Hail, high winds, and blowing sand from four severe storms dealt a hard blow to South Plains crop producers from mid-May to early June. As a result, the region may lose more than half a million acres of its irrigated cotton crop and several thousand acres of other crops.
Warm temperatures and good soil moisture potential spurred many cotton producers to begin planting in late April and early May. By May 25, they had planted almost 95 percent of the region's irrigated cotton crop.
A 20-county area surrounding Lubbock comprises the South Plains, and annually produces roughly one-half of the state's 5- to 6-million acre cotton crop.
High winds and blowing sand damaged several thousand acres of young cotton in eight counties on May 20, and a May 26 storm hailed out several thousand additional acres in western Dawson County. The largest storm occurred May 30 — rolling northwest to southeast, and leaving crops, livestock, barns, houses and equipment in nine counties damaged in its wake.
A June 1 storm then caused considerable damage in three counties north and west of Lubbock.
It is still too early to tell the exact extent of crop damage from these storms, but preliminary estimates from county agents, Extension specialists, and agribusiness point to a projected loss of 360,000 to 500,000 acres of irrigated cotton and more than 10,000 acres of crops such as sunflowers, wheat and hay.
“For many producers, the latter storms came right on top of the final cotton planting date for crop insurance coverage,” said Randy Boman, Extension cotton agronomist-Lubbock. “They may not be able to replant an insured crop. Those farming south of Lubbock have a little more leeway. Their crop insurance planting deadline ranges from June 10 to about June 20.”
Even though the South Plains' year-to-date rainfall total is well above average at slightly more than 8 inches, many dryland producers are still waiting for a rain to provide planting moisture or to get their planted crop up.
If that rain doesn't come, the region's lost or abandoned cotton acreage (irrigated and dryland) could exceed 1 million acres.
Even producers with no weather losses are facing a tough year. Higher input and energy costs, low market prices, and the prospect of higher costs for pest control could stretch producers' crop budgets dangerously thin.
“Economically, it is a bad year to have to nurse a sick or damaged crop along,” Boman said. “In that situation, your crop can rapidly become a money pit.”
During the next week, many producers will have to make crucial decisions on acreage abandonment, replanting or switching to another crop entirely.