Writer: Tim W. McAlavy, (806) 746-4051
ORLANDO, Fla. — Texas cotton producers were not alone in weathering through a poor production season during 1998, according to a panel of agronomists providing a year in review retrospective of last year s growing conditions at recent the Beltwide Cotton Conference here.
From the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, producers faced growing conditions that progressed from bad to worse, the panel said.
In the southeastern United States, many growers began the season financially stressed due to a drought in 1997. Still, growers were fairly optimistic as the season began with fair weather and good planting conditions.
“Overall, growers in the Southeast planted 5 percent fewer acres to cotton in 1998 than in 1997,” said Michael A. Jones, Clemson University Extension cotton specialist. “That weather evaporated quickly as the season progressed, however. By late season, we were in dire need of rainfall.
“When rain did arrive, it helped the crop along but exacerbated our problems with plant disease and insect pests. As a result, production costs were higher this year, and producers brought in a crop characterized by smaller than normal bolls, high micronaire and short staple length.”
Mid-South producers didn’t fare much better.
“We had a pretty good start, but overall, our growers characterized 1998 as a bad year,” said G. Boyd Padgett, Extension cotton specialist at Louisiana State University. “We were hit by a mild drought just before mid-season and didn’t get any substantial, beneficial rains until late in the growing season.
“Late rains actually lowered our yields by raising disease and insect pressure and encouraging boll rot. The late rains also hampered defoliation and harvest, leaving most producers with a low- grade crop and very little profit. We only planted 3.1 million acres in the Mid-South in 1998, down from both 1997 and our five-year average.”
Southwest cotton producers (Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico) faced a record dry year which cut production substantially.
“In the Texas High Plains and South Plains, we received only 1.9 inches of rainfall from April through July and only 6 inches of total rainfall for the entire 1998 growing season,” reported Randy Boman, Texas Agricultural Extension Service cotton agronomist based in Lubbock. “Last year was our driest growing season on record.”
“As a result, we lost more than 1 million acres of dryland cotton, and only those producers equipped with irrigation managed to produce a crop. Among irrigated producers, center pivot and subsurface drip irrigation systems performed best. In fact, our producers with Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) systems on average produced one-half bale more per acre than pivots equipped with low profile spray drop lines.”
Producers of Ultra Narrow Row (UNR) cotton, especially those farming north of Lubbock, produced respectable to higher-than-normal yields — perhaps the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal production year, Boman said.
Cotton growers in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico planted 5.4 million cotton acres last year but only produced 3.5 million bales from an estimated 3.2 million harvested acres — a sharp reduction from the 5.5 million bales they normally produce in a good season.
Western producers in California and Arizona weathered poor growing conditions from start to finish in 1998.
“We didn’t even have a good start to get our crop going,” said Robert B. Hutmacher, University of California Extension cotton agronomist. “Our entire growing season was too cool. The heat units we needed for normal production just weren’t there due to fluctuating weather.
“Our growers produced a late crop plagued by high disease and insect pressure, poor stand survival and poor fruit (boll) retention. Producers planted fewer acres of Upland cotton in California and Arizona last year. On the other hand, Pima cotton acres increased in California but decrease substantially in Arizona.”
The panel of agronomists also noted in conclusion that producers “beltwide” are waiting anxiously for new transgenic cotton varieties (those genetically altered for higher yield potential and insect- disease resistance), and that producer enthusiasm and interest in UNR production and regional Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs remains strong.