Cotton planting is underway, and Texas acres are expected to be up amid good prices and lingering drought conditions.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service statewide cotton specialist Ben McKnight, Ph.D., and John Robinson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension cotton market economist, both in Bryan-College Station, said cotton remains very competitive with other warm-season crops. They also note some planting decisions could come down to growers’ decisions or options and available soil moisture.
Both McKnight and Robinson expect around 7 million acres of cotton could be planted in Texas.
Early grower surveys forecast up to 12.5 million acres of cotton to be planted in the U.S., Robinson said. That would represent a 6.8% year-to-year increase compared to the 11.7 million acres planted in 2021.
For some perspective, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 13.7 million acres of cotton were planted in 2019, before the pandemic curtailed demand.
McKnight said cotton plantings in the Rio Grande Valley should begin to ramp up next week. Planting in other regions of the state will move north as soil temperatures consistently reach above 60 degrees.
“When soil temperatures are warmer, in the 65-70 degrees range, it cuts the time it takes to get a good stand,” he said. “Last year, in our test plots, we had a cold front that dropped air temperatures into the low 40s after planting, and you could really tell the swing impacted cotton emergence.”
Cotton, crops vs. drought
Soil temperature will guide early planting, but soil moisture will also be a major consideration for planting dates and could help producers decide what crop to plant, McKnight said. On one hand, increasingly dry conditions and a continued La Niña weather pattern could drive producers away from corn to more drought-tolerant crops like cotton.
But cotton fields need adequate soil moisture to emerge and survive much less yield at harvest, he said. Much of the Lower Rio Grande Valley is irrigated, as is the High Plains, but prolonged drought conditions are a concern for dryland producers in West Texas and the Texas Plains.
“The drought monitor map is showing dry or droughty conditions in a lot of the state,” McKnight said. “Weather will play a big part in how the crops perform, but going into planting, it could also play into growers’ decisions on what to plant.”
Commodity prices vs. input costs
McKnight and Robinson said commodity prices and input costs will also weigh into planting decisions. If there is flexibility in crop rotation decisions, the price of nitrogen fertilizer could shift corn acres to cotton.
“Corn takes more moisture and more nitrogen, so both of those things reinforce planting more cotton under these conditions,” Robinson said.
McKnight said high input costs and concerns about product availability is making growers more aware of the value in precise applications and better planning to maximize profit opportunities.
Cotton futures prices have been hovering for weeks at relatively high levels, between $1 and $1.05 per pound, Robinson said. Corn prices have also been high – around $5.70 per bushel. If there is a choice to be made, Robinson suspects corn could lose acres to cotton or other crops in areas of the state with viable options.
Soybeans could be an option for some acres, he said. The crop requires the least amount of inputs,is drought tolerant, and is experiencing similar high prices. But soybeans are best suited for cropping east of Interstate 35.
Robinson said there is a price incentive to get crops in the ground and insure them to hedge against losses.
“Last year it was dry and then rains started in May,” he said. “There were some early acres that failed and had to be replanted, but October was perfect, and it all lined up to make a good year for cotton growers. The official cotton crop insurance price is going to average around that $1 to $1.05, so the incentive is to plant, insure the crop, and see what happens.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Soil moisture conditions were deteriorating following another generally dry and windy week. Some light precipitation was reported. Winter wheat was developing well, with some fields reaching flag leaf stage. Earlier planted wheat fields were expected to begin heading next week. Oat fields were recovering somewhat from the freeze, but stand losses were evident. Corn planting was nearly complete, and corn acres were up again this season. Pre-emergence herbicide applications on wheat continued. Nighttime temperatures were still too cool for sorghum planting. Sorghum seed sales were up, and more acres were expected to be planted this season. There was some urgency to have all sorghum planting completed before March to avoid insect pest problems later. Cotton acres may decline further this year. Pastures were greening up, and the winter forages put on more growth. Livestock were in excellent shape.
Some areas reported one-half inch to 1 inch of rainfall. The wheat responded slightly with better color, but the crop remained in mostly very poor condition. No farming activity was reported. Pasture conditions did not improve, and supplemental feeding of livestock continued.
