crops for California-based Church Bros. LLC., echoed those same comments. “Some growers have seen their entire summer squash program washed out,” he said.

For those squash acres that will survive, he believes smaller sizes will prevail and so yield will be down. Agreeing that Rio Grande Valley has dodged this latest bullet, Murray said nonetheless “Thousands of acres have been affected” by the relentless rain of the past several months.

Bret Erickson, president and chief executive officer of the Texas International Produce Association, which is headquartered in the Rio Grande Valley city of Mission, said, “We have escaped the worst of it. We’ve had heavy rains and it’s really wet, but the flooding events have stayed north of us.”

But he agreed that the earlier rains “made a mess of the onion crop. Texas onions took it on the chin this year.”

He said a lot of growers couldn’t even get out into their fields to harvest their crop and lost entire fields. As he spoke May 26, Erickson said the current honeydew and cantaloupes harvests were being affected but he believed the summer watermelon crop would survive.

“The silver lining in the big picture is that this moisture is a good thing for our ground,” he said, noting that Texas had been in the midst of a pretty severe drought until it started raining late last summer. “But it has truly proven to be correct that when it rains, it pours.”

He said the ground is full of moisture, which will help growers get through the summer using very little water. This will help their bottom lines and it will help the fall and winter crops as there is nothing like “sweet rain water” to help a plant reach its potential.

But Erickson said while this deluge of rain has had a positive impact on the reservoirs in south Texas, it has not had quite the impact one would expect. The reservoirs were close to empty and most have seen significant gains bringing them up to 40-50 percent of capacity.

“Most of the heavy rain has been outside the watershed,” Erickson said. “It’s fallen east of the reservoirs and continued to move east. It’s not had the impact you’d expect.”

Bassetti said the heavy rains have delayed some trucks moving from south Texas to Houston and Dallas, but most produce truckers can figure out a way around the rain if they are delivering to other parts of the country.

Murray agreed, stating it has been a challenge to move produce into Houston and Dallas but not everywhere. It might add a few hours to the route but that is more of a nuisance for the driver than an impact on the receiver. There is no doubt some Houston and Dallas retailers, as well as those in smaller towns, are having some trouble stocking their shelves, but the public is having trouble getting to the stores anyway.

As the final days of May were winding down, the end of the rain was not in sight. Weather experts were predicting heavy rains into early June and said the flooding could go on for weeks. The groundwater tables are full and more rain has literally nowhere to go.

Bassetti worries that the same situation may occur in the Rio Grande Valley if it gets any major tropical storms this summer. Typically, he said the Texas soil can absorb the first heavy storm without much flooding. But that might not be the case this year when tropical storm season gets underway.

Officially, tropical storm season for the Atlantic and Caribbean runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. It was almost a decade ago when Hurricane Katrina hit land on Aug. 29, 2005.