Houston firms weather local crop issues

Weather is usually a wild ride in and around Houston, and for many, it seems even more unpredictable—on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.

For Tex-Mex Produce, “it’s either hail damage, rain, or cold that affects us,” said Leo Villa, Jr., sales manager “and it’s happening more frequently.”

Fortunately, the supplier can turn to Mexico—and the very fertile region of Puebla—for imports when Texas product is less than desirable or nonexistent.

Excess rain can be especially problematic, as too much moisture brings a wide range of pests.

“They’re usually hidden in the product, and we don’t find them until they reach the border—where we have to get rid of everything,” explains Villa.

This loss of entire loads can then put a kink in the entire supply chain, affecting supply and straining the market with higher prices.

Despite weather challenges in other regions, Ramos Produce, Inc., which imports and distributes both local and Mexican-grown watermelon and citrus, had a good year weather-wise, according to Jimmy Ramos in sales. “We had no issues with oranges or watermelon out of South Texas.”

Texas continues to be the nation’s top producer of watermelon. The gourd, grown in all regions of the Lone Star State, is its largest annual crop by both size and volume. Watermelon season begins as early as April in some locales like the lower Rio Grande Valley, and is harvested as late as autumn in the Southern High Plains.

Ramos Produce’s supply of watermelon from the area “has been steady, with the past decade staying around the same demand,” he notes. In the winter, the company’s supply comes from Mexico, but in the summer, it’s all about Texas’ own premium stock.

The Texas citrus industry certainly had its ups and downs last year. It was rocked by a small albeit exceptionally dangerous pest last year: the Asian citrus psyllid.

This particular culprit spreads citrus greening disease (also called Huanglongbing), responsible for devastating Florida’s industry. Unfortunately, citrus greening has made its way to California and Texas orchards in recent years.

All of Aransas, Calhoun, and Nueces counties in the Coastal Bend area of Texas were quarantined last spring, along with all of Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy in the Rio Grande Valley. This marked the state’s first return to quarantine status since 2014 for the disease.

Although the quarantines did not affect Ramos’ citrus supply, spread of the disease has many growers and scientists alarmed and on high alert.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research at Weslaco is paying close attention and poised to ramp up its efforts with a $1.2 million research grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to look into antimicrobials that might be able to prevent the disease.

Despite the pest scare, the state’s citrus growers still produced a bumper crop for the 2017-18 season and expectations remain high for upcoming harvests.

Last year, crop outcomes were 10 percent higher than the previous year at 8.3 million boxes of grapefruit and 7.7 million boxes of oranges, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturalists.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full version.