Conditions were very dry and windy. Fields were ready to be planted. Some fertilizer was applied to row crop fields that were expected to be planted with corn next week. Wheat, oats and ryegrass were still holding on, but rain will be needed soon. Feeding hay and protein supplements continued. Cattle remained in fair to good condition with prices still very high.
Some areas received much-needed rainfall, while others were still left dry. The lack of moisture was hurting winter pasture growth. Pasture and rangeland conditions were very poor. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were short to adequate. Cattle prices were higher than the previous week, but sale volumes remained low. Livestock were in fair to good condition with supplemental feeding taking place. Fertilizer prices still have many producers worried. Wild pig activity continued to be a problem.
A small thunderstorm brought rain but not enough precipitation to make a difference. One county reported trace amounts up to one half inch of rainfall. More rain was needed for all aspects of agriculture. Cattle were in good condition.
Conditions remained extremely dry. Soil moisture levels were very short to short. Fieldwork included putting out compost/manure and dry fertilizer for planting. Winter wheat continued to struggle from a lack of moisture. Some producers were beginning to irrigate wheat on warmer days. Livestock were in fair condition with daily supplemental feeding. Hay supplies were good.
Soil moisture ranged from very short to adequate. Some precipitation was received and should help winter pastures. Wheat showed some signs of relief and was mostly fair to good. Oats were reported to be very poor to good, but mostly fair. Pasture and rangeland were very poor to fair. Livestock were stressed by changing weather patterns.
Temperatures were in the mid-70s during the day and in the low 30s overnight for most of the reporting period. Small portions of the district received trace amounts of rain, but most areas do not have enough moisture for cover crops or to sand fight. Heavy winds were received with power outages reported. Drought conditions continued and growers were trying to decide what to do this summer. A few producers began to pre-water fields for the upcoming cotton crop. Most producers were not going to irrigate until significant rainfall improves subsoil moisture. Wheat was nearly non-existent with only a couple of irrigated fields that have not failed. The irrigated wheat was in very poor condition as irrigation was limited. Wheat was behind this year, but remaining fields have begun to joint. Cotton ginning continued, and producers finished up pecan harvest. Stocking rates were extremely low, and some producers were culling deeper to reduce supplemental feed requirements. Cow-calf operations were preparing for springtime herd work.
Weather was variable. Much-needed moisture the last couple of weeks was very beneficial. Some winter grass greened up. Forages were extremely dry and very few winter annuals were present. Wildfire outbreaks occurred. Some field preparation for spring planting occurred. Supplemental feeding of livestock remained heavy.
Some moisture was reported, but soil moisture was below normal. The district experienced 80-degree days that dipped to the 50s with nighttime temperatures in the 30s. Humidity levels were high. Warmer temperatures boosted growth and recovery by winter forages. Cool-season legumes were extremely behind on growth this year, and many fields were barely managing to germinate with very little above-ground growth reported. Rangeland and pasture ratings were very poor to fair. Soil moisture levels ranged from very short to surplus with most counties reporting adequate conditions.
Dry and windy weather conditions continued across the district. Fire dangers increased with dry vegetation and lack of moisture. Pastures continued to decline with little to no winter weeds due to drought conditions. Producers were preparing to plant corn. Wheat under irrigation was in good condition. Lambing and kidding season began. Livestock were in fair condition and supplemental feeding continued.
Temperatures dipped into the 40s with most days in the 70s with a high of 88 degrees reported in Willacy County. No moisture was reported. Soil moisture levels in northern, western and eastern parts of the district remained very short. Field conditions were deteriorating. Wind speeds increased and fire hazards were high. A few fires were reported. One fire consumed more than 200 bales of hay. Farmers were calibrating equipment for corn and sorghum planting. Fieldwork was mostly at a standstill as farmers waited for warmer temperatures to plant. Some farmers were still preparing soil for planting. A few farmers in southern parts of the district planted some sorghum and cotton. Rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly poor. Livestock and wildlife were receiving heavy rations of supplemental feed. Feed and hay were in higher demand. Ranchers were selling calves at lighter weights, but prices were steady. Coastal Bermuda grass remained dormant but was being irrigated. Producers in southern areas of the region with more moisture were reporting decent pasture conditions and good body scores in cattle. Citrus, sugarcane and winter vegetable harvests continued. Some producers continued to trim citrus trees as part of rehabilitation efforts.