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Experts predict little Valley cotton to make it to harvest
In early July, dryland cotton between Rio Hondo and Sebastian in Willacy County showed signs of severe heat and drought stress. Under normal rainfall conditions, plants should have been almost waist-high and wide enough to obscure the furrows between the rows, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
COLLEGE STATION -- While parts of the state have seen some rollback of the worst drought conditions, Lower Rio Grande Valley farmers continue to endure another year of extreme and severe drought, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
Brad Cowan, AgriLife Extension agent for Hidalgo County, said he’s lost count of how many consecutive years the region has suffered from drought, or of the losses incurred. Cotton producers, in particular, have had very “frustrating” years.
“It won’t take long for the cotton harvest to happen in the Rio Grande Valley this year,” he said. “There’s just not that many acres. For what did make a crop, it’s going to be a good year -- where irrigators had some water.”
Traditionally, about half of Valley cotton and other crops are irrigated, according to Cowan.
“We had a significant number of acres that did not get planted, where growers took a preventive planting on crop insurance for cotton and grain because irrigation districts told them they would only have one irrigation on their acreage for the season,” Cowan said. “Many growers decided that wasn’t enough to justify chance putting in a crop at all.”
Typically, in the region, “one irrigation” amounts to 6 acre-inches of water, he said. One acre-inch is equivalent to a little more than 27,000 gallons.
The drought has been particularly hard on dryland cotton farmers, he said. There was no soil moisture before planting, and there were no rains in time to bring it up.
“We did get scattered showers in May and early June, but they were too late for most of our row crops -- at least for the bulk of them,” he said. “It did help some of the irrigated crop that made a stand and could take advantage of the extra moisture. But for the dryland guys, it just compounded their misery.”
This was because before the rains came, dryland crops were on the verge of being zeroed-out as they hadn’t even emerged due to dry weather, Cowan explained. But after the rains, plants emerged. And though fields still had no chance of making a crop without some very significant rains, by crop insurance rules, farmers had to carry it through the season.
Drought and international politics have conspired to limit irrigation water available to Valley agriculture, according to Dr. Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. In Ribera’s 2012 study, lack of irrigation water and drought cost South Texas agricultural and agri-businesses nearly $400 million and resulted in the loss of almost 5,000 jobs.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries: AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported spotty, summer showers were received. Some locations reported nearly 1 inch of rain. Hot, dry conditions continued and led to a decline in rangeland and pastures, depleting forages. The grain sorghum and corn harvest was in full swing and people have started to plan for fall crops. Irrigated cotton made good progress. Dryland cotton was severely stressed. Burn bans were in effect. Livestock remained in good condition, though rains were needed for improvement of grazing.
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported extremely hot and dry conditions prevailed. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were nearly completed. Rice harvesting was at its peak. Early planted cotton was defoliated, with harvest expected to begin within a week. Hay production was on hold until more rain comes. Supplemental feeding of livestock increased due to declining pasture conditions. Ponds remained low or dry in many areas. Trees continued to suffer from drought stress.
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the South District, including Atascosa County, reported hot, windy, dry conditions and high evaporation rates continued throughout the region. Temperatures were in the high 90s to 100-plus degrees, an encore of the previous week’s weather. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region continued in the short to very short range with the exception of 60 percent adequate in Atascosa and Maverick counties. Throughout the region, rangeland and pastures drastically declined, and as a result, most ranchers had to continue supplemental feeding. Stock-tank water levels continued to decline as well. Cattle body-condition scores remained fair as a result of the continual supplemental feeding. In Atascosa County, 70 percent of corn and 95 percent of sorghum was harvested. Cotton was in fair condition, with 95 percent of the crop’s bolls opened.
Robert Burns has nearly 30 years’ experience writing about agriculture and agricultural-related research. He writes about Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service activities at the Overton Center and centers in Stephenville and Temple.
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