February 6, 2004
By Lana Robinson
What began as a promising season for South Texas cabbage growers has been marked with hard freezes and poor prices since mid-January.
"We just have minimal supplies and due to hard freezes, our fields are producing only 50 to 60 percent of normal yields," Joe Koch, sales manager for Winter Garden Produce in Uvalde, reported Jan. 26. At the same time, Koch said low demand and abundant supplies at shipping points in Florida and California have caused cabbage prices to drop dramatically. "Prices are quite depressed. They have really fallen off in the last two to three weeks. At the end of the year, and first of January, we were getting $7 for a 50-lb. box of medium green cabbage. Now we're down to $3.75 to $4 a carton, and our larger headsthe sack jumbo cabbageis bringing $2.75 to $3 for 50 pounds. Red cabbage is currently $9 to $10 for a 50 lb. box (down from $13 to $14 at the end of December). Demand is not enough to sustain prices."
About 18 growers produce 80 percent of the vegetables marketed by Winter Garden Produce, which has operated in Uvalde for more than 11 years, and the company grows 20 percent of its product. Cabbage is shipped from Oct. 15 to about June 15, Koch said.
"We mostly sell to the fresh marketchain stores, wholesalers, food services, and on occasion to the processor," he said. "We're currently harvesting broccoli, also. Prices had been really good until a week-and-a-half ago. Demand for produce overall is down. It's one of those phenomenons we face in January and February most every year. We don't really know why the demand is so low."
Joe Pena, extension economist in Uvalde, said the quality of most of the cabbage he has seen in Southwest Texas has been good. Until the recent frost, the cabbage growing season had been nearly ideal, with cool, dry weather and the soil moisture controlled by irrigation, he said.
"We've been fairly free of disease and insect problems in the Winter Garden," said Pena. "It's been dry and cool. Until 10 days or so ago, we'd only had half an inch of rain since mid-October. We did have an early freeze, and some farmers had to replant cabbage and onions at the end of October."
Juan Anciso, Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco, said Alternaria leaf spot has been reported on some cabbage in his area. Other than that, very little disease or insect damage has been reported there this year.
Cabbage is harvested in the fall and winter in this state. Planting begins in August, and continues into September and early spring.
Pena said more than 90 percent of the 7,000 to 9,000 acres of cabbage produced annually in Texas are grown south of Austin. Texas leads the nation in cabbage production during the winter season with Florida ranked second in cabbage production, he said. Although, Texas dominates cabbage production during winter, the state ranks third in the nation, behind California and New York, in overall annual production. Texas annually produces about 300 million to 400 million pounds of the 2.4 billion to 2.5 billion pounds produced in the United States annually, Pena said. Texas produces primarily green cabbage for the fresh market, but red varieties are also grown in the state.
On Jan. 26, Pena said crews were harvesting cabbage, spinach and carrots.
"They're planting green beans and getting ready for corn and sorghum. We also have a lot of potatoes going in the ground here10,000 acres. They're planting them now for harvest around May or June. We don't have the yields of Idaho, but we produce an earlier potato than them. Spring onions are also doing well."