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Ag experts: Rain a mixed blessing amid Valley harvest

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Posted: Friday, June 24, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 11:03 pm, Mon Jun 17, 2013.

Steady rainfall across the Lower Rio Grande Valley will benefit most crops, local agriculture experts said Thursday.

Ray Prewett of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual said slow, steady rainfall helped crops all across the Valley. But farmers now harvesting grain sorghum and cotton may not appreciate the timing of Wednesday’s showers.

“Citrus, vegetables and sugar cane were helped tremendously,” he said.

The sorghum harvest is about 80 percent finished and farmers will not be able to complete the harvest if combines cannot operate in muddy fields, Prewett said.

And Wednesday’s rain may have been too late for dry land cotton farmers, he said.

While there may be some problems with tractors and equipment getting stuck in muddy fields, farmers and growers won’t complain about that, Prewett said. “They’ll deal with that,” he said.

“It just a huge blessing and help,” Prewett said of the rainfall. “We’re really tickled about it,” he said.

Dale Murden, of Rio Farms, who is president of the board of Rio Grande Sugar Growers Inc. and who personally “grows a little bit of everything,” said the rain is mainly beneficial to Valley agriculture, but could cause problems for cotton growers if their bolls have already opened. He also said some grain sorghum harvesting may be interrupted.

“I know some cotton is open,” he said. “The sorghum harvest is about 80 percent complete.”

But nobody in Valley agriculture will complain about the much-needed rainfall, Murden said.

“It’s absolutely wonderful,” he said.

If muddy fields prevent ground spraying for insects, crop dusters can handle aerial spraying, he said.

More rain is also on the way, Murden said, while looking at radar weather reports Thursday.

“There are showers popping up now in Reynosa and Linn-San Manuel,” he said.

On his own farm, just south of Delta Lake, his crew was able to get one crop out just in time, Murden said.

“We were picking white grapes and we got them out yesterday,” he said.

But dry land cotton growers’ crops were ruined by drought this year, Murden said.

“It’s too late for those guys,” he said. “I wish (the rain) had come a little sooner.”

Ruben Saldaña, Weslaco-based director of Texas Agri-life Extension Service for the Lower Rio Grande Valley, said overall, the rainfall is greatly beneficial.

“We had 3 inches to 4 inches in the Mid-Valley,” he said. “It was heavier in the east and up in Willacy County.”

“The sorghum crop is almost in, it will be OK if they can get the combines in (muddy fields),” he said.

Irrigated cotton fields will have a good crop this year, he said.

“The dry land cotton’s kind of giving up, especially up in Willacy County and some in northern Hidalgo County,” he said. “Some of the cotton is only a foot high.”

Rainfall is forecast for the next 10 days in the Valley, Saldaña said.

Harvesting is the only worry because machinery can’t work in fields that are too muddy, he said.

“The grain sorghum is just fine, the corn will be fine, if they can get back in,” he said.

Frank “Jo Jo” White, general manager of Mercedes-based Hidalgo-Cameron Irrigation District No. 9, also said the rain will help crops and rinse salt from the soil and from irrigation water.

“It was something that was badly needed,” White said.

For many crops, the rains will just boost what was already going to be a good harvest with high prices for a change, he said.

Cotton and grain prices are up, White said.

Cotton farmers in the U.S., the world’s biggest exporter, will increase acreage by 14 percent this year after prices jumped to a record, according to the National Cotton Council.

Cotton futures in New York have more than doubled in the past 12 months, Bloomburg News Service reports.

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Allen Essex writes for the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen.

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