Texas crawfish emerged from the pandemic in good condition, but cooler winter weather kept poundage yields down during this season’s peak, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Whether you call them crawfish, crayfish or mudbugs, Todd Sink, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension aquaculture specialist and director of the AgriLife Extension Aquatic Diagnostics Lab, Bryan-College Station, said the industry continues to grow in Texas. And although yield numbers were above average, weights were down as a result of late-winter cold.
The last three seasons have been difficult for the industry overall, he said.
Sink said 2020 was a good harvest year for crawfish producers, but pandemic restrictions that led restaurants to close or limit capacity hurt demand for a food that is heavily dependent on social settings and events, including crawfish boils.
Then in 2021, Winter Storm Uri delivered another blow, he said. The extended cold snap did not kill crawfish, but it did stunt their growth, which made them smaller at the season’s peak. Numbers were typical, but the weights were below average.
Hurricane Ida in late August 2021 presented another setback for overall crawfish production, Sink said. The storm didn’t impact Texas producers on a large scale, but some of Louisiana’s top crawfish-producing areas were ruined by infrastructure damages and saltwater swells that reached farms.
Sink said 2022 has been similar to 2021 with colder weather slowing crawfish growth and hurting poundage despite healthy numbers.
“I would say we’ve reached pre-pandemic levels in that Texas’ crawfish production was going up every year,” he said. “But the sizes have been below average, so our poundage is probably not quite there yet.”
Crawfish prices higher
The per-pound price paid for crawfish depends on where and when consumers purchase them, Sink said.
Lent, the 40-day period from Ash Wednesday and ending on the Holy Saturday before Easter, is typically when crawfish season peaks, Sink said.
In 2020, on the first day of Lent, live crawfish were around $3 per pound or $90 per 30-pound bag around College Station, which is relatively close to farming operations in western Louisiana and Southeast Texas. This year, live crawfish were $4 per pound or $120 per bag.
Prices were even higher this year in metropolitan areas like Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, where live crawfish prices routinely push beyond $4 per pound and even $5 per pound during peak demand, Sink said.
“Most of the time it comes down to how far you are from crawfish production locations,” he said. “The bigger the market and farther away like Dallas, they can get expensive. Fuel prices have amped up those prices this year as well.”
But after Easter, prices begin falling. Sink said he’d seen live crawfish for $2.35 per pound recently.
Texas crawfish acres up
Sink said the recent calamities have not deterred growth of crawfish production in Texas. The state added around 2,500 acres of crawfish production over the past three years. This brings the state’s crawfish production capacity to approximately 9,500 acres.
Pounds of crawfish are hard to pin down due to the lack of official reporting, but Sink believes producers average between 750-800 pounds per acre, or 6.75 million to 7.2 million pounds of crawfish.
Around 60% of Texas acres are dual-purpose flooded rice fields that provide habitat for crawfish farming until rice is planted. Those acres produce around 650 pounds of crawfish until they are shut down for rice planting.
Acres dedicated solely to crawfish produce 900-950 pounds per acre and can be harvested a month to six weeks longer than rice acres, Sink said.
Texas ranks No. 2 in crawfish production and remains far behind Louisiana in production. But he estimates Texas gained about as many acres as Louisiana lost this past year to economic hardship and hurricane damages and invasive apple snail infestations.
“Texas maybe gained 1%-3%, but we are still small apples compared to Louisiana,” he said.
In 2019, Louisiana crawfish farmers harvested 150 million pounds of crawfish from 250,000 acres.
Sink said the popularity of crawfish continues to grow. A recent article by Aquaculture North America reported crawfish popularity hit a record high this season based on domestic and foreign demand from countries like China.
“It’s been a strange couple of years for crawfish producers,” Sink said. “I’m looking forward to a year with a mild winter and without any disruptions. That should bump our numbers up.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Very dry soil moisture conditions continued. Soil moisture levels were very short. Drought was exacerbated by the relentless heavy winds and warm temperatures. Wheat fields were in the flower stage and beyond. Wheat diseases were being held in check by the dry conditions, but some green bugs, stink bugs and aphids were reported. Some replanted corn was showing twisting and slow development due to soil dryness. Some cotton acres were not yet planted or needed replanting due to dry conditions, but activity will likely follow any decent rainfall. Very strong daily winds continued to make it difficult for growers to spray weeds in their row crops in a timely fashion. Pastures and winter grains were grazed down and increased supplemental feeding for livestock was reported. Livestock conditions were fair. Overall crop, rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor to poor. Stock tanks were dropping and aquatic weeds are developing.
Some counties across the district reported 0.5-3 inches of rainfall. Temperatures were hotter. Other counties remained extremely dry and reported high winds. Around 2,300 acres were burned in several fires. Spring work continued, and cattle producers were considering deep culls as supplemental feeding was becoming counterproductive and overgrazing was becoming a concern. Producers were reporting poor to fair body conditions in cattle. Dry, windy conditions were preventing fieldwork. Dryland wheat was 100% headed as dry weather caused early maturation. Producers were reporting thin wheat stands and small grain heads. Some wheat was being baled for hay. Irrigated wheat looked good. Producers were spraying young alfalfa for insects. Some hay was cut because of maturity. Grasses were greening. About half of sorghum acres were planted, but some producers were still waiting for rainfall to plant. Most corn fields had a little soil moisture at planting and looked decent so far. Rain was in the forecast.
