Texas Field Reports: Wet Conditions Continue to Slow Cotton Harvest, Reduce Quality

Snow covered cotton. Photo: Kay Ledbetter, Texas AgriLIfe Extension

Rain continues to cause issues for cotton growers hoping to harvest their crops around the state, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Gaylon Morgan, AgriLife Extension state cotton specialist, College Station, said frequent 1- to 2-inch rains have continued to delay access to fields and cool, cloudy days are not offering ideal drying conditions. He estimated 15 percent of cotton acres in the Upper Gulf Coast, 30-40 percent of acres in the Blacklands and 60-70 percent of cotton acres in the Brazos River Bottom were yet to be harvested.

“Not much has changed,” he said. “There have been very little cotton acres harvested in the Brazos River Bottom and Blacklands up to north of Dallas, and fiber quality continues to go down.”

Morgan said he does not know at what point harvesting those acres will not be financially feasible, and will be highly variable by farm. Hand-harvested samples taken by Morgan in the Brazos River Bottom had a loan value of 44 cents per pound due to its lower color grade, compared to a loan value of 54 cents per pound in September harvest, Morgan said.

Dr. John Robinson, AgriLife Extension cotton marketing economist, College Station, said the lower cotton value represents a 10-plus cent discount to growers per pound harvested.

“Reduced quality may not lower cotton’s futures price at all,” he said. “Rather, poor quality will be reflected in discounted cash prices to individual growers. Either way, the price of base grade cotton may not be changed much from this emerging problem.”

Reduced production may also be offset by weakening export demand, Robinson said.

So far, the price of cotton doesn’t look to be rising on the expectation losses from drought early in the season and poor harvesting conditions late, Morgan said.

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“Price spikes aren’t expected because losing those acres would not be significant in the grand scheme of things statewide,” he said. “They might be significant for individual growers, but you won’t see a bump in prices from it unless the problem continues into cotton acres in the Rolling Plains and High Plains.”

Morgan said cotton growers in the Rolling and High Plains have begun harvesting but have faced some delays, including 2-6 inches of snow recently in northern High Plains. Producers near Tulia were moving quickly in an attempt to harvest before a weekend storm brought freezing temperatures and snow.

Specialists in the regions estimated 30-40 percent of the crop in the Southern High Plains and Rolling Plains were harvested. Producers were expected to gain access to fields by next week, and 40-50 percent of the Panhandle crop was harvested before the snowstorm. Stripping will likely extend into January due to weather.

Freezing temperatures are typically not detrimental to mature bolls and cotton lint, and many growers depend on a freeze as a natural leaf desiccant, Morgan said. But the snow represents further delays in harvest and possible quality issues.

At this point, the only silver lining from late-season rains is that much of the state’s soil moisture profile will be in good condition for the 2019 growing season, Morgan said.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: All areas were too wet to harvest anything, and more rain was received. Corn silage growers were having to pull choppers through fields in an attempt to beat freezing temperatures in the forecast.

Many hay acres were not expected to be cut in time. Producers started to see hoof rot in many beef herds. Some supplemental feeding was increasing. Farmers were waiting for soil to dry enough to plant small winter grains. Nearly all counties reported surplus soil moisture.

Most counties reported poor overall rangeland and pasture conditions and fair livestock conditions. A majority of counties reported poor overall crop conditions.

ROLLING PLAINS: Cold, wet weather set in across the district. Topsoil needed to dry out more for the cotton harvest and planting of wheat. Pastures and wheat land that were planted were in fair to good condition going into winter.

Area cotton fields were being defoliated by plane. Hard freezes were reported in much of the district and were expected to eliminate the need for defoliation. The cotton crop ranged from fair to poor condition with isolated irrigated fields in good condition.

Cattle producers reported lice issues increased. Stocker producers started grazing cattle on winter wheat pastures.

COASTAL BEND: No report.

EAST: Temperatures dropped to just above freezing, and rains continued. Cherokee, Gregg and Marion counties reported ponds were full. Producers in Anderson, Harrison, Panola, Shelby and Wood counties reported most pastures were too wet to harvest. Cherokee County producers continued to bale silage due to continued rainfall.

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Gregg County reported winter forage was making excellent growth while producers harvested warm season forages amid critically low hay supplies. Sabine County reported hay season was over for producers. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good throughout the district.

Anderson County reported it was too wet to plant winter wheat, while Upshur and Smith counties began preparations. Marion County producers finished planting fall gardens. Anderson County pecan harvest was slowed due to rain. Subsoil conditions were adequate. Topsoil conditions were also adequate.

Anderson County reported weak prices on cull cows and calf weight classes continued. Shelby County cattle prices continued to be poor, and calf prices slipped some but not drastically. All livestock were reported in fair body condition with supplemental feeding taking place. Wild pigs continued to cause damage in Anderson, Shelby and Upshur counties.

