Drought and untimely late-summer rains likely will mean a subpar 2018 growing season for many Texas cotton producers, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Dr. Gaylon Morgan, AgriLife Extension statewide cotton specialist, College Station, said Texas cotton producers dealt with a myriad of challenges in 2018, including cool spring temperatures, summer drought and late-summer rains.
Three cold fronts early in the season put cotton fields behind and caused some poor emergence and considerable replanting, Morgan said. But summer sun and high temperatures provided enough heat units, and drought actually pushed cotton maturity to initiate harvest earlier than normal in South and East Texas this year.
However, much of the dryland cotton in many parts of the state was starved for moisture due to the dry summer, Morgan said. In South and East Texas, where dryland fields did survive, cotton yields were below average or not worth harvesting.
As the season progressed, hopes were renewed with scattered timely rains and plenty of heat units needed for cotton to develop in the Upper Gulf Coast, Morgan said.
“We got off to a rough start, but had a good looking crop in the Upper Gulf Coast before the rains set in in September,” he said. “Now there’s been a month of off and on wet weather at the wrong time for the remaining cotton in the Upper Gulf Coast and irrigated cotton in the Blacklands.”
Morgan said fields in cotton-producing areas in the lower two-thirds of the state have received continuous rains and much of the Southeast and Coastal Bend is saturated, making accessing fields impossible. It’s the third year in a row that producers around the Upper Gulf Coast and Brazos bottom regions have faced detrimental late-summer rains, including Hurricane Harvey last year.
In many of these areas, harvest is at a standstill, he said. Continuous rains are hurting fiber quality and seed quality in the field, and delays are causing problems such as cottonseed sprouting.
Morgan also said many producers in the rain-soaked parts of Texas had applied defoliant before rains set in and the delays will mean spending more money on harvest aids to bring remaining cotton in.
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Harvest in the Rio Grande Valley was complete, Morgan said, and 95-98 percent of cotton in the Coastal Bend was out before the rains hindered producers. But this wet weather has also prevented destruction of post-harvest cotton stalks, which growers are required to do for continued success of the boll weevil eradication program.
In the Upper Gulf area, including Matagorda County, around 25-35 percent of the crop was still in fields, and 60-70 percent of fields in the Brazos Bottom were still awaiting harvest, he said.
Cotton fields in the Southern Plains and Panhandle should be ready for harvest toward the end of the month, he said. Most dryland cotton in the Southern Plains and Rolling Plains was lost to drought, and producers were beginning to apply harvest aids to early maturing fields.
“We’re looking at an average irrigated crop (in the Southern Plains and Panhandle) because of the heat and irrigation limitations with little to no precipitation all summer,” he said.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, 25 percent of the Texas cotton crop had been harvested, 5 percent ahead of the five-year average, Morgan said. The report also rated the statewide cotton crop at 6 percent excellent; 22 percent good; 34 percent fair; 28 percent poor and 10 percent very poor.
Morgan said areas that needed to dry out in South and East Texas received additional rain this past weekend, which means continued delays and reduced fiber quality. Cottonseed production typically covers ginning costs for producers, but sprouting seeds mean farmers will incur additional ginning costs on top of decreased fiber quality.
Two years ago, somewhat similar conditions and discounts reduced farmer harvest income by 8-10 cents per pound of fiber, Morgan said. However, the cotton remaining in the fields in South and East Texas will likely see lower fiber quality than two years ago, because the extended exposure to weathering.
“All the acres that needed to be harvested were delayed more,” he said. “Everything that remains in the field will get worse until they can get it out.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Good moisture allowed for growth of grasses, but more sunshine would boost late-season growth as producers look to cut once more for winter grazing. Cotton harvest continued throughout the district, though most fields were complete. Pasture conditions were decent and improving. Cattle remained in good body condition.
Armyworms were widespread across the district. Volunteer oats were beginning to come up for producers. Most counties reported good soil moisture. Overall crop and livestock conditions were good in nearly all counties, and rangeland and pasture conditions were fair in nearly all counties.
ROLLING PLAINS: The district received good rains, and more precipitation was in the forecast. Irrigated cotton looked fair to good. Dryland cotton was fair. Wheat was being sewn, and some producers were spraying for fall armyworms, which continued to cause significant damage. Recent rains and cooler temperatures continued to create a perfect environment for future armyworm egg lays and infestations. Hay producers were working hard to salvage a last cutting of hay. Pastures were beginning to green up and looked good again.
COASTAL BEND: The first cold front of the year brought heavy rains throughout the district, adding to already saturated fields. Most cotton left in fields had sprouted. Many round bales of cotton remained in fields because conditions were too wet to move them. Cotton stalk destruction was becoming an issue because it was too wet to get any field work done.
Wet conditions were also delaying hay harvest. Armyworms were becoming a problem for hay producers with fertilized pastures. Winter pastures, including oats, wheat and ryegrass, were being planted as weather allowed. Some producers were concerned that surface water continued to be short despite rains. Weaning of calves was starting. Livestock were doing well.
EAST: Rain showers continued to create productive soil moisture levels throughout the district. Gregg County ponds were still low from the drought. Jasper County had a surplus of rain that caused problems for hay producers. Most producers in Cherokee, Gregg, Harrison, Henderson, Houston, Panola, Shelby, Smith, Wood and Angelina counties reported new infestations of armyworms. Smith County reported producers were scared to plant winter pastures because of armyworm devastation.
