Farm and Ranch
Drought, late summer rains among challenges for Texas cotton growers
By Adam Russell, Texas A&M
Oct 4, 2018
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College Station, Texas -- Drought and untimely late-summer rains likely will mean a subpar 2018 growing season for many Texas cotton producers, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Gaylon Morgan, AgriLife Extension statewide cotton specialist, College Station, said Texas cotton producers dealt with a myriad of challenges in 2018, including cool spring temperatures, summer drought and late-summer rains. 

Three cold fronts early in the season put cotton fields behind and caused some poor emergence and considerable replanting, Morgan said. But summer sun and high temperatures provided enough heat units, and drought actually pushed cotton maturity to initiate harvest earlier than normal in South and East Texas this year.

However, much of the dryland cotton in many parts of the state was starved for moisture due to the dry summer, Morgan said. In South and East Texas, where dryland fields did survive, cotton yields were below average or not worth harvesting.

As the season progressed, hopes were renewed with scattered timely rains and plenty of heat units needed for cotton to develop in the Upper Gulf Coast, Morgan said.

“We got off to a rough start, but had a good looking crop in the Upper Gulf Coast before the rains set in in September,” he said. “Now there’s been a month of off and on wet weather at the wrong time for the remaining cotton in the Upper Gulf Coast and irrigated cotton in the Blacklands.”

Cotton fields around much of South and East Texas have received continuous late summer rains that have delayed harvest. Soggy conditions and delays are leading to problems, such as sprouting seeds and reduced fiber quality. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Gaylon Morgan)

Morgan said fields in cotton-producing areas in the lower two-thirds of the state have received continuous rains and much of the Southeast and Coastal Bend is saturated, making accessing fields impossible. It’s the third year in a row that producers around the Upper Gulf Coast and Brazos bottom regions have faced detrimental late-summer rains, including Hurricane Harvey last year.

In many of these areas, harvest is at a standstill, he said. Continuous rains are hurting fiber quality and seed quality in the field, and delays are causing problems such as cottonseed sprouting.

Morgan also said many producers in the rain-soaked parts of Texas had applied defoliant before rains set in and the delays will mean spending more money on harvest aids to bring remaining cotton in.

Cotton ready for harvest in rain-soaked areas of the state was dropping in quality daily from exposure to continuous rains. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Gaylon Morgan)

Harvest in the Rio Grande Valley was complete, Morgan said, and 95-98 percent of cotton in the Coastal Bend was out before the rains hindered producers. But this wet weather has also prevented destruction of post-harvest cotton stalks, which growers are required to do for continued success of the boll weevil eradication program. 

In the Upper Gulf area, including Matagorda County, around 25-35 percent of the crop was still in fields, and 60-70 percent of fields in the Brazos Bottom were still awaiting harvest, he said.

Cotton fields in the Southern Plains and Panhandle should be ready for harvest toward the end of the month, he said. Most dryland cotton in the Southern Plains and Rolling Plains was lost to drought, and producers were beginning to apply harvest aids to early maturing fields.

“We’re looking at an average irrigated crop (in the Southern Plains and Panhandle) because of the heat and irrigation limitations with little to no precipitation all summer,” he said.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, 25 percent of the Texas cotton crop had been harvested, 5 percent ahead of the five-year average, Morgan said. The report also rated the statewide cotton crop at 6 percent excellent; 22 percent good; 34 percent fair; 28 percent poor and 10 percent very poor.

Morgan said areas that needed to dry out in South and East Texas received additional rain this past weekend, which means continued delays and reduced fiber quality. Cottonseed production typically covers ginning costs for producers, but sprouting seeds mean farmers will incur additional ginning costs on top of decreased fiber quality.

Two years ago, somewhat similar conditions and discounts reduced farmer harvest income by 8-10 cents per pound of fiber, Morgan said. However, the cotton remaining in the fields in South and East Texas will likely see lower fiber quality than two years ago, because the extended exposure to weathering.

“All the acres that needed to be harvested were delayed more,” he said. “Everything that remains in the field will get worse until they can get it out.”