NASS Raises 2015 Cotton Production

Estimates for Texas High Plains

Friday, November 13, 2015                 By Mary Jane Buerkle

      The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that Texas High Plains cotton growers should surpass the 4-million bale mark for the first time since 2010, according to their November Crop Production Report.

      The report, released earlier this week, estimates that High Plains cotton growers will produce 4,030,000 million bales, up 50,000 bales from the October report. The Northern High Plains area actually dropped by 20,000 bales, and the Southern High Plains increased by 70,000.

      Yield per acre decreased for the Northern High Plains from 738 pounds in October to 714 in the November estimate. The Southern High Plains was raised slightly from 643 pounds in October to 657 in November. Harvested acres remained the same as the October report – 410,000 in the NHP and 2,500,000 in the SHP. The abandonment rate stands at 7.4 percent.

      Statewide, the production number increased by 150,000 bales from October, to 5.8 million bales. The nationwide estimate for upland cotton dropped slightly to 12.8 million bales, down from an estimated 12.9 million in the October report and down 19 percent from 2014.

      December futures were just under 62 cents at press time, and the market has not experienced much movement in the last couple of weeks.

      Harvest is in full swing, and based on reports, area acreage likely is more than halfway harvested. However, progress varies by location. Lubbock County Extension Agent Mark Brown reported that the county is 75 percent harvested, but some areas are still at 25 to 30 percent, especially in areas north of Lubbock. Many of the northern counties in PCG's service area had their first killing freeze this week, which undoubtedly will speed up activity. However, rain is in this weekend's forecast going into the first part of next week, which could again delay progress.


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For West Texas Cotton Farmers: A Lot of

Diversity in 2015 Crops

November 11, 2015          By Ron Smith, Southwest Farm Press

      Murphy's Law — Anything that can go wrong will go wrong — might well have been written by a cotton farmer.       Consider the things that went wrong for West Texas cotton this year:

      Spring rains delayed planting by as much as a month, forcing many farmers to replant fields that were flooded out by a Memorial Day weekend downpour that dumped as much as a foot of rain on some fields

      By early July, drought had returned with a vengeance.

      Weed populations, encouraged by early moisture and helped along by herbicides leached out of root zones, exploded, forcing farmers to spray more and hire hoe hands.

      Rains started again just as harvest got under way.

      Cotton price dropped to 60 cents.

      Congress decided to cut a slice out of the crop insurance subsidy as part of a budget deal.

      That budget fiasco may have been the cruelest cut, says Dan Jackson, manager of the Meadow Farmers Co-op Gin at Meadow, Texas. "It's especially bad for cotton farmers, since we have nothing else."

      Intervention by House and Senate Agriculture Committees appears to have paved the way for restoring those cuts when an omnibus spending bill is debated later this year. But recent pressure from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), along with efforts from legislators, indicates that the issue may not be as cut and dried as farmers hope.

      "We are set up to take a hit we don't need," says Jackson. "It's a financial nightmare for cotton. Many growers didn't get a crop last year, and the price dropped. Some who have been farming since the mid- 1950s are now working for someone else."

      Those who have made it through four years of drought, rising production costs, and a lower price, still face challenges, he says. "Crop insurance has been the only backstop they've had."

      He and others were particularly incensed that Congress didn't consult either ag committee before making the initial budget recommendation and promoting the agreement. "Agriculture is a minority sector," he says. "We have no voting bloc. We had already been hit hard in the last farm bill."

      He's particularly concerned for his younger clients. He mentions one in particular, a 20 year-old who is harvesting his first crop this fall. "Farming is all he's ever wanted to do, but with things as they are, it will be hard. Program crops may offer a bit more, but they depend on crop insurance, too."

      Jackson grew up on a West Texas farm and remembers some rough times. But he says recent production cost increases, coupled with sharp declines in commodity prices, have created a less certain outcome for farmers, especially those just getting started.

