The 2001 cotton crop reminds me of a cur dog I once owned. Sure, he sucked eggs and howled at the moon, but he'd still chase every other dog in the yard under the porch.

Cotton farmers may not be overly proud of the potential the crop offers this year, considering the high production costs and the sluggish market, but when they compare it to anything else, it's still the best dog in the hunt.

“As bad as cotton looks, it's still better than any other commodity we can grow in west Texas,” said Pat Pelzel, a grower and custom harvester from St. Lawrence, a small rural community some 70 miles west of San Angelo.

Pelzel and his partner, Chris Hirt, stopped by the Southwest Farm Press booth and discussed 2001 planting options during the recent Texas Ginners Association meeting and Trade show in Lubbock.

Neither expects cotton to take as big an acreage hit as recent projections indicate.

“Energy costs will be high,” Hirt said. “And that means farmers can't afford to water corn. I think we'll see less corn and grain sorghum.

“Good soil moisture at planting time also favors cotton,” he said.

Guy Warren, a host for both a radio and television farm show in Lubbock, agrees. “With adequate soil moisture, I think farmers in the High Plains will plant cotton. Nothing else looks as good.”

“The San Angelo area is not as wet as the High Plains,” Hirt said, “but, compared to the past few years, farmers have much more moisture available to get the crop in.”

“We'll be in good shape to plant,” Pelzel said, “but it's going to be an expensive crop to grow.”

Texas Extension economist Carl Anderson said farmers will cut expenses where possible. “I'm hearing that banks will refinance most farmers,” he said, “but they may limit credit. That means producers will have to make some cuts. Water is one of the easiest places to trim costs.”

Anderson said more dryland acreage and other fields with minimal irrigation will make it hard to estimate production.

He expects Texas acreage to decline by some 100,000 from early predictions. “I can't see that farmers are going to cut cotton planting by 400,000 acres,” he said.

Hirt and Pelzel say farmers face some serious challenges with this crop. “Production costs are too high compared to market offerings,” Pelzel said. “Our biggest problem is that there is just not enough return to cover production and harvest expenses.”

“The situation is serious,” Hirt said. “The U.S. Congress needs to understand that. Rural American needs help.”

“It's a difficult time for all of Agriculture,” said Phil Burnett, CEO of the SEAM, a new on-line cotton trading platform. “It's the toughest situation I've seen in 30 years.”

“The conditions in Texas are severe,” added Ronnie Hopper, president of the Plains Cotton Growers Association. “It was hard to prepare a report for our annual meeting with things as bad as they are.

“We're coming off a three-year drought cycle and energy prices keep escalating. Cotton prices, however, keep going lower and lower. We're facing severe problems.”

Texas cotton leaders urged growers, ginners and others in the industry to stay involved and support programs that will increase chances of success, both in the field and in the political arena.

“I'm confident that the leadership in this industry will find solutions,” Burnett said. “And new technology on the farm and in the marketplace also will help.”