A Southern Plains cotton farmer in mid-August e-mailed photos of vigorously growing, healthy cotton plants to the Southwest Farm Press office. About a week later, he sent another set, showing plants stripped of bolls, leaves and, in some instances, bark.

Across the region, farmers lost up to 100,000 acres of cotton, either totally destroyed or badly damaged.

Fortunately, and that word rings grossly inappropriate for anyone whose acreage is included in the 100,000 damaged by storms, destruction was not widespread, leaving most of the 3.5 million acres of Plains cotton with prospects of another excellent crop.

Randy Boman, Texas Extension cotton agronomist at the Research and Extension Center in Lubbock, says some growers indicate crop conditions equal to what they saw this time last year. That crop broke yield records in place for more than 50 years.

Boman says the 2005 crop benefited from timely rains late in the season and needs enough heat units in the next few weeks to turn out another good crop.

He's vexed at the storm damage.

“I just hate these late season hail events. They make me sick,” he said.

Roger Haldenby, Plains Cotton Growers, said observers near Slaton estimated 50,000 acres damaged by the late August storms. “Extension personnel in Hockley County estimated between 15,000 and 25,000 damaged acres. Losses north and west of Muleshoe and in Hale County are still being assessed.”

Some reports peg losses at up to $20 million for the region, but Haldenby said it's too early to judge how bad the damage will be. “It's hard to estimate just how much cotton we've lost,” he said.

“How many acres have we lost so far? I don't know. How many bales have we lost? I don't know. How much money have we lost? I don't know.”

Photos disheartening

He said photos from some fields show cotton totally stripped of leaves and bark peeled from the stalk. “Those fields are total losses,” he said. “Other fields show stripped leaves with a boll load still intact. Farmers likely will wait and see if those bolls open. Many will not.”

He said if the storms had hit two weeks later, some fields might have stood a better chance of salvage. Overall, he said, damage is not widespread.

“Our best guesstimate is 100,000 acres damaged in some way. But it will be weeks before we know how much of that acreage is a total loss.”

He said reports from the south Hale County area indicate damage in a narrow, two-mile strip about 15 miles long. A two to five-mile strip from 15 to 25 miles long north and west of Muleshoe also showed significant hail damage. A similar strip near Slaton may include 50,000 affected acres with as many as 25,000 acres totally destroyed.

“When we look at the 4.5-million-bale production estimate, the 3.7 million planted acres and the 3.5 million acres remaining before the storms hit, the losses we anticipate are relatively small,” Haldenby said. “In fact, compared to past years and the total crop potential, these losses are insignificant.”

But he said for anyone who lost his crop, the damage is anything but minor.

“To lose a crop at this time of year, after investing almost all his inputs (seed, pre-plant fertilizer, crop protection materials, irrigation expenses and energy costs for cultivation and other practices) the loss is about as bad as it could be. The only thing worse would be devastating hail after the crop is defoliated, when more expense has been made and the crop is open and more vulnerable.”

Southwest Texas

In Southwest Texas, cotton plantings were up almost 30 percent from last year, said Extension specialist Jose Pena, of Uvalde. “About 48,000 acres were planted in the four-county Winter Garden region alone.

“Excellent late winter and early spring rain, followed by a hot, dry later spring and summer favored irrigated cotton.”

Pena said harvest is in full swing and, “farmers are getting excellent yields in the 2.5 to over 3 bales per acre range. I had two farmers visit my office. One claimed slightly over 3 bales and the other 3.2 bales per acre.”

Extension economist John Robinson says the Rolling Plains, the Blacklands and the Lower Rio Grande Valley all suffered from drought during key growing periods.

“Cotton and grain farmers in the Valley were dry at the wrong time,” Robinson said. “Yields will be off, especially so in dryland acres.”

He said some late cotton in Cameron and Willacy counties also took a hit from an early hurricane that hit northern Mexico.

The Blacklands and Rolling Plains took a whack from dry weather. “The Childress and Vernon areas seemed to be ground zero for drought. Dry conditions seem to dip south from there.”

Robinson said the Brazos Valley cotton “seems to be green” as farmers prepare to defoliate.

Coastal Bend

Texas Costal Bend cotton is mostly harvested with yield expectations lower than last year and lower than earlier expectations. Harvey Buehring, Nueces County Extension agent, reported 95 percent of the cotton crop harvested by Aug. 20. He said anything not harvested by that date includes fields with maturity delayed due to hail damage earlier in the season.

He said cotton yields have fallen short of earlier expectations in most of the dryland production areas due to lack of rainfall during boll development He expects yields to range from 400 to 625 pounds per acre.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Extension specialist J. C. Banks, at the Research and Extension Center in Altus, said if adequate rainfall is available in September, Oklahoma cotton farmers may make the best dryland crop he's ever seen.

“Recent rains provided most cotton areas with enough moisture to finish the season. In some areas, though, I have been getting questions on timing final irrigation. Well-fruited cotton likely has already shed the last blooms and will just need to mature the bolls on the plant. Some cotton that has had fruiting problems during the season is attempting to hold blooms set the last week of August.”

Banks said favorable fall weather will permit blooms to develop into bolls, which will weigh less and have lower micronaire than earlier set bolls but can add to the bottom line.

Banks said he's fielded numerous questions about plant growth regulator (PGR) use to help control rapid regrowth following high amounts of rain.

“If the cotton plant is well-fruited, cooler weather and heavy bolls load likely will throttle vegetative growth. If the plant is poorly fruited with a lot of small bolls and few bolls thumb size or larger, growers should evaluate fields to determine if yield potential justifies extra expense of an a PGR application. This late in the season, farmers probably need 24 ounces of Pix per acre to slow vegetative growth and make the crop easier for stripper harvesting.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusness.com