South Texas onion growers are keeping one eye on the sky and the other on flood waters left from Hurricane Alex and a tropical storm that hit shortly after.

Farmers, many of whom are coming off a disappointing season that left thousands of dollars worth of high value onions in fields too wet to harvest, hope flood waters recede soon enough and fields dry out enough to allow them to plant the 2011 crop on time.

“If it rains again now, onion planting will be delayed,” says Juan Anciso, Texas AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco.

The biggest concern will be vegetable farms in the floodway, Anciso says. Most of that acreage typically is planted in grain or cotton, “but at least four large (vegetable) operations are in the floodway and onion growers will not be able to plant there.”

Other areas also remain wet and Anciso said another rain would delay planting. “The ground needs to dry out.” Typically, South Texas onion growers begin planting in September with peak seeding from October 1 through October 15. “About half the crop gets planted then,” he says.

Cabbage planting may also be delayed. Farmers usually begin to plant cabbage in mid-August and continue to plant into September and October. “If it stays bone dry, I think we’ll get cabbage and onions planted,” Anciso says.

Dry weather is critical to allow floodwaters to move out and to dry fields so growers can get in to do prep work. “Water in the floodway has dropped some and is still going down,” he says. “The river is carrying a whole lot of water. Along the river it’s draining but we have fields that are still flooded.”

Flooding may also require additional field work before farmers can plant.

Rain also hurt much of the 2010 crop, which had potential to be a boon to South Texas growers. Prices hit $40 a bag, Anciso says. “The crop was late to begin with, delayed one to two weeks because of rain last fall. And price was “extremely strong in June and July.”

Mexico had a short crop so most of their production stayed in-country to meet domestic demand. “Imports dried up,” Anciso said.

Rains started in April across the Lower Rio Grande Valley and farmers were unable to get into fields to harvest. “We had a semi-disaster,” Anciso said. “Some growers were able to get in on time and harvest. They had no quality issues and no rejections.”

Others weren’t so lucky. “Some farmers couldn’t get the crop out or they had quality problems and the onions were rejected. It was a mixed bag and success depended on how close to harvest the fields were when the rains hit.”

As Valley vegetable growers prepare to plant the 2011 crop, they’re hoping for no more hurricanes, tropical depressions or heavy rainfall events. Anciso thinks producers will be okay, “if we don’t get another storm.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com