Winter storm has continued impact on East Texas citrus growers

Last month’s freezing temperatures and ice harmed many crops including citrus
Citrus farmers
Citrus farmers
Updated: Mar. 12, 2021 at 9:45 AM CST
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JASPER COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - Last month’s winter storm continues to impact many facets of life, including for citrus farmers. Freezing temperatures and ice harmed many crops including citrus.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension estimates at least $230 million in losses with Citrus crops. East Texas agriculturalists say while about 95 percent of that accounts for the state’s commercial growers in the Rio Grande Valley, local producers were impacted right here in the Pineywoods.

For more than a decade, you could find Jasper County resident James Cowan tending to his citrus orchard of more than 100 fruit trees, including satsumas.

“Had a real good season through the year,” Cowan said. “Actually thought I would lose the crop sooner than that with the two hurricanes that passed by. Had a real bountiful crop probably around 5,000 pounds of fruit this year.”

Cowen said he’s experienced weather-related setbacks before but nothing like last month’s winter storm. He says he did all he could to cover and provide heat to his fruit trees.

“Whoever thought you’d get six degrees in East Texas,” he said. “I never even experienced six degrees in Colorado snow skiing.”

“We have a lot of homeowners that have these trees and if they weren’t protected then they were susceptible to loss,” Jasper County Extension Agent Brock Fry said. “While those plants are very personal to the people, it has less of an economic impact to our state’s economy. “So, what we’re doing right now is waiting and seeing to see how much of a loss we have home plants as well as our small acres farms. So it is kind of a sit and wait game right now, and it’ll also impact the local growers and how much they’re able to provide for the local produce for local people.”

Fry said in East Texas, those homeowners and small acreage citrus farms will not know the extent of the damage until close to the summer months.

“They’re a little nervous that they have lost all their production,” he said. “They’ve probably lost all their production maybe for this year and for several years. This could impact for several years. It all depends upon the hours it was below 21 degrees.”

“What happens is whenever you get to those freezing temperatures, the moisture in the trees expand and they end up busting cells,” Cowan explained. A lot of times you don’t know the extent of the damage until you get into your summer months because it’s like if you picture having a straw made up of 10 straws, fluid is coming through those 10 straws but now seven our eight of them don’t work. You still have some fluid that’s keeping things green at this point. But once you get into the summer months where the demand for moisture is greater then, it’s going to have a hard time to survive. The tree will let you know if it dies completely or whether you have some buds that you’re able to grow back from.”

Cowan said there is still hope that he may be able to graft some trees for continued growth.

“It’ll be a setback, but it’s all enjoyable,” Cowan said. “It’s the fruits of the labor, to say. It’s enjoyable to see people that you give or sell fruit to that enjoy the fruit.”

Fry said those who were impacted by the winter storm should contact their local United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. To find a USDA Farm Service Agency office near you, click here.

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