Because of a mild early winter, it was touch-and-go for Texas fruit crops for a while, but everything now looks just peachy, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

“We’re very optimistic right now,” said Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Uvalde who works mainly with pecans, fruits, grapes and vegetable crops.

Fruit trees and many fruit crops require cold weather to grow, flower, and develop properly, Stein explained. This time is called “chilling hours” and is usually defined as the number of hours in a season when the temperatures fall below 45 degrees. Different varieties require different amounts of chilling hours.

“We were sucking air for a while on chilling hours,” he said. “We were really concerned. In fact, in the Hill Country I think they’re going to end up with 750 (chill hours) and probably be okay, but there were actually a lot of growers who were applying Dormex.”

Dormex is a growth regulator that helps overcome insufficient chilling hours, Stein said.

Peaches are big business in the Hill Country, according to AgriLife Extension horticulturists, primarily concentrated in the Fredericksburg area and surrounding counties. By some accounts, Gillespie County alone produces 40 percent of all the peaches grown in Texas.

There was also some concern about fruit trees blooming early, and therefore being subject to damage by a hard frost, Stein said.

“But we had a lot of cool nights, and the days have not really been that warm,” he said. “They started blooming early, but they slowed down, and this is March 5, and we think we’re going to be okay there too.”

Of course, weather is often unpredictable.

“Right now, we’re okay, but we could get everything out and then have a freeze in April. You never know,” Stein said. “A lot of old-timers say you’ve got to get past Easter, but Easter comes early this year, in late March.”

Not many apricots or cherries are grown in Texas, but a large amount of blueberries are grown, he said.

“But they (blueberry growers) should be okay too, as long as they did their homework on variety selection,” Stein said.

According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas total peach production was 4,900 tons in 2009, down from 7,900 tons in 2008. The 38 percent reduction in 2009 was due to an early freeze in April that wiped out some producers’ entire crop.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.