Is there a way to grasp the enormity of the drought in Texas and Oklahoma? Unless we live in those two states, we can’t begin to understand what is happening to farmers there. The media reports simply can’t tell the whole story. A person has to walk through a field that hasn’t had appreciable rainfall for a year and feel how the soil crunches under your shoes to understand the impact this event is having on Southwest agriculture – and specifically to cotton farmers.
Although there will be irrigated cotton harvested, it seems that the only regions in Texas where crops will be salvaged are in central Texas, the Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley.
One newspaper in West Texas described cotton fields there as something we might see on Mars. Nothing but “lifeless red soil.” That may sound like an exaggeration, but when land hasn’t received any rain in nearly a year, it’s a fairly accurate description.
The major concerns for the cotton industry are twofold: How will Texas and Oklahoma farmers survive, and what will the economic trickle-down impact be on the infrastructure? In other words, how will gins, equipment companies, dealers and others who depend on cotton fare in this environment?
The numbers are rather stark. Texas produced close to 8.5 million bales in 2010. That figure will probably be cut in half this year to somewhere between 3 million and 4.5 million bales. That is a dramatic dropoff. In the High Plains, the dropoff is reported to be just as significant, going from 5.3 million bales in 2010 to close to 2 million bales in 2011.
Droughts are nothing new in these states. But you have to go back to the Dust Bowl days to find anything comparable to this year. We always knew that Texas was an important key to U.S. cotton’s future because half of the crop in this country is planted there. We also know that the Texas crop will always be vulnerable to unpredictable weather conditions.
Let’s pray for rain soon. We need to start worrying about the 2012 crop now.