What is in this article?:
- Valley crop year depends on water, good crop choices
- Valley still productive
- Lower valley ag focuses on water.
- Annual rainfall averages have mostly been falling since the early 1950s.
- 2012 was a year of slight recovery for most.
Deep in the boot of Texas, the fertile Rio Grande Valley is the soul of successful Texas farming. Abundant cultivated crops of grains and cotton, as well as vegetables, nuts and fruits (with an emphasis on citrus), have long earned the region a reputation as a fertile agricultural playground.
As early as 1870 a sophisticated but simply designed system of area-wide irrigation was developed that tapped water from the swift-running Rio Grande River for farms that popped up from the tip of Texas northwest up the riverbank as far as Mission and north along the coast to Raymondville, and it wasn’t long before the Valley was supplying fresh foods to distant cities and states.
But time has brought changes. U.S. and Mexico have struggled with water rights and treaties, have compromised with a few joint water projects, and have fumbled through diplomatic attempts at détente to satisfy disgruntled farmers and cities on both sides of the border. But the bickering has brought less water to the Valley, and that was only the first setback.
As food demand rapidly grew and agricultural technology provided more efficient methods of farming various land types, farmers in Southern New Mexico and the San Luis Valley of Colorado began expanding their operations to meet the growing demands. With that came new geo-political tensions, and eventually agreements were reached between three states and two nations on how the water of the Rio Grande would be divided. And then the rains stopped.
Some call it climate change and others say it is a simple cyclic transition of weather patterns over an extended period of time, but regardless the reason, annual rainfall averages have mostly been falling since the early 1950s with only brief periods of respite, usually perpetuated by tropical storms or hurricanes.
By the early 1990s, rich farming lands in Mexico began exporting well-received fruits and vegetables from across the border, and the water disagreements grew, further hampering the flow of water in the Rio Grande and decreasing allocations to water districts all across the Valley.
It would be fair to say that agricultural production in the Valley “is not what it once was.”