Eyes Of The World
By Tommy Horton
For the cotton industry in Texas, a different song is being sung. The entire world watches and waits to see how much cotton will be produced this year in the Lone Star state.
Don’t expect any new songs to be sung to commemorate this event, but the importance of the situation still rings true.
The indicators are that more than half of the cotton planted in the United States this year will be in Texas. That fact was made obvious when the National Cotton Council recently announced the results of its annual planting intention survey.
According to the survey, producers intend to plant 8.1 million acres in 2009 – a drop of 14 percent from 2008. Perhaps more significant is the fact that 4.5 million acres are estimated to be planted in Texas.
This statistic follows on the heels of the 2008 crop season when Texas planted 5 million acres out of an overall total of 9.4 million acres in the country – again easily more than half of the U.S. planted acreage.
These numbers create several questions. How does the Texas cotton industry feel about being responsible for such a large portion of the U.S. crop? And, more importantly, how do farmers react to such global scrutiny?
“To be honest, I don’t think our farmers understand the microscope that they’re under right now,” says Carl Anderson, retired Texas A&M cotton marketing specialist.
“We’re new at this game of having the rest of the country and world watching us. But for the individual farmer, I’m not sure how much pressure he feels. He’s just trying to look at his bottom line, cash flow his crop and have a good insurance program.”
Anderson says it’s ironic that Texas is now producing such a large portion of the U.S. cotton crop. Granted, it has always been the top production state in the Belt, but never by such an overwhelming percentage.
When Anderson began his marketing career more than 30 years ago, he never thought he would see Texas become known as the leader in both acreage and cotton quality by such wide margins.
“I can remember when folks didn’t have the highest regard for our cotton,” he says. “They thought the only thing we grew was short staple cotton for the loan. That has all changed.”
Anderson says the trends started to occur less than 10 years ago when cottonseed companies, cotton breeders and producers got together and successfully developed a package that helped high quality cotton become a reality in Texas.
The state does have one factor that could affect all of the statistical projections – unpredictable weather.
If the current drought were to persist, 2.5 million dryland acres in the state could become vulnerable, making current yield projections questionable – both for the state and the overall U.S. crop estimates.
However, as Anderson points out, timely rains prior to planting and during the growing season could solve that potential problem.
“This is a remarkable state, and I think we’re blessed with the kind of climate, soils and resources to be a major player in the global cotton market,” he says. “It’s not bragging. It’s just the facts about the cotton we have in Texas.”
Despite the weather questions that seemingly occur every year in Texas, producers accept that fact for a practical reason. Cotton is suited for Texas because of its arid conditions.
“Our annual rainfall is about 18 inches, and that influences many of our decisions,” says High Plains producer Ronnie Hopper, former president of Plains Cotton Growers.
“A lot of the acreage south of Lubbock just isn’t suited for grain crops to the extent that acreage is north of Lubbock.”
Hopper is fully aware that cotton producers in Texas have moved some of their acreage into milo and wheat. In West Texas, however, he says, the existing infrastructure is set up to support a large cotton production region. And that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
The long-time farmer also says the economic contribution that cotton has made to the state – and specifically West Texas – can’t be ignored.
“Farmers here know that cotton is what brought them to this level,” he says. “And, for that reason, they don’t want to change. Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of farmers are moving some acres into grain, but that’s north of Lubbock. Farther south, they don’t have many other options.”
Can Record Crops Continue?
Another factor to consider in analyzing cotton production in Texas is expectation. After harvesting several record crops in the last six years, producers are “looking for a lot of pounds,” according to Texas AgriLife Extension cotton agronomist Randy Boman.
He says that in order for Texas to continue producing these large crops, producers will need excellent growing conditions – a situation that is unpredictable to say the least.
It’s that uncertain nature of weather patterns in Texas that can confound the experts and farmers. Just when it appears that a drought is about to stop a crop in its tracks, along comes the rain. And, in some cases, it’s a storm system that actually offers rainfall at the time.
While many observers wonder if Texas producers actually feel the burden of being the prime cotton production area in the country, Boman says the expectation is very real.
“If you look at the number of acres we have, the pressure is on us to hold up the banner for U.S. cotton,” he says. “It will be difficult based on the kind of weather we receive. Sometimes it’s a feast or famine situation out here.
“However, with all the new varieties we have, the potential is there for big yields and long-staple cotton. It’s just a matter of rainfall and having enough time to mature the crop. I know that may not be a detailed explanation, but it’s our challenge every year.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s easy to see why Texas cotton production is attracting global attention after studying the numbers from the 2008 crop. The grades were exceptionally high.
The average staple for the crop was 36.8. More significantly, two-thirds of the crop had a staple of 37 or longer. The strength average was 29.3 – another record for Texas.
Those numbers are what excite mill customers in the United States and in overseas markets.
As Anderson points out, “deep down, the cotton farmers in this state relish the attention, because they know they can produce a huge crop with outstanding quality.”