On Jan. 31, a mass of arctic air moved into New Mexico, bringing snow and several days of record sub-freezing temperatures. Electric power was in short supply, pipes froze, gas service was interrupted, many schools and government offices were closed and transportation was disrupted.

The "2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard" came early to New Mexico but the effects on the state's agriculture sector may linger for months or even years. The precise extent of the plant and crop damage caused by the prolonged cold temperatures is far from certain at this point, but New Mexico State University experts predict that they will be variable and, in some cases, potentially serious, depending on the crop, the region, and individual circumstances.

New Mexico State University's Agricultural Experiment Station has 13 agricultural science centers around the state, 10 of which are outside Dona Ana County. In many cases, NMSU researchers have first-hand knowledge of the effects of the freeze because it affected the plants they are growing. In addition, the Cooperative Extension Service has an office in every county and Extension agents are in touch with local producers, researchers and each other.

One thing all the experts seem to agree on is that it is still too early to know very much about many of the plants. Below are a few tentative conclusions.

The Las Cruces area was experiencing a string of 70-degree days recently as Stephanie Walker, a vegetable specialist, headed out to assess some onion fields. She was concerned about lettuce, as well. "Although the fall-seeded onions sustained damage, most were not killed outright," she said after her site visits. "We could experience more bolting than usual in the onion crop because of the temperature extremes."

Walker speculated that some onion farmers might replant their onion fields with a different crop. One possibility, especially with the current market, is certainly cotton. She also reported some lettuce was lost but that most of it was fine.

Tracey Carrillo, superintendent of NMSU's Leyendecker Plant Science Center and Fabian Garcia Research Center in the Las Cruces area, predicted that most of their large year-old seed onions would survive.