Dryland cotton fields throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley are wilting under relentless heat and severe lack of rain. Irrigated cotton fields are growing well, but those without irrigation are suffering, a Texas Cooperative Extension expert said.

To help alleviate producer losses, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs has authorized $5-per-acre rebates from the Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation for affected growers who plow up their fields by May 15.

The rebates will be paid to growers in early 2007 if they can keep their fields free of cotton capable of supporting boll weevil feeding and reproduction through 2006, according to a foundation news release.

“Due to the extremely dry situation, very few dryland fields here in the Valley had any kind of crop come up after planting,” said Manda Cattaneo, Extension cotton integrated pest management entomologist at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. “Those fields that did have a stand were very thin stands, so the steering committee of the eradication program suggested the foundation provide an expanded stalk-destruction rebate program, which has now been approved by Commissioner Combs.”

The rebate would be applied to fees growers pay for the boll weevil eradication program, now in its first full year of insecticide spray operations since being approved by growers in late 2004.

Dryland farmers were assessed $14 per acre this season; irrigated farmers pay $28.

A $2 per acre rebate will be paid to growers who plow up their cotton stalks by Aug. 20 and keep their fields clean through Dec. 31, Cattaneo said.

“Hopefully, these rebates will encourage growers to destroy non-productive stalks as soon as possible so that there are no squares or bolls where boll weevils can survive,” she said. “The sooner we can get stalks destroyed, the less time weevils will have to feed and reproduce.”

Boll weevils have been the main pest of Valley cotton growers for about a century. Millions of dollars are lost annually to insecticides and lost production.

John Norman, retired Extension cotton entomologist and now a private consultant, said he’s never seen such widespread dry conditions.

“Without sufficient rain this week,” he said, “these dryland fields will be done. Many were being plowed up last week. In fact, in my 30-plus years here, I’ve never seen the whole Rio Grande Valley as dry as it is right now. I’ve seen individual fields and certain areas that were dry, but not the entire Valley like it is now.”

Norman said this year’s planted cotton crop is estimated at about 225,000 acres, about half in dryland fields.

“The mix used to be 60 percent irrigated to 40 percent dryland,” he said, “but lately it’s been shifting to more dryland, probably due to urbanization, which takes up irrigated fields.”

Crop insurance will pay for some losses, but Norman said growers never recover all losses.

“Fortunately, dryland farmers have only invested in their crops what it cost to prepare the land and plant the seed,” he said. “And many fields just didn’t come up. It’s amazing. There will be losses, some of which will be mitigated by insurance, but the losses extend beyond the grower to the agribusiness community that won’t work or will work a very short season, such as cotton gins and others.”

For more information on the rebate program, contact the foundation’s office in Harlingen at (956) 412-3340, or Cattaneo at (956) 968-5581.