Popeye would be proud. Above-average yields are expected for this year's spinach crop due to favorable weather, Texas Cooperative Extension reports.

“Last year, a lot of mid-winter rain caused high incidence of disease problems,” said Joe Peña, Extension economist in Uvalde. “This year rain came early just when the crop was forming, and it gave it a good boost.”

Usually planted in late winter, spinach is a winter crop. It favors weather conditions that are dry and sunny during the day and mild and cool during the night.

The Texas Winter Garden, which includes the counties of Uvalde, Zavala, Frio and Medina, produces most of the spinach in the state.

Planting started in September in order to have a steady supply all the way through March and April, Peña said. Harvest started in mid-October.

“Spinach is in very good shape. It is the prime time for harvest,” he said.’

By the time the season is over, 5,700 acres will have been planted, of which 3,500 acres are used in processing, and 2,200 acres are sold fresh.

He said the spinach has below-average disease problems due to the dry weather in the area. If mild and high humidity prevail, disease problems will arise.

Some diseases common to spinach are blue mold and white rust. White rust is the primary fungal disease, said Dr. Frank Daniello, Extension horticulturist in College Station. For the fresh market, white rust makes spinach non-marketable. Spinach infected with white rust develops rusty white spots on the leaves, and it cannot be cooked and used in processing.

“Some white rust is beginning to show, but it is still not a serious problem at this time,” he said.

White rust is weather-related, Daniello said. If rainy, damp and warm weather conditions continue, serious problems are expected.

Daniello said rain also prevents getting into the field to harvest. “Producers don't like to harvest spinach in wet conditions because they stack it up for long periods of time, and it warms up inside, causing diseases to form inside,” he said.

Peña said Del Monte has a freezer plant in the Winter Garden because of the spinach. For the last couple of years, about 35 farmers produced the necessary spinach for the 50 million pounds Del Monte packs annually, he said.

Agar Foods packs an additional 25 million to 30 million pounds per year.

The $20 million spinach industry is a great contributing factor to the economy of the Winter Garden region.

“If you buy a pack of Del Monte spinach in Canada, it was canned in the Winter Garden,” Peña said. “If you buy spinach at a supermarket in the state, there is a 90 percent chance that it was produced at the Winter Garden region, and it's very good quality.”