Writer: Rod Santa Ana III, (956) 968-5585,firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: John Norman, (956) 968-5581,email@example.com
WESLACO — Most, if not all, of the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s 1999 cotton crop has been planted.
John Norman, cotton IPM entomologist at the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Weslaco, estimates the cotton acreage total at 240,000 acres, roughly what it was last year.
And like last year, a lack of moisture and low market prices will be a major concern this year.
“A few growers,” Norman says, “have already had to irrigate to either get a stand or to keep the plants growing. But overall, the Valley’s young cotton crop is doing well and growing rapidly.”
Norman says there have been plenty of heat units to promote growth, but wind has been a problem since at high velocities, it can strip young plants of leaves.
And, of course, if winds continue, it will only dry up any soil moisture that’s out there.
If root growth can reach down to deep soil moisture, plants may not need additional water until about mid-May. But if rain fails to fall by then, problems could start early.
“Especially for dryland cotton,” he says. “If we don’t get any rainfall in the next six weeks, those growers could be in the same shape they were in last year when they were able to produce only a short crop.
Many of those dryland growers in deep South Texas who did make a crop last year did so only with soil moisture, and most were surprised just how far that moisture was able to carry them. They still came up with below-average yields, but soil moisture got them through to harvest.
Norman says the latest October futures he’d seen were at about 60 cents per pound, which translates into 55- or 56-cent-per-pound contracts that are finding few takers, especially when you consider that the break-even price for Valley growers is about 80 cents per pound.
With market prices so far below break-even, why farm cotton? Norman says that despite it all, Valley growers are gambling that rain will provide a good crop this year and bring much better profits than a good crop of corn or sorghum would bring.
“Bottom line,” Norman said, “is that the weather has to cooperate. We need both rain and heat at the right times in the growing season. If not, everything else is academic.”