The opening of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, pretty well captures the essence of the 2005 crop year for Southwest producers.

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

First the good

The Lower Rio Grande Valley and the Northern Blacklands boll weevil eradication zones became active in 2005, a noteworthy accomplishment that put all Southwestern cotton production under the eradication umbrella and made a long stride toward eliminating the boll weevil as an economic pest throughout the cotton belt.

FARM PRESS staff visits to these new zones in early fall emphasized the need for eradication. In both zones growers said trap catches were significant and that weevil populations throughout the growing season had been high. They anticipate fewer weevils emerging next spring following a fall diapause spray that will reduce the overwintering population.

Texas High Plains cotton farmers likely will beat the 2004 record production. Early production estimates point to better than a 5-million bale crop. Oklahoma producers also anticipate a good cotton crop.

Now some bad

Production in the Coastal Bend and Lower Rio Grande Valley areas, however, were off significantly from a year ago.

“We have something of a weather switch,” says Robin Roark, director, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Texas Field Office. He said the Coastal Bend and Lower Rio Grande Valley areas suffered severe drought throughout most of the growing season. “It was a dry year and farmers in those areas made less than average cotton.”

Reports from Extension specialists and growers also indicate that grain crop yields also came in lower than usual.

“They had timely rains in the Panhandle,” Roark says. “In East Texas, even with Hurricane Rita, little rain fell.” He said flood damage from the storm was minimal but that wind damage was severe in some locations.

More good and some additional bad news

Roark said cattle still show profit potential. “Prices likely will hold for another two or three years,” he said. “But, ranchers may be short on hay and forage this winter because of drought. The hay crop in Central Texas looks pretty good, but shipping costs to areas that need it could be high.”

He said Texas grain crops were variable with good production in parts of the Panhandle. “But district 40, normally a good corn production area, will run well below average,” he said. “Even irrigated production will be lower. It was just too dry.”

Mostly good for peanuts

Peanut production likely will be close to or only slightly below 2004 levels, according to industry observers who say grades will be significantly improved.

“It’s a little early to judge just how good the crop will be,” said Ted Higginbottom, Gaines County farmer and Texas Peanut Producers Board director. “But it looks like we will have a good yield and good quality peanuts. Most farmers harvested before any freezing weather so we expect little to no freeze damage in this crop.”

Higginbottom said a long growing season improved peanut grades. “A late freeze gave the crop plenty of time to mature. Timely summer rains also helped make this crop.”

He’s concerned about markets. “We’re in the same shape as other commodities,” he said. “We have an over-supply at the moment. Under the farm bill, we’re operating under a repayment rate that’s a little higher than shellers can buy them back (out of the loan) to put them in the export market. Consequently, exports are down. But most of the peanuts in U.S. pipelines and available for U.S. consumers are grown here. That was not the case several years ago.”

Higginbottom said the market could affect next year’s planting intentions.

“I think acreage will drop some next year,” he said, “especially in high production cost areas.”

He said Texas acreage probably has expanded as much as it’s going to. “It’s about where it should be,” he said. “I don’t see another boom in peanut acreage. Most of the acreage with adequate soil and water for peanuts is in peanuts already.”

He said if breeders develop a short-season runner peanut variety, acreage could expand northward.

“We’re talking about a significantly shorter peanut maturity date, about 30 days,” he said. “If that happens, we may see more peanuts in the High Plains and on land that has never been in peanut production before. It will move north as cotton has over the past few years.”

Concern for 2006.

Roark said farmers faced record high energy costs in 2005, making fertilizer more expensive as well as irrigation and fieldwork.

“As farmers go into 2006, they are concerned about fuel prices and the 2007 farm bill,” he said.

He said comments from Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns at a farm forum in Lubbock led growers to believe that farm legislation will change when a new bill is debated.

“That’s not what growers say they need,” he said. “They are concerned.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com