From 8 to 12 inches of rain has fallen in South Texas over the last few days, complicating efforts to plant the area’s fall and winter vegetable crops, says Juan Anciso, Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco.

South Texas is the highest vegetable producing area in the state with about 35,000 acres of vegetables planted every year, says Anciso. It is also one of the first areas to begin vegetable harvest in Texas.

"There is some flooding in low-lying urban areas," he said. "The rains are affecting fall vegetable planting more than anything."

All row crops, including cotton, grain and corn, were harvested by late summer, so they weren't affected by the heavy rain. Vegetable producers, however, were just beginning to plant when the skies began to open. Vegetable producers now have to wait for the fields to dry so they can get back into the fields to plant.

John Robinson, Extension economist in Weslaco, said a lot of green vegetables are being planted, including cilantro, mustard greens, turnip greens, cabbage and collards. Cabbage won't be affected as much by the rain because the planting season spans out over a longer period than for most other vegetables.

"Right now, there are some peppers and tomatoes in the fields,” says Anciso. “If the fields don't dry out quickly, diseases like bacterial leaf spot, blight and rot may begin to occur.”

The rain has caused weed control problems. Tiny seedlings are struggling to survive in wet soil, and weeds are beginning to grow, he said.

Onion planting is also about to begin in the last week of September. Producers are hoping the fields will be dried out a bit by then so crops can be planted, he said.

Dwayne McDaniel, a Hidalgo County producer, said he had just begun planting cilantro and cabbage when it began to rain.

"Usually, cilantro is cut every day for about five days a week, so there has to be new growth all the time. When we knew the rainy spell was coming, we planted some extra cilantro to make up for the time that we knew we were going to be wet," he said.

Most of the winter crops are pretty small right now, so yields will be only slightly affected, McDaniel said.

Robinson said although the rain has delayed planting of fall vegetables, it may help producers in other areas.

"The soil moisture that will be present when planting resumes may keep irrigation levels down for some vegetable producers who would normally irrigate heavily," he said.

"Citrus growers may not have to irrigate their fields for the rest of the fall due to these rains. That could save them some money," said Robinson. "Sugarcane growers, however, won't be heavily affected. They normally like rain in the summer because right now is when the sugar is building up."

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness