Texas Crop, Weather: Cotton Overcomes Late Start

    Cotton was late to mature throughout the state this year, but timely rains and favorable conditions during the fall resulted in a good year for many growers, according to Dr. Gaylon Morgan, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state cotton specialist, College Station.

    Central Texas, South Texas and Coastal Bend cotton fields were all harvested more than a month ago, and most producers were quite pleased with their dryland and irrigated crops, Morgan said.

    As usual, each district had its own challenges. The Panhandle, South Plains, Rolling Plains, West Central and Far West Texas cotton harvests are all in various stages of completion, and the last modules will all be late making it to the gins this year, he said.

    But statewide, it turned out to be a better year than past years for most growers, despite the late start, Morgan said. The spring was cooler than normal and delayed planting, and a late spring cold front in April hurt emerged cotton from the upper Gulf Coast northward. Some areas received too much rain, while others got too little.

    Glyphosate-resistant pigweed posed some challenges for producers, but were manageable in 2014. Also, fall rains in September and early October delayed the winding up of harvest and stalk destruction, he said.

    But after all the ups and downs, many Gulf Coast and Central Texas cotton fields were yielding two to four bales per acre, according to Morgan, with good yields with decent quality.

    High Plains Texas cotton particularly benefited from the open, warmer-than-normal fall, he noted.

    “Mother Nature played to our hand with the open fall following a cooler-than-normal summer,” Morgan said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have had much of a crop at all in the Rolling Plains and High Plains, dryland or irrigated.”

    Cotton prices are depressed, but most feed grains prices are depressed as well, he said. Grain sorghum prices remain “competitive,” but the sugarcane aphid, a relatively new pest for grain sorghum, has concerned a lot of producers who might plant sorghum as an alternative to cotton.

    “I don’t see much of a big change in cotton acreage from this year to 2015,” Morgan said.

    Variety trials results from Central Texas, South Texas and the Coastal Bend area have already been published here. Morgan and his colleagues throughout the state hope to have add the results of trials in the Panhandle, South Plains, Rolling Plains, West Central and Far West Texas added to the website after the first of next year.

    The regional cotton variety results from the on-farm trials will be also available for the various regions at Lubbock, Amarillo, and San Angelo Extension Center websites or here. The AgriLife Extension area agronomists have summarized the status of the ongoing cotton harvest in their respective regions below.

    The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service DistrictsThe 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts


    Due to a variety of factors, the region’s cotton harvest is only about 20 percent done, according to Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo.

    “We are not very far along at all. I’ve actually only harvested one of our variety trials, and I’ve talked to many producers who are in the same situation,” she said.

    But few farmers are complaining as yields and quality are good, and just being able to harvest a crop is a big improvement for many producers over the previous few years, Bell said.

    “It’s gotten off to a slow start,” she said. “We had a very delayed cotton crop due to some below normal temperatures last summer. But fortunately, we had a very warm, late fall, and that really helped mature cotton and speed things along.”

    The freeze of about two weeks ago came at just about the right time, Bell said. It helped defoliate the cotton, which was fortunate because growers had mixed results with defoliants this year.

    High winds about a couple of weeks ago indirectly interfered with the harvest, she said. It didn’t damage cotton, but it lodged grain sorghum. Usually growers will harvest their cotton first and put off harvesting sorghum until last. But many producers put off harvesting cotton to harvest the sorghum before it lost quality from lying down on the ground too long.

    Heavy rains in September, along with snow and heavy morning dews in the last couple of weeks also delayed corn dry down. And cotton growers who also had corn were taking the same tact as those with lodged sorghum: harvesting the corn first and taking a dockage for high moisture rather than taking a greater loss if the corn lodged.

    On a more positive note, Bell said micronaire and color all seemed very good from the fields she’s observed that were planted on time. Yields have been good too.

    “We’re looking at some premium quality cotton,” she said. “I spoke with a producer last week near Hereford who made 3.5 bales per acre.”

    Some dryland yields have been from a half to one bale per acre.

    Producers she has talked to are hoping to finish up the harvest by Christmas.

    “But it seems like every year there are stragglers in the High Plains who are still harvesting into January, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see quite a few still harvesting into next year,” she said. “It’s been a really, really odd year.”

    South Plains

    Two weeks ago, the first freeze came at just the right time for South Plains cotton. Much of the crop was resisting being defoliated because of moisture received earlier in the fall. But the freeze shut everything down.

