WESLACO ó A severe hit from Hurricane Alex could mean the third year in a row of major crop losses in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

"In 2008 we had losses to Hurricane Dolly and last year we had serious losses (due) to drought," said Dr. Luis Ribera, an AgriLife Extension economist in Weslaco.

Because of its timing, Hurricane Alex has the potential to rack up losses of 2008 and 2009 combined, he said.

"The bulk of our row crops, which include cotton, corn and grain sorghum, are harvested in July. If Alex is anything like Dolly, we're in for a very hard hit," Ribera said.

Aside from potential dollar losses, the hit from Alex would be especially hard on growers because their crops are in better shape now than they were the last two years at this time, he said.

"According to the USDA's Risk Management Agency, the percentage of insured and failed acres as of June 24 was tiny, only 0.21 percent. So, although we donít know what their yields would be, all three crops are in good shape so far," Ribera said.

The report notes that of a total of almost half a million acres, only 1,016 acres had been written off, with an indemnity value of $49,047.

The healthy row crops come on the heels of a mostly successful vegetable harvest, according to Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist.

"There are a few stragglers still out there, a few acres of watermelon and cabbage that are being harvested, but for the most part, our vegetable harvest is done," he said.

It's the row crops that Anciso says are extremely vulnerable.

"Those are harvested between now and August," Anciso said. "Some grain has been harvested, but there's still a lot to go. And most of it, even dryland grain sorghum, is of the highest crop quality I've ever seen here."

Harvesting of cotton and corn usually starts around July 10, he said.

Because Alex is arriving one month earlier than Dolly did in 2008, Ribera said losses this year could be much higher.

"When Dolly hit in late July, 70 percent of our grain sorghum had already been harvested. This is not a good time for bad weather," he said.

Ribera said he could only "guesstimate" what losses from Alex might be.

"We lost just over $25 million in '08 and just over $19 million in '09," he said. "It's hard to tell, but depending on what Alex does, we could top the combined amounts, or $44 million, in losses for two reasons. One is that our row crops are still in the field, and (the second is) because we could end up on the north side of the storm which would bring more wind and rain. Only time will tell."

Ribera said losses to the area's citrus and sugarcane crops, which are harvested later in the year, will not be known immediately.

"The citrus harvest starts in late September and the sugarcane harvest starts in October, so it will be a while before we can determine what can be harvested of those two crops."