"All's well that ends well," wrote William Shakespeare in an early 17th century play by the same name. Ever since the early 1600s a debate over the literary work has fueled the argument of whether the play was a comedy or the tale of human tragedy.
Perhaps the same could be said about grain sorghum and corn harvest underway in the Lower Rio Grande Valley this week. For most, the growing season has been a tragedy, but a fortunate few are reporting favorable early harvest returns, and a very few are actually boasting that their corn yields are remarkably good considering the dire water straits the region finds itself in this summer.
"A few corn growers are actually shuffling for bragging rights," reports Hidalgo County Extension agent Brad Cowan. "We had some fair rains in May but they were spotty. If your corn or grain field happened to be under them, then you are seeing the benefit in yields."
Also helping the harvest situation were the limited irrigation resources available early on in the season. While irrigation water is in short supply or non-existent now, a round of irrigation in late spring helped some farmers "from going bust."
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"It's a hit-and-miss year for grain and corn growers. Either you had a little irrigation water and then got a little rain to boost crops, or you didn't. But surprisingly, grain sorghum and corn have produced pretty good yields for those that got the water," he adds.
On the down side, dryland crops have suffered. While a few growers picked up enough May rain to produce a crop, yields have generally suffered.
Cowan says grain sorghum harvest continues and will be finishing up within a week or two, except for late planted grain. Like corn, grain conditions vary greatly depending on the amount of water that was available throughout the growing season.
Cotton is iffy
Hope for Valley cotton continues but most growers were reporting water shortages and are concerned about dryland cotton and cotton on irrigated fields that has used up irrigation allocations—which is most of them.
"A lot of dryland cotton was zeroed out early on, and depending on whether you received any rain or not, cotton has not done as well as grain or corn. But there are still some fields with pretty good looking cotton at this stage. Most is suffering, but there are pockets of good cotton out there," Cowan adds.
The first bale of cotton came in last week, but full cotton harvest won't get underway for another four to six weeks. As with corn and grain, fields that received at least one irrigation have a chance of bringing in a crop, Cowan says, though yields will be reduced. He says additional rain in the weeks ahead would go a long way toward improving cotton prospects.
A check across the Valley indicates most cotton has or is about to reach open boll stage as the long summer days quickly add heat units. Input costs are up generally as a result of the need to treat for whiteflies. Verde plant bugs are also being reported in parts of the eastern Valley.
While grain and corn harvest is underway, the underlying major topic among Valley agricultural producers is the ongoing water shortage. Cowan sees little hope that Mexico will deliver any of the water he says is owed by the 1944 treaty in spite of reports that at least one reservoir in Mexico is currently over-capacity.
Agricultural organizations, municipal leaders and irrigation officials are planning another Valley-wide meeting on the water crisis in early July, but Cowan says no one is optimistic the International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC), the bi-national group charged with managing water in the Rio Grande basin, will force Mexico's hand on water owed to South Texas.
"I doubt we will get any water from Mexico this year, just like last year and probably like next year," he said. "One good release of water could help bail out agriculture in the Valley, but that is an unlikely prospect."
Among those hardest hit by the water shortage are sugarcane growers. As it stands now, the sugar mill near Harlingen is asking area farmers to plant sugarcane after grain and corn is cleared from the field, but most farmers are reluctant to consider a cane crop because of water issues. As it stands now, Cowan says the mill may not have enough cane this year to produce any sugar economically.
Also at high risk from worsening drought conditions are citrus growers. While all fruit has been harvested for the current season, growers are concerned about citrus groves and tree survival if water doesn't come soon from one source or another.
"With the tropical season about to kick off, a tropical wave or storm could drop some desperately needed rain in the Valley and could go a long way in helping to replenish irrigation reserves. But as it stands now, things are just getting drier."