Southwest cotton farmers this spring are looking at the flip side of a disastrous weather pattern that has bedeviled many for the past four years.
Persistent drought (Is that redundant?) limited production, added enormous costs to production for irrigation, which in many cases provided only enough moisture to make little more than average yields.
Heavy rains across the region this spring kept farmers out of the field, delaying planting— particularly in the areas where the bulk of the cotton is planted—and limiting growth and vigor of cotton farmers managed to plant.
For the most part farmers welcome the moisture but can’t ignore the irony that the weather they have needed desperately for the last four years and would have given them an excellent chance of making a good crop is now preventing them from getting the seed in the ground.
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Oklahoma cotton farmers have time to plant anticipated acreage but the crop will be late. Persistent rainfall over the last month has prevented field work as it filled the soil profile in an area that has been categorized in exceptional drought status for the past four years.
“Our cotton final planting dates are June 10 for northern counties, June 20 for southern counties, and June 10 for most of our irrigated acres in the five counties in the Southwest corner,” says Randy Boman, Oklahoma State University cotton Extension program leader and research director for the OSU Southwest Research and Extension Center in Altus.
“We still have time, but I think we can assuredly say that the 2015 crop will be late,” Boman says. “Our forecast (in mid-May) is indicating continued rainfall for the next seven days or so.”
As for crop progress, “I think I can honestly say that we have made NONE,” Boman says, with emphasis on none. “We have planted no trials in 2015 as of today. I am unaware of anyone in Oklahoma who has planted, but I have heard about a handful of acres that were planted around Wellington, Texas. It has simply been too wet and even too cool at times over the past couple of weeks.”
Heavy rain in Okla.
Boman says his personal rain gauge has been a useful tool this spring. “I have poured out nearly 14 inches of precipitation at my place in Kiowa County since May 5. I am not very far from Tom Steed Reservoir (about 4 miles or so).”
The area reservoirs offer promising news. “Tom Steed Reservoir (water for many communities) is now at 72 percent, up from 16 percent about three weeks ago. Lake Lugert has risen several feet and is now about 45 percent of capacity, up from 9 percent about three weeks ago.” (Editor’s note: lake Lugert, following late May rainfall, was up to 76 percent of capacity.)
Lugert, which supplies irrigation water to farmers in the Altus area, has remained at 11 percent capacity or lower for the past several years, and no water was available for irrigation during that time.
Boman, like other cotton industry observers and farmers across the region, would like to see some fair weather to allow producers to plant, but they find it hard to complain about the rain.
“All in all, we are doing well with the exception of getting any summer crops planted,” Boman says. “Of course our wheat crop has been taking a beating from hail, wind, flooding, etc. I suspect we will get into some sprouting grain issues soon. But for those who have dodged all of the bad stuff, the cool temperatures and rainfall have been very good to help with yield prospects and the ability of the wheat to finish up nicely.
“There are no complaints,” he says. “After the past four years, the rainfall and runoff have been real blessings.”
Cotton already planted in South Texas is “at least a month late across most of South Texas,” says Texas AgriLife Extension State Cotton Specialist Gaylon Morgan. That includes the Valley and the Corpus Christi area. For the Upper Gulf Coast and the Blacklands “plantings are more closely aligned with most years, but the saturated soils and cloudy conditions have pushed us behind a couple of weeks or more.”
Cotton yet to be planted, from San Angelo up through the Rolling Plains and the High Plains, will need a drying trend to allow farmers to get in the fields. And some face planting deadlines that will be hard to meet if weather doesn’t clear soon.
Cotton farmers in the San Angelo area have a bit more time to get planted than producers in the High Plains. “The Rolling Plains final plant date is June 20,” Morgan says. Other areas, such as the northern High Plains have deadlines as early as May 31 and very little cotton in the ground.
Dan Smith, a High Plains producer, reports this is the first time he’s not had a cotton crop in the ground by May 20. He thinks it unlikely farmers in his area will be able to plant intended acreage by their planting deadline, June 5.
Final planting dates are available at the links below.
Early acreage expectations will take a hit, Morgan says, including at least a 300,000-acre reduction already realized in South Texas. He says that number is conservative and will likely increase as time runs out to make planting deadlines.
“And with these wet conditions, planted cotton is not doing well.” Early-planted cotton in the Brazos Bottoms “looks okay and is about the six- to eight-leaf stage, about pinhead square. Cotton on beds and in fields that drain well looks pretty good. Other fields are much further behind and are suffering.
“Management, or lack thereof, is a monster this year. Farmers can’t get in the fields to get anything done and a lot of aerial applications are being made.” He says weed infestations, in particular, are troublesome. “That’s not uncommon. With these conditions, weeds get ahead of folks, but they cannot get in the fields to play catchup.”
Farmers also express concern over replanting thin stands. “If the stand is uniform, a plant population of 20,000 or even a little lower should not result in lower yields, and I recommend keeping it,” Morgan says. “We can’t be sure what will happen later and at least we have a stand.”
Management of thin or non-uniform cotton will be crucial. “With low plant populations and adequate moisture and nutrients, the cotton plants will want to get large. So, use PGRs to keep them from getting overly big and causing harvesting issues.” Cotton plants will compensate with adequate sun, heat and management.
Some Central Texas cotton has been hit by hail and, though Morgan says it “is not pretty,” it should recover.”
The drastic weather change this spring caught agriculture by surprise, but most farmers say they are at least glad to be replenishing soil moisture profiles.
“It’s hard to deal with extremes,” Morgan says.