Following recent headlines about warmer temperatures in East Texas possibly affecting fruit farmers, what does this mean for Texas agriculture?
“The average grower is telling you it’s not the same--it’s warmer earlier or it’s not raining as much for example. At the grower level in the past 10 years they’ve been talking about it,” says Dr. Joseph G. Masabni, extension vegetable specialist with the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University.
He notes that while in East Texas the warmth is one factor affecting growers, the bigger issue facing agriculture in the region is drought. “Drought will hurt crop yields and growers will also face earlier disease and more insect problems than they’re used to,” he says. “Even though our winters are milder, it was still cold enough that it would slow down some diseases. However if the winter is warmer and if it’s humid, then we have disease year round and that could cause trouble.”
New varieties on the horizon?
So for growers of common crops in East Texas, such as onions, okra, watermelon, squash and tomatoes, Dr. Masabni’s encouraging them to consider (if they haven’t already) switching to new varieties. “Seed companies have developed “patio tomatoes” for example that finish the whole season in half the time. It’s a smaller plant and the total yield per plant is less but you can put in more plants per acre,” he says, adding that there’s also work being done in developing disease-resistant varieties.
However, the other change he sees on the rise for produce production in the region is more sizable. “From the calls that we get, I think we’ll see more and more indoor farming,” says Dr. Masabni. “We’ve been getting a lot of calls from companies moving into Texas and building a million square foot operations. I expect to see a move in that direction.”
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Joseph G. Masabni
Texas A&M University