If cotton producers across the Belt learned anything this year, it’s that they should always expect the unexpected. The reality of that statement was reinforced many times because of weather events.
You name it, and it happened – scorching heat and drought in southern Texas, late planting in the High Plains and record-breaking fall rains throughout much of the Mid-South and Southeast.
However, amid all of these unpredictable conditions, the crop was able to survive in many of these hard-hit regions.
For that reason, as veteran observers always like to say, plenty of lessons were learned as everyone prepares for the 2010 season.
Now, it’s about putting those lessons into action.
Stability In Georgia
If there was a bright spot this year, it was probably in the Southeast and specifically, Georgia. Even with the heavy rains that swept across the region in much of September and October, the major cotton production regions in the southern part of the state dodged the worst of the storms.
“Most of the heavy rain passed north of the cotton production areas in the state,” says Don Shurley, Extension economist based in Tifton, Ga.
“In that respect, Georgia was pretty fortunate. True, there were reports of cotton in the northern part of the state that was only yielding 250 to 300 pounds per acre. But our damage wasn’t nearly comparable to what happened in the Mid-South and parts of Alabama.”
The statistics reinforce what Shurley reports. In the November USDA crop report, the average yield projection for Georgia had dropped from 897 pounds to 873 pounds per acre. However, that still translates to a crop of 1.8 million bales, solidifying Georgia’s ranking as the No. 2 cotton-producing state in the Belt behind Texas.
While the rain was damaging to parts of the Georgia crop, Shurley says it was cold weather temperatures in October that shut down the cotton’s maturity progress.
“Those top three or four fruiting positions simply didn’t have a chance when the cold snap hit,” he says.
Even with the aforementioned weather problems, Shurley believes it is remarkable that Georgia will produce such a large crop this year. And, even more significant is the fact that almost 40 percent of Georgia’s crop wasn’t planted until June.
Had normal conditions been in effect in the fall, Shurley predicts that average yields would have surpassed 900 pounds, pushing the state’s crop production even closer to the two million bale mark.
Another factor that will likely keep Georgia cotton production stable in 2010 is the historical cotton-peanut rotation. Even with the possibility that peanut contracts next year could range between $450 and $475 per ton, Shurley believes cotton acreage may remain stable.
“I’m not saying that corn and soybeans won’t have a place in Georgia,” he says. “But because of how well peanuts fit into a cotton rotation, that may be why cotton acreage consistently stays at the same level.
“Listen, if corn and soybean prices go through the roof, we’ll plant those crops in the sidewalks, if necessary. But I’m not really anticipating that next year.”
Wild Times In Texas
Could there be a better example of the weather rollercoaster than Texas? The state produced 8 million bales just a few years ago when conditions were nearly perfect.
The latest USDA report projects a crop of 4.9 million bales for Texas. The lower estimate is due to several factors – most notably the nearly total lack of a crop in the southern part of the state in the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend areas. This region was hit hard by drought and high temperatures. Spotty rains in the High Plains also affected that region’s dryland yields.
Darren Hudson, director of the Cotton Economics Research Institute at Texas Tech University, says Texas “pretty much dodged a bullet in 2009.”
“It could’ve been a lot worse for us,” he says. “We had weather challenges, but they seemed to wane at the right time for us in the High Plains. The irrigated cotton was pretty good, and the dryland was hit-or-miss.”
The southern part of Texas simply couldn’t attract anything resembling acceptable weather conducive to good cotton production.
“Those farmers in that region will be back,” Hudson says. “This makes two straight years that the weather has turned out bad for them. The tropical storms have improved the soil moisture there, and they just need to catch a break for next year.”
As for the High Plains, he believes it was a case of good fortune that kept the crop progressing. However, the cool temperatures in late September shut down the cotton and prevented it from reaching its best maturity level.
Hudson is convinced that the High Plains’ momentum will continue with the consistent performance of numerous picker varieties. His evaluation of the crop season remains positive despite the various weather problems that affected the entire state.
“So far, the strength and staple have looked good in the cotton we’ve harvested in the High Plains, he says. “The micronaire hasn’t been too bad either. All things considered, we feel good about the crop. We’ll take it. If I were a military person, I think I’d say we’re thankful to fight another day. Technology and good management techniques are helping us in the long run.”
Surviving In The Mid-South
If awards were given out to producers who endured the most difficult weather conditions, it would be hard to ignore what happened in the Mid-South.
Outside of southern Texas, which saw its cotton crop scorched in drought and high temperatures, the Mid-South endured a different kind of weather problem.
The crop was planted late, and then it rained for most of September and October. Lower yields and grades occurred in nearly every state in the region.
National Cotton Council agronomist Bill Robertson says there were pockets in the Mid-South that managed to dodge the worst brunt of the rainfall. However, he says some producers who normally pick 1,300 pounds per acre had yields decreased by more than 300 pounds.
“There was a lot of hardlock and shattered bolls the farther south you traveled in the Mississippi Delta,” he says. “The northern Delta seemed to handle the rain a bit better, but everybody was affected.”
Robertson says the lesson that farmers can learn from this year’s torrential rainfall is the importance of earliness in crop management. However, he points out that planting early doesn’t always equate to harvesting early.
“It’s all about management techniques and making the right decision at the right time,” he says. “Good management goes hand-in-hand with weather conditions.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Small Crop In West
Progresses On Schedule
While the weather was unpredictable in Texas and parts of the Mid-South and Southeast, conditions were more favorable in the West.
Upland production in Arizona was actually up 4 percent this year at 420,000 bales while California was projected to produce 218,000 bales – a decrease of 41 percent compared to 2008.
The quality of the crop is projected as good-to-excellent in both states.
Meanwhile, total Pima production in the West is expected to be 367,000 bales with yields at 1,205 pounds per acre.