LUBBOCK, Texas – For a region that averages an abandonment rate of 18 to 20 percent, growers and crop observers alike are hesitant to talk much when things are generally headed in the right direction.

That's the position many producers on the High Plains find themselves in as the area collectively keeps its fingers crossed and hopes for the best. So far the 2004 crop is rated as good to excellent in most areas and off to a start that is being guardedly compared to some of the best in recent memory.

Adding to the undercurrent of excitement is the fact that a significant number of dryland acres have been established and are growing off well.

With irrigated and non-irrigated acreage set to take advantage of a favorable sub-soil moisture situation capable of carrying the crop well into the summer, prospects are bright.

That's not to say, however, that everything is wine and roses on the Plains in 2004. As of this writing growers in northern portions of Floyd County, and in the adjacent counties of Swisher and Briscoe, are picking up the pieces from the season's largest single hail event. The storm, which ravaged the area June 21, is estimated to have logged an estimated 60,000 more acres into the loss column.

The worst part of the story, though, is that this same area has now lost three promising crops in a row to hail.

Despite the devastation of the June 21 storm, the overall outlook for the High Plains region remains positive. Of the estimated 3.6 million acres planted to cotton this year it is hard to account for more than 300,000-400,000 acres that could ultimately be abandoned at this time.

The primary causes of loss to date have been a lack of moisture to establish a stand on dryland acres, which accounts for around 250,000 acres, and a combination of hail, wind or flooding that have tallied another 100,000-150,000 acres to date.

With about 3.2 million acres standing at the end of June the 2004-crop still has tremendous potential. Maturity-wise the crop has everything from very early to very late and some of it will need plenty of open weather this fall to reach its true potential. With luck the season will continue to provide the necessary ingredients to make the crop a success.

Weather forecasts showing an increased chance for scattered thunderstorms through the end of the month mean producers still have a stressful time ahead. Despite looking forward to the possibilities, they know that this time of year any storm can deliver good in the form of rain and bad in the form of hail and high wind that threatens old and young cotton alike.

Growers who receive damage and need to assess the situation have several good resources available to them through the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center at Lubbock.

The Center's website has publications that provide detailed information on evaluating damaged stands that can assist growers deciding if they should keep or fail a severely damaged cotton crop.

The Lubbock Center website is:

http://lubbock.tamu.edu/ Shawn Wade writes for Plain Cotton Growers Inc.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com