      The challenge has become more difficult in the last few years. "Since 2008, input costs — especially seed at $400 a bag — have risen sharply. And cotton is at 60 cents a pound."

      If the crop insurance guarantee built into the farm bill is not restored, Jackson says, a ripple effect will roll across the High Plains. "Bankers will be reluctant to make loans. It will be hard on infrastructure. We thought we would never get here, and that Congress would not reopen the farm bill."

      Cotton contributes around $12 billion to the High Plains economy, he notes. "Take away crop insurance, and you jeopardize a lot of that."

      He's not all doom and gloom. He says the 2015 cotton crop, despite setbacks and continuing challenges, looks to be decent. "We had good rains early. We're still early in harvest [in late October], so we're not sure yet how yields will turn out. We saw a lot of 'bowling ball' cotton in the summer, smaller bolls than we're used to." He attributes part of that to a soil salinity issue brought on by a lower water table.

      Grades for some of the first cotton ginned were respectable, "a lot of 39 staple, so quality is good. We've seen a good bit of leaf. I'm anxious to get into the better cotton and see if we get better numbers. If we get some good sunny days, a lot of the cotton will be bleached out and will look better. We have a lot of dryland cotton — more than last year. A lot of conventional cotton was planted as a way to save money."

      Farmers also have a lot of weeds. "I know a grower who takes a lot of pride in what he does, and never in the 14 years I've known him have I seen a weed in his crop," Jackson says. "But, he had weeds this year. He did everything by the book, and still had weeds."

      To manage tough-to-control and herbicide-resistant weeds, farmers will have to make changes, Jackson says. Deep breaking and rotation are two options. "Going back to yellow herbicides is also important. The problem with rotation is that options are limited. We're set up to plant cotton, and nothing else looks any better. We probably will see some rotation in self-defense, with split fields," half in cotton and half in a rotation crop. He recommends that farmers scrutinize the cash flow differences between cotton and rotation crops.

      Availability in 2016 of dicamba and 2, 4-D-tolerant cotton varieties, along with the herbicide products designed to work with them, will help in the management of resistant weeds, Jackson says. "Some growers may be skeptical, but these products will offer new tools for dealing with resistant weeds." He expects the systems to be expensive. "It may be hard to add costly technology, given a 60-cent cotton market, but these products will help kill tough weeds."

      Individual farmers, he says, have to look at the potential return on investment for new technology, as well as other inputs. "A farmer has to be a businessman first," he says. "A tractor costs $250,000, a stripper another $250,000, and he pays $400 for a bag of seed. Farmers are now doing more with less equipment than ever before."

      Farmers understand their minority status, Jackson says. "We're looking for someone to stand up for us. We need good farm policy and a good safety net. We want sound policy — not a free ride."


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High Plains Ag Conference Set for

December 11 in Lubbock

      The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will conduct the annual High Plains Ag Conference from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, 1102 E. Farm-to-Market Road 1294, Lubbock.

      Individual preregistration, which will include lunch, is $35 by Dec. 9 and $45 thereafter and at the door, with no lunch guarantee.

      Five continuing education units – one integrated pest management, one laws and regulations and three general – will be offered.

      Topics and presenters will include:

      New Technologies in Resistant Weed Management: Dr. Peter Dotray, AgriLife Extension weed specialist, Lubbock.

      Evaluation of Transgenic Cotton Varieties: Dr. Mark Kelley, AgriLife Extension cotton program specialist, Lubbock. 

      Sugarcane Aphid Management: Dr. Pat Porter, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Lubbock.

      Pesticide Laws and Regulations: Steve Boston, Texas Department of Agriculture pesticide inspector, Lubbock.

      2016 AgriLife Extension Program Updates for Lubbock County: Robert Scott and Mark Brown, county agents and Vikram Baliga, county horticulturist.  

      Industry Update: Angie Martin, Texas Corn Producers, Lubbock.

      Corn Sorghum Management: Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo.

      For more information, contact Scott at 806-775-1740 or