If I’m in Lubbock on the right Friday I always try to drop in on the Plains Cotton Grower’s bi-monthly meeting. It’s about an hour of as meaty an update on crop, market and government conditions as you can find.
Last week, I hit the right Friday and decided to sit in on the meeting and see if I could get a better handle on just how bad the drought has hurt the West Texas cotton crop. Well, I actually didn’t sit. It was standing room only.
But I wasn’t disappointed.
We heard from seed company representatives, farmers, Extension specialists, research scientists, government observers, bankers and folks from gins, dealerships and city government.
PCG staff told me that this was the biggest crowd they could recall but said they had hosted pretty large crowds all summer. That’s not surprising. I can’t think of a city that is more dependent on cotton than Lubbock.
Cotton is the driving force behind much of the High Plains economy, and when the crop is in jeopardy a lot of businesses get anxious. A good cotton crop means money flowing through the region. Gins are busy well into winter, keeping people employed and money in their pockets to spend at local businesses.
That’s good for just about everybody. Car dealers sell vehicles. Folks buy clothes, movie tickets and maybe upgrade a sofa or two. Farmers who harvest a good cotton crop invest in new equipment, make needed repairs and stick a little money in the bank.
And then you have years like this one. Observers expect the 2011 High Plains cotton crop to produce less than half the number of bales made last year. Steve Verett, PCG executive vice president, said only 2 million bales is likely from the PCG production area. That’s down from more than 5 million last year.
Some 2 million acres of dryland cotton never came up. And some irrigated acreage likely will be abandoned or water diverted from one field or part of a field to another to concentrate water and increase potential to make some cotton.
Trouble is—even with irrigation—the combination of high temperatures, no rain and high winds, means moisture demand is too high for anything but the most efficient and the highest capacity irrigation systems to keep up.
I saw some irrigated cotton that looked pretty scraggly last week. It will make some lint and some of it will probably fool me, but a lot of irrigated land simply will not meet usual expectations.
Verett said most farmers will be OK, not happy, not satisfied, but OK because they have crop insurance that will cover them for about $1.23 per pound of historic yield. Most also will get a payment for lost cottonseed as well. So they’ll be able to farm again next year, assuming they eventually get some rain.
The folks who will hurt most will be merchants, ginners and support industries that depend, at least in part, on cotton income.
And that’s why the Friday PCG meeting is SRO. Folks want to hear the latest. Information is power and these Friday meetings provide a powerful lot of information.