Texas Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend cotton farmers have been treading water and watching sorghum heads sprout.
Kansas cotton producers hope the cotton not drowned out this season will make up for a disastrous wheat crop ruined by as much as 33 inches of rain since April 22.
On the other end of the spectrum, West Texas farmers are sitting on a cotton crop that needs one more good rain in July or August to produce an excellent crop. It's so good that David Stubblefield of Colorado City, Texas, said his crop is off to the best start since he began farming is 1974.
“When it floods in East Texas, it is just about right for us in West Texas,” said San Angelo, Texas producer John Wilde. “We have had our annual rainfall of 18 inches by the middle of July.
“We even are going to get water from the lake to irrigate with,” said Wilde, who is growing cotton over drip irrigation in West Texas. The drip came from Netafim's U.S. headquarters in Fresno, Calif., which is where Wilde, Stubblefield and about 10 fellow cotton producers found themselves recently.
They were in California and Arizona as part of the annual Producer Information Exchange (P.I.E.) program that for 19 years has fostered communications between cotton producers by sending them to other cotton producing areas outside their own, to learn about regional differences in the industry, and pick up ideas about innovative new ways to grow cotton back home. The P.I.E. program is sponsored by Bayer CropScience.
Cotton Foundation president Clyde Sharp of Roll, Ariz., is a former P.I.E. participant and says it is an opportunity to do more than just see innovations. It provides lasting friendships, he said, and expands the networking of cotton farmers in a time when farmers need to stick together politically.
Sharp toured the Carolinas. “I feel like I can call these growers anytime and pick their brains about anything.” On his trip to the Carolinas, Sharp said he was inspired to try minimum tillage he saw there on his farm in Western Arizona.
“Minimum till is developing slowly and surely out here in Arizona. I see more and more farmers incorporating it into their operations,” he said.
While the big, bushy cotton of California doesn't do well in the stripper cotton world of West Texas and Kansas, it did have an interest to relatively new cotton producer Derek Totten of Oxford, Kansas.
“We've been growing cotton since 1996,” said Totten, who is farming 1,500 acres of cotton this season with his father Rick.
“Cotton has kept us in farming,” he said. Before the brave and bold, like the Tottens, tried cotton in southern Kansas, it was almost totally wheat country. “Cotton acreage is down quite a bit in our area this year from 52,000 last year to about 27,000 this year. Corn and other commodity crops have taken away cotton acreage,” he said.
The Totten's acreage is unchanged this season compared to last. “The people with cotton equipment stayed in it,” he said. There are 46 cotton strippers in his farming area. However, the drop in acreage will impact the Tottens. “We usually custom harvest 1,500 to 2,000 acres. This year we have 80 signed up.”
From the beginning, it has been strictly stripper varieties for the far north cotton growing region. However, three years ago the Tottens planted a field into a picker variety, Deltapine 434, and stripped it.
“We are getting about 200 more pounds of lint per acre with some picker varieties over stripper varieties,” he said. “I'd say 40 percent to 50 percent of the cotton in our area is now picker varieties.”
Despite getting more than 33 inches of rain since April 22, when he was in California and Arizona on the P.I.E tour in July, he said most of his cotton looked good, ”the stuff that has not been drowned out by flooding.” Some fields along a river have been flooded four times this season.
“Obviously we are behind with the cotton with all the wet weather, but we are still optimistic about the crop,” he said. Regardless of how the Totten's cotton crop fares, it will be better than the 1,800 acres of wheat they have abandoned due to wet weather damage. “We burned off 800 acres just before I left on the P.I.E. tour and will not harvest the other 1,000. It is not worth it after all the rain damage.”
It is a similar story 750 miles south of where Totten farms. Israel Salazar Jr. of Raymondville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, said “It has rained 10 inches since I started on this tour of California and Arizona, and I don't know exactly what has happened. All I know for sure is it is wet.
“Two weeks before I came out West we had six inches in one day. Six inches in two hours, really,” he said.
The Rio Grande Valley is the earliest planted and first harvested area in Texas to get out of fields before any hurricanes. “Since we are a lot earlier than most places in Texas, I suspect this rain will cause boll rot problems. We already have cracked bolls.”
There has been so much rain in South Texas, and grain sorghum heads are sprouting. One grower on the tour said he used glyphosate to burn back the sprouts.
However, west of the line between Kansas and the Texas Rio Grande Valley, cotton growers are happy. “I just called my gin manager and he said cotton was growing like a weed back home. We don't hear things like that very often in West Texas,” said Stubblefield, who farms north of San Angelo. He plants in late May and begins harvest in October.
Although he has seen the best rainfall totals in many seasons, Wilde planned on irrigating his healthy cotton when he returned home from the P.I.E. tour.
“Go 100 to 150 miles east of San Angelo toward Brownwood and that is where the flooding problems start,” said Wilde.
Most P.I.E. participants who see California agriculture for the first time are truly impressed with the diversity of the crops grown in the Golden State. There are more than 300 crops grown in the valley where the Southwest producers visited.
“We do not have anything like this in Texas. However, we are seeing a lot of pecans go in West Texas,” noted Wilde.
Rick King of Slaton, Texas, National Cotton Council member service representative who accompanied the Southwest growers to the West, said the rotation for the four million acres of cotton in his region is “cotton, cotton, cotton.”
However, King said it could not look much better at this stage. “We get one more good rain in August and it will be a good year.”