Drought Actually Sweetens the Produce
Texas farmers are saying this year’s produce may be some of the sweetest ever, despite triple-digit temperatures and dry lands.
Apple farmers Kim and Jaque McBride sell their apples and cider at a farmer’s market in North-Central Austin. At their farm in Bertram last year, they started noticing changes in their apples. For one, they got smaller.
“When we squeeze the apples during a good year, out of a bushel of apples I get a gallon and a half to 2 gallons,” Kim said. “This year, I only get one gallon.”
“And it was so sweet that you have to dilute it with water,” Jaque said.
So, less juice, but much more flavor.
Daniel Leskovar is a Horticulture Scientist with Texas A&M. One of his fields of expertise is water stress. Leskovar says this phenomenon in taste is probably the drought’s silver lining.
“Some producers in other countries have now been using techniques simulating stress – like soil stress or even drought stress – to enhance the sweetness of the produce, as well as certain compounds like lycopene content,” Leskovar said.
In tomatoes and watermelons, lycopene content is one of the factors that enhances color, making the fruits more intense to the senses.
Back at the farmers’ market, Philip Baehr says this years’ vegetables also have a more heightened taste. But it’s the fruit that draws the most attention.
“They’re sweet, sweet when they are ripe,” Baehr said. “They can be used as a dessert, almost.”
The smaller, less juicy but sweeter Texas grapes are good news to the state’s wineries. Some in the Hill Country are calling 2012 a great year for Texas wines.
But, as with all silver linings, the bigger picture for Texas agriculture is still grim. Farmers say their trees and fields are so stressed by the drought that, although they are producing high quality crops, their yield is significantly smaller.