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February 7, 2014

Winter weather could affect produce, beef

CHEROKEE COUNTY — See-sawing temperatures in the East Texas area during the past few weeks aren't just affecting people, according to local officials.

With the back-and-forth of cold and mild weather conditions, vegetation and beef production may begin to show the effects, as well.

"Before we received the last rainfall event, we were at the point where winter forages were pretty much at a stand-still from growing due to the lack of soil moisture," said Aaron Low, the agriculture agent with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension's Cherokee County office.

"For beef producers to be able to grow any forages (cool season or warm season), we need proper growing conditions, the most important of those conditions being moisture. Warmer temperatures are desired even for cool season forages to grow at optimum rates," Low said.

What does this mean in non-scientific terms? Beef prices may go up.

"For beef producers, the most noticeable effect will be on an individual basis, as far increased feed and supplementation cost to get through the winter months," he said.

A lack of soil moisture, coupled with the continuation of cold weather, is prolonging the onset of warm season grasses from growing, he said.

In turn, this hits beef producers in the wallet, as they continue to feed more hay and other feed supplementation, thus resulting in an increase of input costs and a decrease in profits.

Meanwhile, local produce growers also are keeping watch on the weather patterns, said Cherokee County horticulturist Kim Benton.

“The weather has a very large impact on the local crop production," she said. "Last year's seemingly endless winter showed us exactly what happens: Delays in seed germination, in plant emergence and in ripening."

Benton said in 2013, two late season frosts almost completely killed the local peach crops and "took out entire fields of tomatoes."

However, as long as the county doesn't get late-season freezing as it did in 2013, then local crops should have regular production, she added.

"Farmers are very watchful right now, because it's right on the cusp of 'we need to start getting things in the ground and getting them going.' So, now's the period where we're almost holding our breath to see what happens," Benton said.

Records provided by Tyler Meteorologist Doc Deason show that January 2014 had eight more days of freezing temperatures than January 2013. However, for each timeframe in both years, traces of snow was reported on one day – Jan. 23, 2014, and Jan. 15, 2013.

This weekend, temperatures are expected to drop just below freezing tonight with rain showers in the afternoon, according to www.accuweather.com. Conditions are predicted to warm up Saturday and Sunday, with a high temperature in the low-60s.

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