Moderate to severe drought and windy conditions continued. Overcast days and cooler nights helped conditions a little. Corn and grain sorghum were stressed but looked fair. Cotton planting was complete, and primary cotton pests including aphids, thrips and spider mites were being addressed. Rice planting was near completion. Most soybean acres were planted, except fields with insufficient moisture. If some areas do not receive rain in the next seven to 10 days, crop failures were expected. Rangeland and pasture conditions were declining. Hay fields were not growing due to lack of moisture. Some livestock producers were culling and reducing stocking rates. Livestock were being fed supplements and hay. Higher cattle sale volumes could begin if rain does not materialize soon.
Rainfall and warmer temperatures improved conditions in some areas. Windy conditions were drying pastures, but moisture was still adequate. Vegetable producers started irrigating to make up for the lack of rainfall. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were short to adequate. Fly populations increased. Cattle prices were higher across the board. Livestock were doing fair to good with supplemental feeding continuing. Wild pigs remained a problem causing damage to pastures, hay meadows and property.
Extreme dry conditions continued across the district. A few areas received a brief sprinkle of rainfall. Farmers were holding off on major planting decisions until their fields received good moisture. Many cattle producers were making tough decisions on thinning down their herds due to a lack of grazing. Local sale barns were receiving larger volumes of cattle than normal each week. Cattle continued to receive supplemental feed. Some counties were battling wildfires popping up here and there, with continued high heat and heavy winds.
Soil moisture was very short to short. Corn planting started. Irrigated wheat was doing fair, however many producers were trying to control Russian wheat aphids. Strong wind events contributed to soil erosion in fields lacking moisture or forage cover. Extreme winds added to the very dry conditions. Rangeland was trying to green up but needed moisture. Cattle were still being supplemented with feed and hay. Overall crop, rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor to poor.
Soil moisture was mostly adequate to surplus, although some areas reported short moisture levels. Recent rainfall kept farmers out of the fields for a few days, but the planted crops will benefit. Winter wheat was in fair to good condition and expected to improve following recent rains. Corn conditions were fair to good. Oats were in good condition. Sorghum and soybeans were planted. Pastures and rangelands were mostly in fair to good condition. Ryegrass looked good. Bermuda grass was off to a slow start due to cool nighttime temperatures. Livestock were in good condition and spring-born calves looked good. Winter feeding season was ending as spring grazing was available for most herds.
The district experienced temperature swings with lows in the mid-50s to upper-60s and highs in the low to high 90s. Dry and windy conditions persisted, and wildfire threats remained extremely high. Winds with 40 mph gusts slowed fieldwork due to visibility issues. Fog and dew were thick one morning. A thin band of showers moved through the district delivering trace amounts up to 4 inches of rain. Most fieldwork halted as growers waited for some significant rain before doing any more land preparation. Corn was moving along and had enough moisture for early season growth. Most watermelons and cantaloupe were planted under irrigation. Pecan trees were fully budded out. Rangeland conditions continued to deteriorate in southern areas but were greening up in northern parts of the district. Livestock were getting expensive to feed. Ranchers were working lambs and kid goats.
Conditions remained windy and very dry and were not favorable for agricultural production. Some corn was planted where producers pre-watered. Winter wheat remained in mostly poor condition due to drought. Livestock body conditions were declining. Mesquites and other plants were starting to bloom.
Many counties were becoming dry due to the lack of rain. Some producers gambled and put out fertilizer, but missed out on rain so far. Rice planting was progressing. Some areas were too wet for fieldwork, but others remained dry. Winter forages were declining, and some ryegrass fields were being cut for hay. Summer forages were coming out of dormancy. Rangeland and pasture ratings were very poor to excellent with mostly fair conditions reported. Soil moisture levels were very short to adequate with short conditions being most common.
Dry conditions continued. Some counties received scattered showers ranging from trace amounts up to half an inch. More rain was in the forecast. Row-crop planting was complete. Corn, sorghum and cotton needed rain soon to continue growth. Wheat needed rain as well. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor. Livestock and wildlife diets were being heavily supplemented. Wildlife, particularly white-tail deer, were in thin condition.
Most areas reported very short moisture level. Daytime temperatures reached 90 degrees with nighttime temperatures around 70 degrees. Fire dangers remained due to dry conditions. Scattered rains delivered scant moisture, and one county reported up to half an inch of rainfall. Strawberry producers were picking as quickly as possible as fruit was coming off fast. Crop and rangeland conditions were very poor. Most dryland sorghum fields had been abandoned. Irrigated crops looked good. Irrigated row crops, including corn, sorghum, cotton and soybeans were receiving water. Dryland cotton emergence was spotty. Some producers planted sesame. Onions were being harvested, and citrus harvest was complete. Citrus trees were receiving irrigation to boost production next year. Irrigated vegetables were planted, and Bermuda grass was green and almost ready for a first cutting. Pest and disease issues were very light, but high winds were preventing spraying for weeds and pests. Cattle and wildlife continued to suffer due to lack of forage. Some producers were reporting fair rangeland and pasture conditions and summer grass growth. Cattle producers continued to sell calves at lighter weights and cull their herds. There were reports of herd liquidations. Producers continued to haul hay and provide supplements, and some were hauling water. Sale barns were reporting average sale volumes and steady prices.
By Adam Russell with AgriLife Today.
Photo: Crawfish boils are growing in popularity around the state. The pandemic hurt crawfish demand as social gatherings were limited over the past two years. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell)