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Warm weather has farmers keeping a watchful eye on cool-season crops

Posted at 7:39 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 20:39:43-05

CENTRAL TEXAS — We're now into what farmers call the "cool season."

Onions and carrots, along with leafy greens like lettuce, grow best during this time of year due to their preference for mild weather. But this unusually warm stretch may have other ideas.

"You know we're seeing like 80 degrees in December and that might affect other lettuce farmers or other cool crops that require the cool temperature," said operating director of Waco Farms John Owen.

At Waco Farms, Owen has the advantage of keeping the temperature inside his greenhouse where he wants it, which is great for his lettuce crop. But he has to be careful that the outdoor heat doesn't make it in the building.

"We have to track the temperatures because if it's, you know, a couple hours of too much heat, we'll see the product already withering a little bit," said Owen. "So it's really, it's really a delicate product."

Owen says that lettuce being grown by other farmers out in the fields is naturally more resilient than what he grows, but he wouldn't be surprised if those leafy greens have begun to wilt a little this week. On the flip side, winter wheat has actually been responding too well to the warmth.

"It's pretty fast," said farmer Kevin Huffman. "We want to get some cold weather and slow it down a little bit."

Temperatures in the 70s and 80s have encouraged winter wheat to grow faster, and if it matures too early, it will be more susceptible to damage later this winter.

"Right now, it thinks it's springtime," said Huffman. "So it's going to tend to get too tall, and then when it does get too cold it would freeze and damage the wheat."

But regardless of which produce you may be buying at the grocery over the next few months, Huffman says any price increases probably won't be due to the weather. Instead, it's the consequence of labor shortages and rising input costs in the farming industry.

"Fertilizer is difficult, and everything's at an inflated pace. So we have a lot more risk associated with it this year."

Huffman will be able to make up the extra spending if his crop remains healthy through the winter, because commodity prices are high. If food distributors wind up paying Huffman more for his harvest, prices in the grocery aisles will have to go up.

A report from Texas A&M Agrilife released in November indicated a good start for cool-season crops, and the outlook for the rest of the season looked promising, but that was providing that the weather would cooperate the rest of the way.

The latest warmth won't mark the demise of those crops but it does have local farmers hoping for some more "normal" weather.