Producers in Texas’ Cotton Belt reported lower than expected yields as a result of a tough beginning, middle and end to the 2019 growing season, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Jourdan Bell, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo, said the 2019 season started “rough” for cotton producers in the Panhandle. Extended rain and wet conditions delayed plantings, and many producers missed the deadline to have seeds in the ground.
“There was a reduction in planted acres due to planting delays by weather,” she said. “This far north, it’s important to hit the May window, and many producers didn’t this year.”
Spring rains preceded drought and high temperatures, which stressed cotton on dryland and limited irrigated fields, she said. Stressed plants dropped blooms and bolls, which reduced yields and led to quality problems. As a result, micronaire, an indication of the fiber fineness, were higher than preferred in some fields, which resulted in quality discounts.
“Essentially, there is too much plant for the boll load, resulting in thick fibers,” she said. “There’s a sweet spot when it comes to cotton. Too thin and it breaks, too thick you have knotting. If you have plants dropping half their bolls, they’re putting more energy into the remaining bolls and creating a thicker fiber.”
Fiber color grades were also poor, Bell said, due to exposure to late-season rain and snowfall.
Although per-acre yields were down compared to 2018, Bell said harvested Panhandle fields were still competitive with other cotton production regions, with average yields ranging from 500-1,800 pounds per acre.
Bell said the Panhandle experienced an early freeze that dipped into the teens for more than two hours. The low temperatures froze immature bolls shut. Some producers applied boll openers prior to the freeze, but the freeze likely caused some losses in up to 40% of fields in the region.
“Once bolls freeze shut, there’s no opening them,” she said. “Although only the upper, immature bolls were affected, this still resulted in a yield loss on many fields. The duration and severity of the freezing temperatures caught many growers off guard.”
South Plains Cotton
Murilo Maeda, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock, said conditions in the South Plains region were challenging despite good moisture levels at planting. Heavy spring storms, including hail, forced many growers to replant their fields.
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Yields, as in the Panhandle, didn’t meet expectations due to drought and high temperatures, he said. Temperatures were above 90 degrees for 27 days in July and 29 days during August, while rainfall amounts for the months were 4.5 inches and 2.14 inches, respectively.
“While yields are definitely lower than expected by as much as 20%-30% in some cases, we cannot overlook the fact that many fields did not get any meaningful precipitation after crop establishment,” he said. “The heat, coupled with the lack of rainfall during peak crop water demand, made it clear why yields were lower than initial expectations.”
Irrigated fields produced 1.5-2 bales per acre, while dryland fields produced one quarter to a half bale per acre, he said.
The weather even challenged irrigated fields as arid conditions created high evaporative water demand that made it difficult for pivots to keep up, she said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: A little rain was reported in some areas with little to no accumulation. Wheat and oats were off to a good start with recent rains. Pasture conditions continued to decline as warm-season grasses went dormant. Ponds were starting to show signs of drought stress. Cattle were in good condition with producers feeding hay and supplemental nutrition. Nearly all counties reported short soil moisture levels.
Rolling Plains: Areas of the district received much-needed rainfall. Winter wheat conditions varied from very poor to good depending on planting date. Cow-calf and stocker operations were providing protein supplements and hay where forages were limited. Cotton harvest continued.
Coastal Bend: Soil moisture levels were beginning to dry out again. Rowcrop fieldwork continued in preparation for spring planting. Ratoon rice crop harvest was almost complete with varying yields and quality reported.
The early frost and freeze caused damage in most rice fields. Freeze damage and sandhill cranes were responsible for most damage to the ratoon rice crop this season. Cattle were in fair condition on supplemental feed. Some late hay was cut and baled. Cool-season forages germinated, but moisture was needed to initiate growth. Pecan harvest continued.
East: Areas of the district that received good amounts of rain experienced good growth of winter cover crops. Other areas that remained in drought-like conditions showed little to no growth. Many counties needed more rain. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Livestock were in fair to good condition with producers providing supplemental feed. Houston County received reports of flies. Wild pigs continued to cause damage in pastures and hay meadows.
South Plains: Farmers were still harvesting cotton with average to below average yields reported. Two days of cooler temperatures and very strong winds kept farmers from planting winter wheat or oats. Most wheat fields were planted, but fields without irrigation were struggling. Freezing rain did not provide adequate moisture. Sunflowers not-yet-harvested were expected to be destroyed. Cattle were in good condition.
Panhandle: Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. The district experienced high, drying winds with little moisture. Winter wheat had emerged and was in fair condition. Cotton and soybean harvests were complete. Subsoil and topsoil levels were adequate.
North: Topsoil moisture levels were mostly adequate. Small amounts of precipitation were keeping moisture levels good. Some counties reported 1.5-2 inches of rainfall. The district experienced warm temperatures. Winter wheat emerged and looked good. Winter pastures planted early experienced some growth following rain and sunshine. Livestock were in good condition. Most producers were feeding hay. Cow-calf producers had weaned, culled, shipped and marketed their calf crops and cull cows. Fall calving should be complete soon.
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Far West: Temperatures were in the upper 70s with lows in the mid-30s. Precipitation averaged between trace amounts up to 1.5 inches. The weather was good for harvest and planting. Winter wheat and oats were still too short for grazing. Cotton harvest was almost complete. Pecans continued to fall, and the quality of mature pecans was very good. Livestock conditions were fair while rangeland conditions were poor. Livestock producers provided supplemental feed to livestock in areas where conditions were dry and forage quality was low.
West Central: Temperatures were cooler, and light rain was reported. Cotton harvest continued. Winter wheat planting was in full swing, and producers were finally seeing emergence following recent rains. Condition of emerged wheat improved, but it was still too early for grazing. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor. Producers were feeding livestock.
Southeast: Winter pastures looked good despite cooler temperatures. Some areas experienced warmer temperatures, which allowed for significant cool-season forage development. Livestock were in good health, and most producers have hay for the winter.
Chambers County reported rain, but everything was drying up. Producers began planting ryegrass. The forecast called for dropping temperatures. Rangeland and pasture ratings were fair to very poor, with good ratings being most common. Soil-moisture levels ranged from adequate to very short with adequate being most common.
Southwest: Seasonal to warmer temperatures were reported. Trace amounts of rain were reported, but dry conditions continued. Rangeland and pasture conditions improved in counties that received moisture. Livestock were in fair condition, and supplemental feeding continued.
South: Mild weather and adequate to very short soil moisture levels were reported. Maverick County reported no rain and high temperatures of 85 degrees and lows around 50 degrees. Dimmit County reported trace amounts of rain. Soil moisture conditions in Jim Wells County continued to decline. Conditions were dry in Atascosa County, and peanut harvest was about 75% complete and nearing completion in other counties.
Small grains had emerged but still needed rain. Fields that received rain responded well to moisture. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair, and livestock supplemental feeding continued. Some producers reported reduced supplemental feeding for livestock and wildlife. Bermuda grass was dormant. Spinach harvest was active, and cabbage made good progress. Fall vegetables crops in Starr County were progressing well.
Producers were shipping hay. Prices for round bales were starting to exceed $65 for 1,000-pound round bales of medium quality hay. High quality hay was approaching $100 per bale. Hidalgo County producers were preparing fields for spring planting. Some growers have done some preplant watering to keep moisture at reasonable levels.