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WADSWORTH — The Savage family dodged a few bullets this year, but their rice production business is now being forced toward a majority of new types of crops for the first time in five generations.Depending on the crop, the February winter storm came at an opportune time as many crop seeds in the Crossroads were either already in the ground or had not yet been planted. Yet other factors like water scarcity and the pandemic are still leaving their mark on the agriculture industry.For generations in Matagorda County, Scott Savage and much of his family have operated a rice farming business. This year will be the first year they will plant a majority of non-rice crops. More than 80% of their acres in production are corn or mallow now.Water prices for Savage have increased from about $39 per acre-foot in previous years to $63 per acre-foot as of this spring.In previous years, he said he and his family would plant about 2,000 to 3,000 acres of rice. But this year, mallow will account for 1,400 acres. He said he anticipates transitioning to a majority of row crops in the future because of price increases.“It’s very much nerve-wracking for the family,” Savage said. “We’re at the will of Mother Nature and God.”Pandemic-related supply shortages and the winter storm had an impact on their operation, too.Before the winter storm, they put down fertilizer and had enough equipment and hired help to get the work done for a new batch of crops. In the future, Savage said they will probably have to trade equipment to focus less on rice and more on various row crops.Even with supply shortages across industries, Savage said fertilizer they use has increased in price from about $350 per ton in 2020 to $500 per ton in 2021.Drought conditions caused challenges for crop and livestock farmers and ranchers in the past year. It has not been as bad on production, Savage said, or in terms of drought rating as the 2011 drought.“That’s just the nature of farming and ranching. You’ve got to have a Plan B,” said Matagorda County Extension Agent Aaron Sumrall. “All in all, the freeze was a challenge for a very short period of time.”Across the county, Sumrall said this is common in 2021 as many more acres will be committed to corn compared to recent years. This rotation comes along with grain sorghum as well as turf production. Matagorda and Wharton counties produce about two-thirds of Texas’ turf.As of mid-to late-March, most crop farmers had planted their seeds for corn and grain sorghum. Cotton crop seeds are still being planted, said Mike Hiller, Jackson County extension agent.Sumrall agreed for Matagorda County.The freeze came early enough, he said, that many crops were not ruined. It pushed planting dates back for corn and grain sorghum, which he said are both basically all planted.“If the freeze had been two weeks later, it’d have been bad,” Savage said.In South and Coastal Texas, the timing could cause crop harvests to arrive just as hurricanes are expected to hit. The Savages consider some of the cotton crops could run the risk of being ruined by a hurricane or cause a rushed harvest during the summer.The winter storm set some farmers back, Hiller said, because the soil was too cold to put seeds in the ground. He said farmers want seeds to quickly grow and then break through the soil, rather than having time to freeze in the ground and begin to rot.Because of that, he said some farmers that had planted before the winter storm had to replant afterward.As the Savages transition to new crops, Savage said he does hope they can return to a majority of rice production one day. The family has produced organic since 1997 and conventional rice for decades.“I’m hoping organic comes back,” he said. “It’s our niche.”
Geoff Sloan reports on business and breaking news in the Crossroads region. He received his Bachelor’s in international relations with minors in journalism and French from Texas State University. Reach him at [email protected] or @GeoffroSloan on Twitter.
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