The forecast for Texas cotton remains mixed, depending upon which part of the state you’re talking about, said Dr. Gaylon Morgan, associate professor and Texas AgriLife Extension Service state cotton specialist, College Station.
On May 15, Morgan had recently returned from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Coastal Bend, and Upper Gulf Coast with an encouraging report. Recent rains in South Texas, in many places very substantial ones, had vastly benefited the recently planted cotton crop there, he said.
“Cotton in the Valley looked overall pretty good, with cotton just emerging to cotton already flowering,” Morgan said. “They had good moisture early and actually got a couple of showers when I was down there. They were pretty pleased.”
In the South Plains, High Plains and Rolling Plains, it could be a different story, he said. Growers there are just starting to kick off planting. All three regions have received some rain in the last couple of weeks, but generally it was just enough to help with planting and ensure the crop emerges. After an extended drought last year, and a dry winter and spring, subsoil moisture has been severely diminished.
“It is difficult to make a cotton crop without a full profile of soil moisture,” Morgan said. “You can get it up if you don’t have a full profile, but timely rains are essential throughout the (growing) season for dryland cotton and are important for our irrigated cotton also.”
By a “full profile,” Morgan means moisture present 3 to 4 feet deep, the average rooting depth of cotton.
Some widespread, very substantial and frequent rains will be needed to replenish deep-soil profile moisture “at this point, especially in Southern High Plains and western Rolling Plains,” he said.
Climatologists are predicting above-average temperatures and near normal precipitation for the High Plains, Rolling Plains and Southern Plains this summer, but there’s still a chance growers could make a decent crop, Morgan said, depending on some ‘ands’ and ‘ifs.’
“It just depends upon what happens from here on out if you don’t have that profile moisture,” he said. “If they’re planting now or even into the middle of June, and they can get the crop up, and if they get some timely rains now through the middle of the summer, they could still make a good crop.”
By timely, Morgan meant good rains at least every couple of weeks.
“Cotton can handle (dry spells) for awhile. And the other factors are going to be how much wind and high heat they have — the overall evapotranspiration loss.”
On an average year, about 70 to 80 percent of the more than 5 million acres of cotton planted in Texas are planted in the High Plains, Rolling Plains and Southern Plains, Morgan said.
Lower prices for cotton have changed planting intentions this year in some parts of the state, but to a lesser extent in the western areas, he said.
“In 2012, we have observed a significant decrease – 10 to 25 percent — in cotton acres in South and Central Texas, with these acres replaced with more corn and/or sorghum acres in 2012,” he said. “This acreage shift is a due to good grain prices and declining cotton prices from 2011. However, as you move to the Rolling Plains and Southern High Plains the crop rotation options are fewer, and cotton acreage probably will not decline too much.”
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.