Good spring rains and ample soil moisture has accelerated cotton maturity across wide areas of South Texas, especially in the Rio Grande Valley where early reports indicate “fields of intense white” are an early indication that yields may be up this year “if the weather holds.”
Danielle Sekula-Ortiz, an AgriLife Extension integrated pest management agent in Weslaco, reports the first bales of cotton were harvested the week of July 10-16 when Willacy County farmers kicked off dryland cotton harvest operations.
“We enjoy warmer weather than most of Texas and an early spring helps Valley farmers get an early start on planting, so it's not unusual we harvest the first bale of cotton every year. But our cotton producers in Cameron County and even north in Hidalgo County are preparing for harvest as early as next week,” she reports.
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Ortiz says most Valley dryland producers have either already applied defoliant or are in the process of doing so. Even irrigated cotton is being prepped for harvest operations.
“We seem to have a very heavy fruit load this year. Driving across the region the last few days I saw many fields of solid white. It's really a beautiful sight,” she said. “While we are still getting reports of whiteflies in some areas, most are adults, and because we are at or nearing full maturity they pose only minor risks at this point.”
Lower Valley producers are optimistic, she says, especially after a slight rise in cotton prices last week.
“For the longest time producers have been afraid they may not break even this year because of low prices and elevated input costs as a result of pest pressure. But with cotton prices going up slightly and abundant soil moisture and plenty of heat units the last few weeks, things are definitely looking up this year in South Texas,” she added.
Jason Ott, Nueces County Ag and Natural Resources Extension Agent, says dryland cotton in the Coastal Bend suffered some problems as a result of heat and lack of late season rain, but reports ample soil moisture provided by abundant spring rains were adequate to help this year's crop mature.
“We have a few fields that are nearing early harvest, but most of region is waiting for bolls to mature in the top of the plant. Overall I would say the prospects for a good harvest remain positive,” he said.
A drive across the county last week revealed good quality bolls on the lower half of cotton plants and bolls on the upper half were beginning to open.
“It would have been beneficial to catch some rain a couple of weeks back to speed along the process, but we still are looking and hoping for a good cotton year in the Coastal Bend. We suffered a little stress across some fields as a result of too much rain that flooded cotton in May and resulted in uneven growth in some areas, but even so we are optimistic about crop progress.”
Grain Sorghum Harvest
In both the Lower Texas Valley and in the Coastal Bend grain sorghum harvest wrapped up in late June and early July. While good grain yields were reported in most areas, cotton producers were concerned about elevated migration of insects from freshly harvested grain fields. Pest pressure has caused many Coastal Bend cotton producers to spray more frequently than usual, increasing their overall production costs. But with slightly higher cotton prices trending last week, growers feel a degree of relief.
“It would be really good news if we could see another spike in cotton prices, but we are happy to see any kind of price jump, even a small increase like we had in recent days,” Ortiz says.
Meanwhile, she says, regardless the price, it's business as usual as cotton gins have opened in the Lower Valley and there is activity at gins all across South Texas in anticipation of harvest operations getting underway or escalating in the days ahead.
While cotton has been a little slower reaching maturity in the Upper Coastal Bend, and pest pressure has been greater in some areas, especially in Matagorda and Wharton counties, Texas AgriLife Extension officials say cotton is nearing full maturity and they expect harvest to begin in early August and in the weeks that follow.