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Drought, heat plague state's top cash crop
Cotton Cops Out

After record production in 2005, the state's 2006 cotton crop is looking more frizzled than fluffy.

Drought and triple-digit spring and summer temperatures wiped out a third of the 6.4 million acres of cotton planted in Texas in 2006, said Betty Johnson, agriculture statistician and team leader for crop estimates for the National Agricultural Statistics Service's (NASS) Texas office.

The failed cotton translates into a $1.1 billion loss for the state, said Carl Anderson, extension specialist emeritus for Texas A&M University's Texas Cooperative Extension. Cotton is the state's top cash crop, generating $2.13 billion in 2005, Anderson said, with a statewide economic impact of $4.3 billion, including money generated by supporting industries associated with harvesting and processing cotton.

In November 2006, the NASS predicted Texas 2006 cotton production at 5.7 million bales--down 32 percent from the record 2005 production of 8.4 million bales and a 26 percent drop from the 2004 harvest of 7.7 million bales.

Costly crop

Rickey Bearden has grown cotton on his Yoakum County farm since 1975. All of his dryland cotton, or cotton farmed on non-irrigated land, is a loss, Bearden said.

"We just had no rain," he said. "We'd normally start harvesting probably the last half of October. There's nothing there."

Bearden grows dryland cotton on 4,000 of his 6,000 acres. The remaining acreage is devoted to irrigated cotton, some of which he said survived.

Much of the state's lost cotton is in the High Plains region, a 41-county area surrounding Lubbock. The hot, dry weather wrecked most of the dryland cotton and made it expensive to grow cotton on irrigated fields, said Shawn Wade, communications director for Plains Cotton Growers Inc.

"On the High Plains, we rely on rainfall, and we supplement that rainfall with irrigation to try to achieve maximum yields," Wade said. "This year, without the rain, we've been on 100 percent irrigation for a large part of the season. It's been an expensive crop to produce."

Barry Evans grows cotton and sorghum on his farm in Kress, Texas.

"The dryland cotton and sorghum, as far as yields, will be a failure," Evans said.

Evans said that due to increased utility costs and higher costs associated with fertilizing, stripping and ginning cotton, his crop will cost $50 more per acre to grow and process in 2006.

Pending pricing

Despite Texas' cotton losses, a November report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected ample U.S. cotton supplies with national average production of 21.3 million bales. The report also projected increased U.S. cotton exports. World production and use strongly influence cotton's prices, said Anderson.

The bottom line is that prices shouldn't change much, according to John Robinson, associate professor and extension economist at the Texas Cooperative Extension.

"Expect similar [cotton] price ranges as in recent years," said Robinson.

By late August and mid-September, parts of the High Plains saw cooler temperatures and rainfall, but it was "too little, too late" to help most of the remaining dryland cotton, Wade said. The result was that some dryland growers started their 2006 cotton harvest in September, almost a full month earlier than their traditional October harvest period.

"The 2006 crop is going to be a far cry from what we saw in 2004 and 2005," Wade said. "We're just hoping that we can have good weather to finish out the crop we have in the field and provide us an open harvest period. After that we will all be glad to start getting those winter rains that we need to put us in position for next year's crop."

Bearden hopes for better luck, and crops, in 2007.

"There's always next year," he said. "I've been told this is the 'next year' country."

Karen Hudgins

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