Wood County reported products for armyworm control were difficult to find due to stores selling out. Armyworm control in Houston County was halted by rain. Many Cherokee County producers began to wrap haylage instead of putting up dry hay due to rainfall and armyworm infestations. Sabine County’s lower temperatures hurt producers’ efforts to cure and bale hay.
Panola County’s late summer forages continued to come back strong despite ongoing outbreaks of armyworms. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good in most counties. Sabine County reported excellent pasture and rangeland conditions. Subsoil conditions were adequate throughout the district. Topsoil conditions were adequate for all counties except for Polk County, which reported a surplus. Livestock were in fair to good condition.
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Gregg County cattle prices were up a bit, and the market for feeder calves was strong in Houston County due to a strong wheat outlook. Shelby County reported good numbers at the sale barn with solid calf prices, but slaughter cow prices continued to be weak. Henderson County reported large areas were damaged by wild pigs.
SOUTH PLAINS: The district received rainfall again this week ranging from 1-3 inches. The recent moisture improved subsoil and topsoil moisture levels. In turn, it slowed down harvest season. Peanut harvest was halted due to moisture. Area cotton crops continued to finish out. Producers had not reported armyworm infestations yet.
Cotton strippers were expected to be running as soon as conditions dried enough to start harvesting. Silage was still being harvested. Winter wheat growth should improve with the recent moisture. Pastures and rangelands improved. Cattle were in good condition.
PANHANDLE: Much of the district received scattered showers, which improved subsoil and topsoil moisture levels. Corn and soybean harvests continued, as did wheat planting. Earlier planted wheat was emerging nicely. Grain sorghum and cotton was still maturing through much of the district with harvest expected to begin in the next week or two.
Boll openers and defoliators were being applied to cotton, and the majority of fields were rated as fair to good. Some areas were reporting lower yields on corn and were expecting the same to be true in sorghum and cotton due to extreme hot, dry summer conditions. Rangeland and pastures were beginning to mature and dry down. A cool front was beneficial to livestock performance.
NORTH: Most counties reported adequate subsoil and topsoil moisture due to recent rains. Reports of armyworms were coming in from farmers who said this was the worst they’ve seen in 50 years. Some farmers were spraying to curb armyworms as much as possible to allow them to plant winter pastures. Wild pigs were active. Cotton and soybeans were decent. Livestock were doing well, and calves were near weaning.
FAR WEST: Temperature highs were in the low 90s with lows in the high 40s. Rainfall averaged 0.25 of an inch to 2 inches. Cooler temperatures continued along with heavy cloud cover. Although the district was still very dry, conditions for field crops improved significantly. Cotton bolls were opening slowly, and early pecan varieties should be finishing out soon. Producers continue to feed livestock and wildlife.
WEST CENTRAL: Rainfall amounts ranged from a trace to almost 2 inches. Forages looked good with plenty of sunny, warm days. Armyworms continued to be an issue in hay, oat and wheat fields. Livestock body conditions continued to improve with good forage availability in most places. Field preparation and planting continued for small grains, but some producers were electing to delay planting until the threat of armyworms passes.
The cattle market continued a strong active run with stocker steers and heifers selling $5 higher per hundredweight. Pairs, bred cows and feeder steers and heifers sold steady. Packer cows and bulls sold $3 lower per hundredweight.
SOUTHEAST: Conditions were very wet in some parts. Some areas received scattered showers, while other areas received additional heavy rains. Harvest progress with remaining rice was very slow due to rain. Field conditions were nasty.
In Walker County, conditions were good following the rains. However, additional rainfall may create excess situations. There was water standing in low areas, and it was not draining quickly due to saturated soil. Armyworms continued to be a concern, but some producers reported lower numbers.
Cool-season forage plantings should begin with great success when fields can be accessed. Livestock looked healthy. Rangeland and pasture ratings were excellent to poor with fair ratings being most common. Soil-moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate being most common.
SOUTHWEST: Mild temperatures and good soil moisture made grasses green up. Recent rains increased rangeland and pasture conditions considerably. Armyworm infestations were causing problems, and some producers were spraying pastures. Hay was ready to cut, but some producers were waiting for conditions to dry a little. Producers should start wheat, oat and ryegrass planting within the next two weeks.
SOUTH: Temperatures were mild with adequate soil moisture levels in most areas. Eastern parts of the district reported wet conditions and surplus moisture. Some counties reported rainfall, while others were dry this reporting period. Webb County reported 3-6 inches of rain, while Zavala County was dry. The benefits of recent rains were apparent around the district. Live Oak County received 4-17 inches of rainfall in September.
Atascosa County producers reported damp conditions were delaying some cotton harvesting, which should wrap up quickly once producers can access fields. Some areas reported the need for additional rains. Peanuts were ready to be harvested, and fields were good to excellent in some areas, but fungicide applications were being made due to recent rains. Rains helped livestock producers, but they were monitoring reports of armyworms in some counties.
Rangeland and pasture grasses, including Coastal Bermuda grass, were making good growth and improving in quality. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to excellent, and some producers were no longer providing supplemental feed. Some early wheat and oat planting started, but the majority of producers were holding off until armyworms move on. Body condition scores on cattle remained good. Harvests of vegetable crops like watermelons and cantaloupes were almost complete.
In Zavala County, dry conditions allowed cotton harvest to resume, and planting of oats, wheat, spinach and cabbage was underway. Watering tanks were full in most areas.