Calling it an unusual year, a Texas A&M Extension economist says the jury is still out in South Texas as to whether local producers will opt to plant grain sorghum or cotton this year in spite of the late starting date.

“In our four-county region, consisting of Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr Counties, we have about 525,000 to 550,000 acres of planted production crop each year, and generally on a cotton/grain sorghum rotation. But so far this year we are hearing only about 200,000 acres have been planted so far and we’re still waiting to see which way producers will swing when all is said and done,” reports Dr. Luis Ribera, agricultural economist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

Historically, Valley farmers have seed in the ground between mid-February and the last week in March, but a number of ‘unusual circumstances’ this year have resulted in an extended delay.

“Just a few weeks back producers were unable to get into their fields because of wet conditions, not that anyone was complaining after such a dry year in 2011. But an unexpected uptick in grain sorghum prices and an unresolved cotton export issue in India provided another cause for delay,” Ribera reported.

The economist says both cotton and grain sorghum prices are strong and that has complicated the issue of which crop would be best to grow this year.

“I had originally predicted we would see about the same cotton acreage this year as last, around 190,000 total acres. But input costs are greater for cotton than sorghum and I think that may play out to be a factor in the end,” he adds.

Saying it could be at least the middle of April and perhaps the first week of May before there is any clear reports on how many acres of each crop are planted in the Valley, Ribera says it appears to be a hurry up and wait year for Valley farmers.

“Producers down here put a lot of importance on getting an early crop in the ground, and generally the weather supports that plan. But with late winter rains combined with strong cotton and grain prices, many farmers seem content to wait and see how it all is going to play out over the next couple of weeks,” he adds.

Ribera says he depends a great deal on crop insurance reports to give him an idea of planted acreage. But so far there has been little insurance issued or local producers just haven’t reported it yet.

“It really is a strange year for this to happen. But after a serious drought year, I think producers are being more careful what they do and what and when they plant. While we all hope the drought is over, it’s difficult to forget the challenges of events like that,” Ribera said.

While Valley cotton growers managed to produce a fair yield in 2011 in spite of the drought, the lure of a good grain year is "wearing heavy on their minds.

“Who wouldn’t want to plant a crop that costs less to bring to market? And when all is said and done I believe we may see grain sorghum get the nod by a large number of local growers. Either way, I am hoping it will be a profitable year for them,” Ribera says.