The latest National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) estimate that 50 percent of Texas High Plains cotton acreage will be abandoned came as no surprise Plains Cotton Growers.
“Based on what we hear from growers and ginners, that sounds about right,” says Mary Jane Buerkle, PCG media director. Most of that acreage, she says, will be dryland, but cotton farmers planted significantly less irrigated cotton this year than usual.
“Typically, irrigated and dryland acreage run about 50/50. This year, according to Farm Service Agency numbers, dryland acreage is 63 percent with irrigated at 37 percent.” A gap that large was a bit of a surprise, she says.
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Lack of water resources and possibly price at planting time could have convinced farmers to switch more acreage away from irrigation, concentrate water on fewer acres and hope for adequate rainfall to make the dryland crop.
“Most of our growers are becoming more aware of their water resources,” Buerkle says.
Considering that 63 percent of the region’s cotton is dryland means the acreage that’s not abandoned will have to yield well to get near 2012 production levels.
“We figure irrigated acreage will have to yield two bales per acre and dryland acreage will have to average one bale per acre to equal last year,” she says.
“That’s the bad news. The good news is that much of the cotton left is in excellent shape and is thriving. Fields in Floyd, Crosby, Hale and Swisher Counties look very good. We have some good cotton throughout our coverage area. If we can hold on to what we have now, we will still make good cotton — and may equal last year. If we have warm weather, a few timely rains and an open fall, the potential is good. We still have a lot of time left to make this crop, and we remain hopeful for what we can get out of it.”
The crop should be better than the devastating losses of 2011, when record heat and drought resulted in 67 percent abandonment. Last year, abandonment was around 40 percent.
Buerkle says damage to the 2013 crop was not just from drought. “This has been a more typical summer for the High Plains, which means more severe weather.”
A few timely rain events helped much of the cotton survive the drought, she says, but some of those rains came with damaging hail and wind.
“We had more hail and wind damage than we’ve seen in the last couple of years,” she says. “Rainfall has been spotty, but helpful.”
High Plains cotton farmers are aware of the need to use water resources wisely and “are doing what they can do adapt,” she says.
To the south, the outlook is more promising.
“We really look pretty good compared to the rest of the state,” says Randall Conner, executive director, Southern Rolling Plains Cotton Growers Association. “We had 2 to 10 inches of rain in early July and have had some smaller rains since. We had 1.7 inches in Winters this weekend.”
Rainfall has not been equally distributed, however. “San Angelo is getting pretty dry, but east of San Angelo looks really good. Around July 1, I thought we were in for another bad year, but rain came and changed things immensely. I think we can see an above average year for the Southern Rolling Plains.”
“We will not set a record but we have a good crop,” says Karin Kuykendall, executive vice president, Rolling Plains Cotton, Inc. “The crop looks good.”
She said initially a lot of seed did not emerge but a few timely rains brought the crop around. “July rains made a big difference,” she says. “Some of our growers said then that if they could get another rain about august 10, they would make a good crop.” They got that rain and are doing all they can to see it through to harvest. “Farmers are investing in the crop,” Kuykendall says. “They are spraying, applying Pix, doing everything they need to do.
“It’s late, but most of the cotton looks really good and is progressing nicely.”
The Rolling Plains production area planted about 15 percent fewer acres in 2013 than in 2012. “I was surprised that it dropped that much,” Kuykendall says. “But with the conditions we have now, overall production should be larger.”
This is dryland cotton country with more than 80 percent of the acreage non-irrigated, so timely rainfall is critical to producing a good yield. Production has been down significantly for the last two seasons.
“Our growers need a good crop,” she says.