This year's cotton harvest is winding down on the South Plains and in Texas, with producers looking forward to better yields and quality than last year, Texas Cooperative Extension reports.

Assistant professor and Extension agronomist Dr. Randal Boman said approximately 60 percent of the nearly 4 million bales of cotton produced in Texas comes from the South Plains.

The district, located south of the Panhandle, includes 3.88 million acres of cotton planted in 2000, but because of the drought, only 2.83 million acres were harvested. Dry conditions in July and August caused much non-irrigated acreage to fail.

Boman said, “Conditions have been slightly better this year. Out of the 3.85 million acres that have been planted, it is predicted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that our district will at least harvest 2.85 million acres.”

This is very good for the different counties in the district, especially since several of them have become increasingly cotton dependent over the past few years.

Parmer County Extension Agent Cody Hill said cotton has been planted more than corn because it does not require as much water, and the cost of production for cotton is less. He said it is the same story for many of the counties in the South Plains district.

Cotton producers in some parts of Texas, however, have not had as good a year. In southeast Texas, for example, yields and quality were looking good until late rains came, and farmers were unable to harvest. “Because the economy in these districts does not rest as heavily on cotton, the impact will not be as severe,” Boman said.

“Cotton is normally harvested between September and December,” said Boman. “In most cases, the better quality cotton is harvested early in the season, and we always hope to have all of the harvesting completed by Christmas at the latest.”

Ideal weather conditions for growing cotton include clear skies and mild daytime temperatures between 90 to 95 degrees for the highs and 65 to 70 for the lows. Clear skies are needed because cotton takes many heat units (heat directly from the sun). Generally, the warmer the temperatures, the better the cotton will grow.

“This year has been a good season until recently for most producers (in the South Plains), Boman said, “Cotton, however, has had a great year all year around.”

“The only substantial problem was not receiving a good killing freeze around the first of October. This is when we normally get it. Cotton can only be machine-harvested after proper conditioning, and if a freeze does not come through and kill the plants, open the remaining bolls, and dry down the leaves and stalks, expensive chemicals will have to be used to terminate the plants,” he said.

“There were some spot killing freezes around the 10th of November, but not really enough to take us out. This last go round should probably take it all out, however.”

“Many dryland producers and some lower yielding irrigated producers will wait until a freeze in order to reduce direct production costs.

However, this will generally result in reduced cotton quality (and potentially lower prices), depending upon the weather conditions during the harvest period,” Boman said, “Also, some producers argue that they lose yield fiber (weight loss) if they wait until a freeze conditions the crop for harvest.”

Extension economist Dr. Jackie Smith said cotton prices vary depending on the quality of the crop. “There are several distinguishing factors that determine the quality of cotton, yet the two most important are the color grade and the staple length.”