Maybe next year. For four of the past six years Texas cotton growers have hung their hopes on the possibility that the next crop would be the one to break the cycle of poor yields and even poorer prices.
It won't be this year, says Texas A&M Extension economist Carl Anderson.
“I expect the Texas crop to be less than the latest estimate, 4.4 million bales. In fact, it could be several thousand bales lower than that,” when the recent rain damage and continuing drought stress on dryland acres are factored in.
Anderson says conditions “were too dry too long and then too wet too long” to produce a decent crop.
Heavy rains in early September caused “serious problems in central Texas, the southern Blacklands and along the coast,” Anderson says. “Rain damaged any cotton that had not been harvested. In some cases lint fell out of the bolls. Re-growth has occurred and some seed have germinated.”
Seed germination is the biggest concern, he says. Farmers will not be able to gin much, if any, of the cotton that has sprouted from the open bolls. “If they can't gin it, we'll see much of it shredded and claimed on insurance. We're just not certain how many farmers will collect on insurance from this rain-damaged cotton.”
Anderson says cotton harvested from these areas will be of poor quality. “If farmers can sell it at all, they'll get extremely low prices.”
Farmers are looking at severe dockage from a price that's already way below profitable, he says.
West Texas irrigated cotton may fare better if weather cooperates through harvest. “We're a little concerned about cool weather, but we have not been hurt by early September cool spells,” Anderson says.
Rainfall in the Southern High Plains and the Rolling Plains also resulted in re-growth that will make defoliation more difficult, especially for dryland acreage, Anderson says. “It will be more difficult to manage harvest aid chemicals and we're still a ways off from a freeze.”
Some cotton in modules also suffered from heavy rains. “Cotton modules left in low areas may have gotten soaked from the bottom,” Anderson says. “In addition to problems with germination, those modules also may have heated up. Many will be ruined.
“After cotton is mature and bolls are open, nothing good comes from a rain,” he says. “The only cotton in south Texas that escaped damage from the rains was what was already harvested and ginned or was in modules on high ground.”
The only hope for this crop, Anderson says, is “unexpected news from world supplies that turns price around. But there is a worldwide economic slowdown, including the United States.”
Anderson says the 19.5 million-bale crop appears to be accurate for the moment but recent problems in the Delta and the Southeast, also from heavy rains, have not been counted in the estimate yet.
“But, even if production falls below 19 million bales, we still have a huge carryover.”
The problem in Mississippi is serious as well, says Mississippi State University cotton specialist Will McCarty.
“Boll rot has been a concern all season,” McCarty says. “The presence of a little boll rot in early August was an indication of good growth and a respectable crop. But it has progressed to serious proportions in many fields.
“Seeds of open and cracked bolls have sprouted worse than I have ever experience over such a widespread area. Early maturing and/or early-planted cotton have been hit hardest.
“Cotton mature enough and open enough to defoliate by Sept. 15 has been devastated in areas of the state receiving heavy rainfall. Damage extends across the entire state and seems to decrease to the north,” where rainfall has been less and the crop is maturing later. “However, damage is increasing in those areas as well.”
McCarty says if weather conditions persist, damage will continue to increase and will spread over a wider area.
“Re-growth at this stage is also as bad as I have experienced and farmers must deal with that problem as well,” he says.