Overproduction and a decrease in demand have caused cabbage prices to drop from last year's $12 per bag to $4 per bag, Texas Cooperative Extension reports.
“The production is up 24 percent from last year and up 2 percent from 2000,” said Joe Peña, Extension economist in Uvalde. “The weather is excellent and the harvest is making good progress.”
Dr. John Robinson, Extension economist in Weslaco, said a decrease in demand and high yields caused the low prices this year.
“Overproduction prevailed even though the Valley vegetable industry has tried to hang in there over the past 10 years. Acreage in the Valley has decreased with the water crisis and urban growth,” he said.
Valley cities are among “the fastest growing cities in the country, so they are spreading out pretty quickly. It's just a general trend.”
The overall Valley economy is not considered to be in a recession, Robinson said. Growing cities are competing for land, and as a result, acreage for vegetables like cabbage is shrinking.
“The booming economy is affecting agriculture in general. If you are a grower and you own land within 10 miles of McAllen, what you are really thinking is: how much longer am I going to farm this until I sell it to a developer to build houses?”
Texas produces around 400 million pounds of cabbage per year, about 15 percent to 18 percent of the 25 billion pounds produced in the United States per year, he said.
About 8,500 acres were planted this year in Texas, Peña said. Each acre produces approximately 40,000 pounds of cabbage.
The Rio Grande Valley, the Winter Garden, the High Plains, and East Texas are the largest cabbage-producing areas, he said.
Juan Anciso, Extension integrated pest management specialist in Edinburg, said approximately 3,000 acres of cabbage were planted in the Rio Grande Valley alone. Planting began in September and ends this month. Harvest began in late December and will end early May.
“It's what I call staggered,” Anciso said. “It's not like you plant all at once and you harvest all at once.”
Cabbage is a cool season crop. It grows better under chilly and dry conditions and requires great amounts of water, Anciso said. Irrigation is preferred over rain because the quantity of water can be controlled.
Excess water and hot weather foster disease in foliage, causing the leaves to spot and rot. Warm weather also stimulates rapid growth and flowering, which is not desirable since the commercial value of cabbage relies on the edible portion, he said.
“This season has been cooler than normal, to some degree, so our insect amounts have been lower,” he said.
The types of cabbage produced are red, green and Chinese, Anciso said.
Green cabbage is most often seen in grocery stores, and red cabbage is a staple of salad bars. Of the Chinese cabbage, Napa is elongated, football-like in shape, and Bok Choy is round with thick stems and is used for stir-fry cooking.
“Yields and quality have been excellent, but demand is off from last year,” Peña said.