SOUTH PLAINS: Some counties received 1-3 inches of snow, and temperatures were well below freezing. Subsoil and topsoil moisture conditions caused producers to halt harvest until conditions dried. However, the moisture continued to improve pasture, rangeland and winter wheat conditions. Cattle continued to be in good condition.

PANHANDLE: Temperatures were much colder, but near average for this time of year. Most areas received some type of moisture. Soil moisture levels were mostly adequate. Producers were watching for signs of rust in wheat.

Cotton producers were slowly stripping cotton, though some were delayed by 3-5 inches of snow. Corn harvesting resumed following recent rain events but were on hold again. Wheat plantings were expected to continue when conditions dry. Cotton and peanuts looked good, and cattle and pasture conditions continued to hold.

NORTH: The first freeze was reported with temperatures around 29 degrees. Counties reported 3-5 inches of rain. Soils were saturated with water standing in pastures. Gopher holes were sinking and causing unlevel ground. Many farmers had not planted their winter wheat yet due to wet conditions.

Planted wheat was up but not growing, and wheat in water was yellowing. Pastures were waterlogged too with hardly any growth from grasses over the last few weeks. Some rye was beginning to grow. Hay producers had no luck salvaging remaining pastures.

Stocker calves were few and far between, and producers with them paid high costs saving wheat from armyworms with not much in return for grazing. Cattle ranchers were fighting mud and water to get calves weaned and shipped to market.

FAR WEST: Temperatures continued to fluctuate with nights and mornings in the high 30s with days warming up to the low 80s. Some areas received small amounts of rain. Rain received should help establish crops in early spring. Producers prepared for the first freeze. Pecans were dropping.

Weed and grass growth along right of ways was a concern. Winter wheat was making a good stand. Dryland cotton didn’t produce very much. Irrigated cotton seemed OK, and mature fields were being harvested. Fall deworming of livestock was ongoing.

WEST CENTRAL: The reporting period began with unseasonably warm temperatures in the upper 80s but ended with a cold front that brought daily temperatures 20 degrees below normal for this time of year.

Opening weekend of deer season was busy, but muddy fields and pastures caused big headaches for hunters by limiting access by ATV or vehicle. There were many reports of hunters dealing with ATVs and trucks stuck in the mud. Despite the challenges, turnout and white-tailed deer harvest appeared good.

Producers and ranchers were still dealing with limited access to pastures and fields as well. Very little fieldwork was done due to wet conditions. Some hay was harvested where possible. Cotton harvest continued to be delayed. Some harvesting could begin within a few days in some areas if no more rain falls.

The first freeze of the season was in the forecast. The cattle market was steady for all classes.

SOUTHEAST: Thunderstorms were reported in some areas, with some flooding. Waller County experienced some snow flurries, and most counties continued to deal with wet conditions. Wet conditions were preventing the completion of the cotton harvest. In Jefferson County, winter ryegrass was being planted. Ratoon rice still needed to be harvested.

The final cutting of hay was likely to be lost as freezing temperatures linger, and fields were still wet. Hay was expected to be in short supply for winter. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to very poor with good ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus, with surplus being most common.

SOUTHWEST: Moisture conditions continued to be wet as more rain showers were received. Temperatures were mild. Conditions allowed for rangelands and pastures to continue to be excellent. Hay harvest and wheat and oat planting occurred where soil conditions allowed. Livestock remained in good condition.

SOUTH: The northern and eastern parts of the district reported cool weather and a continuation of adequate soil moisture levels. Western parts reported mild weather and adequate soil moisture. Southern parts reported warm weather and adequate soil moisture. Half an inch to 2 inches of rain were reported by scattered counties.

Peanut producers were harvesting in full swing, while some were trying to get their crops out, but wet conditions were limiting access to fields. Hay producers were trying to make final cuttings.

Frio County reported mild temperatures and rainfall at the end of the week. Wheat and oat planting continued and should be completed soon. Pasture and rangeland conditions were very good. No supplemental feeding was reported. Some producers were trying to plant oats for wildlife food plots and to make a final hay season cutting.

Body condition scores on cattle remained good and were improving due to forage availability. Armyworms were blamed for poor pasture conditions in some areas. Farmers were finished with crops like watermelons and cantaloupes, and Coastal Bermuda grass was not growing.

In Zavala County, conditions allowed for field work to resume, and producers resumed planting spinach and cabbage. Pecan producers were completing damage assessments from rains that fell at the peak of harvest. Dryland wheat and oat crops responded well to recent moisture. The first freeze was in the forecast. Warm temperatures and sunny days aided buffelgrass growth.

In Hidalgo County, harvests continued in sugarcane, citrus and vegetables. Row crop field work was very active.


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