    And after Thanksgiving, dry weather set in, allowing cotton harvesters in his area to “really get after it,” said Mark Kelley, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock.

    “We’re seeing cotton modules being built all over the region,” Kelley said “There’s a lot that hasn’t been taken to the gins yet, but quality is still holding.”

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture classing office at Lubbock has been reporting micronaire values of 4.1, according to Kelley. At the Lamesa office they have been about or a little over 4.2, which is still in the premium range.

    “Bark seems to maybe have come off a little bit, so hopefully we will be seeing lower bark values,” he said.

    Leaf grade, a measure of how much leaf material is in the harvested cotton, has been running mostly two’s and three’s, according to Kelley.

    Color grade is a measure of whether the cotton is white, spotted or light spotted or tinged with yellow. Both 11s and 21s signify white color, and color grades have been holding around 21 so far this year, he said.

    “I’m hearing three bales per acre, irrigated,” he said. “It’s going to vary tremendously, I expect, especially when some of the later-planted stuff is harvested. I haven’t heard of any five-bale fields yet, but there were some around the four-bale mark.”

    As for dryland, some areas had a pretty good run, and were yielding about a bale per acre. The poorer dryland has been yielding about half a bale per acre, he said.

    “I estimate we are 40 to 50 percent done with the harvest overall, dryland and irrigated,” Kelley said. “I don’t know how many of those dryland acres are going to be harvested. Some may be waiting an insurance payoff and will be shredded and plowed under.”

    He said he was hoping for the harvest to be done by Christmas.

    “I’m crossing my fingers, but there’s a slight chance of moisture and cloudy weather coming in by Dec. 4, Kelley said. “So if that happens, we could still be harvesting after Christmas.”

    West Central, Far West, Rolling Plains

    Cotton yields in his region were basically a little below average, and behind in maturity and harvest, according to Dr. David Drake, AgriLife Extension agronomist, San Angelo.

    “We have a range of everything this year,” Drake said. “We have the risky, West Texas cotton fields that were ‘droughted’ out and hailed out. And we had some on the other end of the spectrum that just happened to get a timely rain in the right spot and were above average.”

    Drake’s responsibilities cover two major areas: Irrigated cotton in the Far West Texas Permian Basin area, and general production cotton in the Concho Valley region of West Central Texas. He also serves growers in a small part of the Rolling Plains, including Stanford, Nolan and nearby counties.

    The crop was much later for many of same reasons that delayed maturity in the Panhandle and South Plains, Drake said.

    “The crop was much later, in terms of when we got the rain and when it produced the fiber,” he said. “A lot of areas still haven’t been harvested. Typically this year, we’d have all our variety trials in. This year, we’ve still got five or six trials to go, and there are a lot of producers in the same situation.”

    Growers in his area also had a tough year with defoliation, Drake said. Late rains caused the cotton plants that already been treated to regenerate.

    “Cotton is a perennial crop, so it started growing again, and that really made it tough to knock the leaves off,” he said.

    The freeze helped, but coming when it did, it hurt the crop in terms of quality, and the leaves stick on, and get mixed in with the fiber, resulting in to high leaf scores, according to Drake.

    Freeze also increases bark contamination. “Bark” refers to parts of stem, which are hard to gin out and result in dockage, he said.

    “The general rule of thumb is that you want to get it all harvested within two weeks of a frost, and there’s no way some producers are going to be able to do that this year.”

    Drake estimated that about 60 percent of irrigated and “perhaps” 75 percent of dryland has been harvested to date. He said the harvest should be done, except for a few stragglers, by Christmas.

    “I said that last year, but I was harvesting one trial on Dec. 30, and went back and measured it on Dec. 31.”

    Drake also noted that some southern counties of Rolling Plains did not have such a good year.

    “It’s all dryland, but in a good year they can get really good yields, two bales per acre,” he said. “But this year, it won’t be that good, as a lot of fields failed and will be zeroed-out for crop insurance.”

    Morgan regularly visits with growers in the northern parts of the Rolling Plains, and conducts variety trials with their cooperation.

    “Two of the irrigated trials exceeded three bales per acre, and some were pushing four bales per acre,” he said. “One irrigated site was more around the two-bale-per -acre range. Dryland was one half to three-fourths bale per acre.”

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