The Texas Agricultural Statistics Service says onion producers in South Texas should harvest 12,900 acres of spring onions this year, up 1,900 acres from 2003. Spring onion varieties are planted in the Rio Grande Valley and the Winter Garden and Laredo areas in Southwest Texas.

"Excellent pre-plant fall rains provided good sub-soil moisture, and a relatively dry, cool, open winter has created near ideal growing conditions for onions," said Jose Peña, Extension economist in Uvalde.

Producers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley plan to harvest 8,900 acres, while producers in the Winter Garden and Laredo areas expect to harvest 4,000 acres. The acreage in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is up 29 percent from 2003, but the Winter Garden and Laredo areas are expecting a 2 percent reduction from last year.

"This year's crop is above average because of the soil moisture that was present at planting time," said Dan Wetegrove of Wetegrove and Co. in Willacy County. His family farms nearly 300 acres of yellow onions.

Peña said pests have not made a substantial impact on this year's crop.

"So far, onion plantings have been relatively free of any major pest problems," he said. "Pest problems generally occur as the crop nears maturity. The situation appears very favorable now, but pests can flare up later, depending on the weather."

Peña said that it is too early to be sure if producers can expect good prices, but he did say the market outlook was positive.

"While its not possible to accurately forecast market prices at this time, last year, prices reached near record highs during the early spring onion harvest season since supplies were down," he said. "With just slightly higher plantings than last year, but substantially lower plantings and acres for harvest than 2002, supplies should be in balance with attractive prices."

Spring onions are usually stored and sold during months that fresh onions are not available. Onions for fresh consumption are grown in the northern part of the state from San Angelo and extending on up into the Lubbock area. They are usually harvested in the summer months.

Peña said there are several health benefits associated with eating onions.

"They have no cholesterol, are low in calories and sodium, but high potassium and vitamin C," he said.

In the South Plains, District Extension Administrator Jett Major said the cotton harvest had finished despite the dry conditions. He said the winter wheat is in very poor condition because of the lack of moisture.

Galen Chandler, district Extension administrator for the Rolling Plains, said the dry conditions are seriously threatening the wheat crop there as well. He also said grazing conditions are in poor condition because of the drought.

Scott Durham, district Extension administrator in San Angelo, said the dry conditions, as well as insect infestations, are threatening small grains in his area. High winds are also threatening the already dry pasture and range conditions.

The following specific livestock, crop and weather conditions were reported by district Extension directors:

PANHANDLE: Soil moisture short to very short. Wheat is rated mostly poor to fair with a few fields rated good. Cattle grazing is becoming very limited with no forage growth due to lack of rain. Cotton harvest is wrapping up. Range condition is rated mostly poor to fair. Cattle are rated in fair condition; supplemental feeding continues.

SOUTH PLAINS: Soil moisture very short. Cotton harvest is complete. Winter wheat is in poor condition. Ranges and pastures are in very poor condition. Supplemental feeding continues. Very little tillage is taking place because the ground is too dry. Moisture is needed in order to start land preparation.

ROLLING PLAINS: Soil moisture short to very short. Extremely cold and windy conditions all week. Cotton harvest is mostly finished except for some farmers cleaning up the last few fields and gins working the last bales through the gins. Wheat crop is suffering from drought. There is very little wheat up and growing. Some wheat is suffering from army cutworm damage. Range and pastures are in poor to fair condition. Livestock conditions are fair due to supplemental feeding.

NORTH TEXAS: Soil moisture very short. Wheat is rated very poor to excellent. Cotton harvest is complete. Pecan harvest is wrapping up. Pasture and ranges are rated poor to fair.

EAST TEXAS: Soil moisture short to adequate. Rainfall has been very limited; cold temperatures. Winter forages are rated fair to good and are responding favorably to moisture. Livestock conditions are good; supplemental feeding is under way. Hay supplies are decent and markets are steady.

FAR WEST: Soil moisture very short to adequate. Cotton harvest is completed in most counties. Winter wheat is emerging. Pecan harvest is wrapping up. Pasture and ranges are rated very poor sue to lack of rainfall. Supplemental feeding of cattle continues.

WEST CENTRAL: Soil moisture short. Cold spell dropped temperatures into the mid to upper teens. Most cotton harvest is complete with average yields being reported. Some cotton producers continue to strip cotton fields. Small grain fields are too dry to be grazed. Pasture and range conditions are poor. Livestock is doing well. Supplemental feeding continues.

CENTRAL TEXAS: Soil moisture short to very short. Pecan harvest is complete with less than average yields. Fields are being prepared for cotton, corn and grain sorghum. Some cattlemen have dry tanks and no other water sources for their cattle.

SOUTHEAST: Soil moisture short to adequate. Pecan harvest is almost complete. Corn farmers have begun to plow land for planting in some fields. Ranchers are busy hauling hay and feed to cattle and other livestock. Winter pastures could use more sunshine but are doing well.

SOUTHWEST: Soil moisture short. Forage availability is slightly below average. Small grains need rain. Potato planting is under way. Onions, cabbage and spinach are making good progress under heavy irrigation.

COASTAL BEND: Soil moisture short. Row crop producers continue to fertilize and apply pre-emergent herbicides. Oat and ryegrass are in fair to good condition. Ranchers have been supplementing cattle due to lack of vegetation in some areas. Winter pastures are beginning to show signs of drought stress.

SOUTH TEXAS: Soil moisture short. Cabbage, tomato and pepper harvest continues. Cotton and grain sorghum land preparation continues.

Garrett Wilkerson is a writer for Texas A&M University.>/I>

e-mail: workn1@tamu.edu