Bumper peach, blackberry crops expected

Brownwood Bulletin
Scott Anderson

Texas peach and blackberry producers are reporting above-average fruit sets, good growing conditions and very few issues as they near harvests, and are expecting high demand, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said there was fear among growers that Winter Storm Uri might impact Texas peach production significantly, but all signs point to an above-average crop. Blackberries, another significant fruit crop for the state, were also expected to produce a bumper crop.

Conditions have been good overall since the freeze for Texas’ fruit crop. Dry conditions helped trees avoid disease issues, and timely rains have provided good additional moisture as fruit begins to fill out. So far, spring storms have produced minimal hail and turbulent winds that can cause yield loss.

While some early peach varieties and trees actively emerging from winter or that had opening blooms suffered crop loss and some tree damage or kills, Stein said Texas’ commercial production orchards fared well. But it will likely be next year before producers truly know the extent of any tree damage suffered during Winter Storm Uri.

The extent of tree tissue injury is the only unknown. Will those injuries be significant? When the heat sets in, will they still be able to transfer moisture? If not, we could see some more dead trees, but I think most trees that made it through the freeze and set fruit are showing signs that they are OK.”

Peach crop progressing

The Texas peach crop continues to progress and that producers are expecting a good year. Availability should be good, but demand and prices are expected to be higher than normal.

The peach crop looks amazingly good. There were some fruit set losses on trees with actively growing buds, but trees with tight buds came through the cold fine and are progressing nicely. Producers should do well because demand will be very high, and consumers should expect good, quality fruit.

Some early fruiting varieties in South Texas and varieties grown in high tunnel houses in the Hill Country are ripening and should be available soon.

Trees were behind on chill hours due to warmer than normal temperatures prior to the winter storm, but that the cold and cooler temperatures since provided orchards more than enough to trigger good blooms. Good, cold winters tend to push better blooms and fruit sets, but the best chill hours occur between 32 degrees and 45 degrees.

Winter Storm Uri provided limited chill hours, as extreme, sub-freezing temperatures during that week were not conducive to chill.

If anything, producers’ thinning efforts will factor heavily in the yield and quality of individual orchards.

The only challenge this year might be adequate thinning to get proper fruit size. There is a fine balance that producers must find that will allow trees to produce that marketable-sized peach, but still maintain a good yield.

Thinning fruit set is also critical to a tree’s long-term production cycle. Leaving heavy fruit loads on trees can stress them, which sets them up for a poor performance next year or makes them susceptible to diseases like canker. 

Over-thinning is better than under-thinning. It can be a gamble because you never know what weather will do, but it’s better for fruit quality in the near-term and for the tree in the long-term.

Notable blackberry crop

Peaches aren’t the only Texas fruit crop expected to experience a bumper year. Blackberries appear to have exceptional fruit sets this year, and some areas in South Texas are already harvesting some varieties.

Blackberries have always been a popular supplemental crop for peach growers, but new thornless varieties are making the fruit a considerable crop, especially for “pick-your-own” orchards, Stein said. Selecting the right variety for individual locations and having enough water to allow fruit set to make plump berries are all that growers need most years for success with them.

Most peach people have small patches of blackberries scattered throughout their orchards. The acres aren’t high, but these newer varieties coming out may change the game.

Keep the barns from burning

Moisture is often used to combat fire, not ignite it. The latter is true for hay and straw, though, in barns housing bales with high moisture levels.

When hay is baled at more than 20% moisture, thermophilic bacteria can take over and cause temperatures to rise. Moist bales can spontaneously combust and result in fire, especially if temperatures surpass 175°F.

Extension specialists with The Ohio State University say most hay fires occur within the first six weeks after baling. Initial fire prevention starts by keeping moist bales outside or in a well-ventilated area to allow heat and moisture to escape.

Consider potential wet spots in a field and the moisture level of the hay at the time of harvest to assess fire risk. If there is concern, monitor hay twice a day over a six-week period, or until temperatures stabilize.

One way to take temperatures is by inserting a long probe thermometer into the center of a bale or stack. If this tool is not available, there are makeshift alternatives for checking hay temperature as well.

Using a 3/4-inch pipe with ends closed to a point and 3/16-inch holes drilled in the bottom is one option extension specialists offer. Lower a thermometer on a string into the pipe and leave it in the bale or stack for 15 minutes to get an accurate reading.

Inserting a 3/8-inch pipe into the center of the bale or stack and using personal judgement to determine the temperature will work, too. If the pipe is too hot to handle, odds are the hay is at risk of ignition.

There is a possibility of hot hay creating cavity burns within a stack. Take caution when acquiring temperatures to avoid falling into a hollow area. The extension specialists recommend having someone nearby, using planks to spread out weight, and even putting on a harness to ensure safety while checking stacks.

No action is needed if the hay temperature is less than 120°F. Temperatures between 120°F and 130°F can encourage mold growth, which makes protein in the hay less available to animals. These temperatures are too low to start a fire, but a surplus of mold will begin to hike up the heat.

Hay enters the danger zone at about 150°F. At this point, begin checking temperatures twice a day and unstack hay to promote air circulation.

At 160°F to 170°F, there is cause for alarm. Chemical reactions within the hay will occur and temperatures will continue to climb. Unstacking hay at this time should only take place when the fire department is present.

If hay reaches 175°F or higher, call the fire department immediately. Remove any machinery or livestock from the barn first, then remove hot hay with the assistance of the fire service. Be prepared for a fire to occur and keep tractors wetted down if they are in contact with the hay.

Critical temperatures and actions to take:

125°F No action needed.

150°F Hay is entering the danger zone. Check twice daily. Disassemble stacked hay bales to promote air circulation to cool the hay outside.

160°F Hay has reached the danger zone. Check hay temperature every couple of hours. Disassemble stacked hay to promote air circulation to cool hay; have fire department present while unstacking from here on.

175°F Hot pockets are likely. Alert fire service to possible hay fire incident. Close barns tightly to eliminate oxygen.

190°F With the assistance of the fire service, remove hot hay. Be aware the bales may burst into flames, so keep tractors wet.

200°F + With the assistance of the fire service, remove hot hay. Most likely, a fire will occur. Keep tractors wet and fire hose lines charged in the barn and along the route of where bales are to be stacked.