Texas Coastal Bend farmers have dodged a few bullets this season to make what looks to be a bin-buster grain sorghum crop, and if they can dodge a few more projectiles cotton and soybeans also show promise.

Spring rain and accompanying cool temperatures may have delayed cotton a few days and forced some farmers to replant flooded fields, but those rains also provided ample soil moisture to push plants into peak fruiting stages with little stress.

Farmers and Extension specialists suggest that storage facilities may be hard-pressed to hold all the grain sorghum farmers are just beginning to harvest.

“Our corn and grain sorghum are in good condition and yields should be very good,” said Jeff Stapper, Extension agent, San Patricio County. “The later planted sorghum could use a rain to help finish the crop. Cotton currently has a very good fruit load and needs a rain to finish it out.”

Conditions varied widely in mid-June, as the counties adjoining and just to the north and those farther south of Corpus Christi had begun to run out of soil moisture. Farmers near Robstown and on down the coast into Kleberg County, near Kingsville, had begun to see wide cracks in the heavy clay soil and some plants wilting in the late afternoon heat.

“We need one or two more rains to make this cotton crop,” said Ernest Bippert, Kleberg County cotton and grain producer. Bippert had already started applying Roundup over the top of his grain sorghum to hasten dry down for harvest.

Nearby farmers Glen Quackenbush and David Schubert said cotton looked good but needed a little more rain to finish. Grain sorghum prospects also seemed promising, they said.

John Prince, Nueces County farmer, said his cotton had “too much water” early on. “I had to replant 600 acres three times. We had cool weather and not enough heat units. The crop is not uniform and it’s going to be tough to schedule harvest aids.”

Prince says some of his acreage offers as good a yield potential as it did last year, when he made two-bales per acre, but needs another good rain or two.

Nueces County Extension agent Harvey Buehring says the 2003 cotton crop set a county record at an average 1,020 pounds per acre.

Buehring said rains the third week of June helped the cotton crop. “Robstown got about an inch and a half,” he said. “The Chapman Ranch area had almost 3 inches and many other Nueces County locations were in the 2-inch range. Eastern San Patricio got 4 to 5 inches.”

Rain delayed sorghum harvest, however. “Our earliest grain plot was scheduled for harvest June 22.” Harvest may be delayed as much as a week, he said.

“Cotton is the major beneficiary of these rains,” Buehring said.

In San Patricio County, Clarence Chopless also struggled with too much water early and would like to see a bit more rain at the tail end of the season to finish his crop.

“I had some fields under water seven times in nine weeks,” he said. “It could be a mess at harvest and difficult to defoliate.”

“Cotton looks good so far,” said James Adams, another San Patricio County farmer. “My corn and grain sorghum also look good. We may see one of our best corn yields ever.”

Victoria County, about 100 miles up the coast from Corpus Christi, struggled with a different dilemma in mid-August – too much water. Farmers expressed some concern that frequent rain could damage a promising grain sorghum crop, but they also said cotton would need one or two more timely rains to make yield goals.

Roy Jurica and Raymond Brandl said cotton, grain sorghum and soybeans all hold promise for exceptionally good yields, with a little help from Mother Nature.

Prospects may be on the bubble across the region, says Steve Livingston, Texas Extension agronomist at Corpus Christi.

“The Lower Gulf Coast cotton is probably 80 percent bloomed-out-the-top,” Livingston said. “Recent rains can only help the cotton. With these blooms requiring up to 42 days to make open bolls, a lot of cotton should be ready to pick on or around the first of August. Some will be picked sooner than that, especially in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.”

Livingston said the Valley “is usually two weeks earlier than we are here on the Lower Gulf Coast. This year, because they missed some of the rains we got, they may be even earlier with sorghum and cotton.”

He says the sorghum crops looks good with yields estimated at 3,000 to 7,000 pounds per acre, “depending on where you are standing. I think there will be a lot of 5,500 to 6,000 pound per acre sorghum where things went well. Current concerns include (potential for) heavy heads lodging from wind or storms, and grain weathering from heavy rainfall activity in the next three weeks.”

Livingston said sorghum was rated at 18 percent moisture June 21, with 14 percent considered safe for short-term storage.

“Grain carts and tractors are moving up and down Highway 77 and other highways, positioning to start harvesting as soon as the sorghum is dry enough to take. As for corn, it is standing well and looks good. Yields of 85 to 135 bushels per acre should be common. Many farmers may make the highest corn yields of the last 10 to15 years.

“Again, I’m concerned about high winds, storms and hail damage. Until the corn is harvested, it could have problems with the elements. I don’t expect aflatoxin this year. The shuck cover on the ears is good and corn earworm damage is also less. Corn that was planted on time is excellent.”

Livingston said cattle producers also have reason for optimism. “Pastures are great. The first cutting of hay was lost or diminished due to extensive rain and lack of good cutting and curing weather, but cattle are fat and livestock looks good everywhere. We had a forage meeting in Victoria recently with 125 farmers present.”

Livingston said prospects for a good crop year have raised farmers’ spirits. “Spirits seem high everywhere concerning this years crops. We are optimistic for getting our crops harvested and paying some bills in 2004. Some open weather during sorghum harvest would be appreciated.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com