June 8, 2014

Yes, we have no tomatoes: Freeze, drought push back area harvest for some

Farmer Payton Scott took off his cowboy hat and wiped his brow as a customer approached at the Cowtown Farmers Market in Fort Worth.

Farmer Payton Scott took off his cowboy hat and wiped his brow as a customer approached at the Cowtown Farmers Market in Fort Worth.

“Are these field tomatoes?” the man asked.

Scott grimaced. “Heck no,” he answered. “Those are about a month away.”

By Saturday he and other farmers were still just beginning to see the first signs of summer, selling a trickle of peaches, green beans and squash. A late spring freeze and the drought set back the produce harvest for many.

Scott, who owns Scott Farms in Cisco, tried to stave off the freeze April 15 by covering his tomatoes with 5,000 red plastic cups, each with a hole burned through the bottom to let air in. Many of the plants died anyway. Now, lack of rain is a critical problem.

“I’ve never seen a year screwier than this,” Scott said. “It has been a damn screwy year.”

Dallas-Fort Worth had 55 freezes this winter, the most in 30 years and easily exceeding the season average of 33, according to the National Weather Service. As for rain, the region has received 7.33 inches this year, 9.93 less than usual, said Steve Fano, weather service meteorologist. Rainfall is about 30 inches short over the last three years.

“The outlook for the summer is hot and dry,” Fano said. “We’ll take any rainfall we can get.”

To combat drought, many farmers have added irrigation systems.

B&G Farms in Parker County came through the late freeze and lack of rain mostly unscathed. Perched atop a hill, the farm missed the worst of the cold temperatures. It irrigates with well water, but that drives up electricity costs.

On Saturday, B&G needed an additional stall to sell all its produce, which included apricots, green beans and squash. Co-owner Greg Johnson expects an excellent year for peaches, which should arrive in about two weeks.

“We’re looking at a bumper crop,” said Johnson, who is also president of Cowtown Farmers Market. “It started slow, but it should be an exceptional year.”

Demases Farm in Boyd, which sells produce at markets in Fort Worth, Grapevine and Dallas, settled on 40 acres along the Trinity River for easy access to water.

At Keller Farmers Market, several growers are running weeks behind, particularly those who produce tomatoes, peaches and blueberries, said Bridget Rodewald, executive director of the market. Customers have asked when more produce will be available.

“People are used to grocery stores, getting what they want when they want it,” Rodewald said. “We are trying to educate our community. If you want to support local foods, you have to go with the season and be patient.”

Most years, Larry Marrs, who owns Tin Top Farms in Weatherford, is starting to harvest a few tomatoes by now. Not this year.

“I’ve seen hailstorms, tornadoes, freezes, droughts, insects, deer. You name it,” Marrs said. “That’s just farming.”

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