Compared to other parts of the country, the Rio Grande Valley has taken it on the chin in cotton variety performance in the past, said John Norman, Extension Agent, at the recent Cotton Pre-Plant Seminary in Weslaco. But now it looks as if there's good news.

“In the last few years, we've been making headway in a lot of areas.”

Norman went clarified his statement. Regarding micronaire, or thickness of fiber, the U.S. upland crops have shown an increase while levels in South Texas crops have remained stable.

“So we're in good shape there,” said Norman. Strength, another important fiber quality factor, has been shown to be increasing in the Rio Grande Valley crops while decreasing in other cotton growing areas.

“That's very important in selling our product on the world market.”

Trend in length, unfortunately, in all cotton producing areas is decreasing — but much less so in South Texas. In fact, it has recently shown a tendency to go up. Uniformity, too, is proving to be more of a problem outside of the South Texas area.

“Ninety-five percent of our crop has been in the white range (the highest) of fiber grades,” Said Norman.

He said there is a trend among producers to grow a smoother leaf cotton after cotton trials showed smooth leaf varieties have less white fly infestation than the hairy leaf varieties. He advised producers to consider smooth leaf varieties if they are concerned about white flies or if cotton is grown near cantaloupe or cabbage.

These insects can do a lot of damage. “One bale per acre was lost in '91 due to white fly infestations.”

In field trials, new varieties of cotton have also been shown to deter worms. “Not many worms survive in the new Bollgard 2 cotton,” said Norman.

The cotton market also looks better this year than last. “There's a decent price outlook,” says John Robinson, economist, calling it “a blip of good news.”

“The stocks are low, so prices tend to go up.”

Consumption is also on the upswing. U.S. exports are up. It looks as if China will be importing more cotton this year. Net imports by China, usually a predictor of higher prices, are expected to rise from 130,000 bales in 2001/02 to an estimated 1.1 million bales next season and are forecast to be at 2.3 million bales in 2003/04.

The other area of good news for cotton farmers was noted by Gordon Hill, Bayview District irrigation manager. “Mexico has agreed that they will release 350,000 acre feet of water this year and for the following two years.”

Mexico has already transferred 130,000 acre feet, and another 55,000 will be transferred shortly.

“It looks like a lot of us are going to be in halfway decent shape for the upcoming growing season,” said Hill, whose Bayview Irrigation District will benefit from the released water. Unfortunately, it isn't going to help all of the irrigation districts in the Valley. Mexico is still far behind in its water payments to the United States.

The U.S. government. though, has not put the issue on the back burner, as many farmers have suspected. The U.S. State Department has at last declared that Mexico is in violation of the 1944 water treaty. Hill said he is optimistic Mexico will keep its word in the future and feels President Fox knows the treaty has to be kept in place and that he can no longer jeopardize South Texas and Tamaulipas farmers.

Now if weather forecasters are right in predicting that in an El Niño year, average rainfall could be 200 percent above average for the next three months, all the farmers will be happy not just a few.