Nov 7, 2022
Texas conference helps growers battle pests, weeds

Growing fruit in the Lone Star State is difficult. Prolonged heat, drought, pests and diseases are among the challenges facing Texas fruit growers.

At the Sept. 26-27 Texas Fruit Conference in New Braunfels, Texas, growers learned ways they can overcome those and other issues, including weeds, when weighing the types of fruit they should plant. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service scientists presented research and information showing how fruit such as cane berries, peaches, pears, pomegranates and persimmons can be effectively grown in a state not known for large commercial fruit production.

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“Fruit in Texas is diverse in terms of growers and what’s growing,” said Monte Nesbitt, conference co-organizer and Texas A&M Extension program specialist in pecans, fruit and citrus. “There’s an eclectic diversity. There’s a lot of dialogue about growing fruit in Texas. We want to get you confident in starting a fruit venture.” 

At almost 30 million people, Texas has an expanding population of consumers.

“We are already consuming 3 billion pounds of fruit a year,” Nesbitt said. “By 2050, there will be another 3 billion pounds of fruit consumed. Where will all that fruit come from? A lot of people will be interested in fruit. They already are. There are lots of opportunities in fruit growing.” 

Climate challenges

There is a reason Texas is not known for producing a ton of fruit, said Tim Hartmann, a Texas A&M assistant professor and Extension specialist in fruit. The state is known for peaches, pecans and winegrapes, which are coming into larger production.

“We have a lot of challenges, due to the climate,” he said. “Our climate is consistently inconsistent.”

Hartmann discussed what growers should consider in fruit production.

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“As we in Texas are a net fruit importer, there’s a huge demand for locally grown fruit,” he said. “If we can grow it and grow something that tastes good even if it doesn’t look that good, and do a decent job marketing it, generally, we will be able to sell it.”

Asian persimmons are a low-input crop. Blueberries won’t grow readily if not in acidic soil, which is more common in eastern Texas. Though Muscadine grapes are an easy winegrape to grow in southeast Texas, if they aren’t planted in alkaline soil, they generally won’t do well. Pomegranates uses to be considered a low-input crop, due to their ease in growing, but black heart or heart rot has become an agronomic challenge, Hartmann said.

Controlling weeds

Weed management and proper fertilizer application can make for successful orchard establishment. Weeds and grass rob trees of nutrients. The area around a tree should be free of weeds for at least five years, said Larry Stein, a Texas A&M professor and Extension horticulturist in Uvalde, Texas.  

“A lot of times, it’s the weeds that survive and the tree goes bad,” he said. “If we do nothing but control the weeds and grasses around a tree, it would survive. Those first one to two years in the life of a tree are critical. Once you get the tree established, it can compete better.”

Growers need to beware of insects and diseases, which can cause catastrophic damage to an orchard.

“Everyone thinks about how good the fruit is. The insects think that way as well,” said Brianna Crowley, viticulture area and program specialist at Texas A&M’s Fredericksburg, Texas, office. 

Peaches, for example, are one of the most sprayed crops because just about everything can infect them, including bacterial canker, brown rot, bacterial spot, fungal gummosis, peach leaf curl, shothole and phytophthora root rot. Pecans also face many pathogens as do winegrapes, blackberries and raspberries.   

Because of the extended drought, the past year was the worst year for mites, which are problematic for winegrapes, apples, pears, pecans, berries and figs. Indirect damage, where a spore can enter a tree’s wounds faster than it can heal, is as important as direct damage, Crowley said.

“There are lots of things to look out for in orchards,” she said. “You should keep an eye out and do some monitoring, which are good ways to prevent mass infestations.”

James Pokluda, a retired CEO in the electrical wiring and cable industry who grows peaches and pecans in Montgomery, Texas, found the sessions informative.

“It’s a wonderful conference,” he said. “It has all the subject matter I’m interested in. It will help fine-tune my thinking on how to set up a small orchard.”

Joe Reed II, of Prankston, Texas, is researching growing blackberries.

“This conference is very informative,” he said. “Everyone ought to attend this conference at some time. I came from an observation standpoint, to see what I ought to do.”

In its 11th year, the event also included presentations on topics including chill hours, pruning, raspberries and blackberries.

— Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor

Top photo: Peach grower Cliff Caskey, of Caskey Orchards in San Marcos, Texas, left, talks with Gary Hutton, of Weatherford, Texas, at the Sept. 26-27 Texas Fruit Conference in New Braunfels, Texas. PHOTOS: Doug Ohlemeier

Center photo: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Monte Nesbitt (from left), Jacy Lewis and Stephen Janak prepare for a presentation at the Sept. 26-27 Texas Fruit Conference in New Braunfels, Texas. 

Bottom photo: James Pokluda (left), a Montgomery, Texas, peach and pecan grower, talks with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Monte Nesbitt.




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