Hello Dolly, goodbye LRGV cotton crop

Virtually all 91,000 acres of the Lower Rio Grande Valley cotton crop was destroyed by Hurricane Dolly.

“I expect 100 percent loss,” said Webb Wallace executive director, Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

“Late-planted cotton with unopened bolls might make some cotton,” Wallace said, “but that’s less than 1 percent of the crop.” And that’s not certain with much of the area still under water several days after the July 23 category two hurricane.

“They don’t make cotton that storm proof,” Wallace said.

He said the hurricane hammered crops already set back by an early July downpour and a drought-plagued planting season.

“Remaining cotton was 80 percent to 100 percent open when Dolly came through,” he said. High winds approaching 100 miles per hour, and heavy rain, ranging from 12 inches to 20 inches, ravaged cotton, citrus, sugarcane and grain crops.

“I’ve never seen wind gusts like that,” Wallace said during a short break from cleaning up his own flooded home. “I didn’t know a category two hurricane could be this bad.”

He said milo left in the field also was wiped out. “What was left is ruined,” he said.

Sam Simmons, president of the association, said the crop had already been hurt by a 6 inch to 10 inch downpour from July 5 through July 9. “That ruined a lot of dryland cotton.”

He said some irrigated cotton and grain sorghum survived that calamity only to be ruined by the hurricane.

“We had just started harvesting irrigated milo,” Simmons said. “We could see a lot of damage from the earlier rain, but we had good contracts and could (justify) harvest.”

He said irrigated, late-planted cotton may make a little lint. “But a lot was already defoliated.”

The rest may suffer water damage. “We’ll know more in ten days or so, after we can get in and see what’s left,” Simmons said. “Some of it may fluff up and some may not. A lot of plants lost leaves.

“It’s a devastating loss overall,” he said and estimated less than 2,000 bales of Lower Rio Grande Valley cotton “is off the stalk.”

A lot of farmers were just beginning to harvest corn. Most of the crop is “either on the ground or close to it. It will be hard to get it out.” He said damage to sugarcane is also significant. “Some of my cane that was eight feet tall is now only four or five feet after being knocked over. And leaves are shredded.”

He said citrus farmers also suffered heavy damage.

David Fields, CEO of Gulf Compress, with facilities up the Gulf Coast in Corpus Christi and one in the Valley in Raymondville, expects to see little or no cotton coming out of the LRGV.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “Farmers had just started harvest and we had about 100 bales in at Raymondville. Dryland cotton will be zeroed out. I’ve talked to several farmers who indicate dryland production will be zero and some say they see a little cotton in places, but most of that is still in 6 inches to 8 inches of standing water.”

Fields expected early on to get 50,000 bales of cotton from the Valley. “After the July rain I figured 40,000. Now I hope to get 10,000.”

Corpus Christi was not spared from damage either. “We’ve heard reports of rainfall totals from 2 inches to 7 inches,” Fields said. “We may not be hurt too bad. Some cotton may have damage and may be strung out. We had just barely cranked up harvest.

“The storm was worse than we expected.” He said Gulf Compress had some warehouse damage in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The South Texas crop was already short. “Acreage was down,” Fields said. “The 2007 crop was down 20 percent and acreage in 2008 was off another 20 percent.”

“We haven’t had a good crop in the Valley since 2004,” Wallace said.

Jeff Nunley, Executive Director, South Texas Cotton and Grain Association, in Victoria, east of Corpus Christi, said cotton in his area was not hurt as bad as the crop in Nueces and South San Patricio Counties.

“We expect significant losses south of Corpus,” Nunley said, “considering the amount of rain they got. With rain and high winds, defoliated cotton will fall out. Quality also will suffer. Up the Coast, it’s not as bad.”

Nunley said the Victoria area had rainfall amounts of one inch and higher, “but we didn’t get the wind they got in Corpus. We’re worried about Nueces County and South San Patricio. They already had some 90,000 acres zeroed out to drought. It‘s been a tough year. It started out dry, so we didn’t have a great crop to begin with.”

He said farmers in the Coastal Bend area may have to harvest to collect insurance. Most fields will not have enough damage to zero out, he said. “And harvest costs will be high.”

Wallace said LRGV farmers are already considering fall planting options, including corn and soybeans. “They are looking for opportunities,” he said.

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TAGS: Cotton
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