By Beck Barnes
Cotton specialist Dr. Gaylon Morgan offers tips on what Texas producers can improve upon in the 2018 season.
The 2017 growing season was on pace to shatter yield records on farms from the Rio Grande Valley up the Coastal Bend to Corpus Christi and the surrounding areas. Then Harvey arrived.
Those few days at the tail end of August appeared devastating. Pictures circulated on social media showing bales blown apart, with loose cotton lint strewn across water-logged fields. The damage, it seemed, was substantial. To add insult to the injury, growers in much of the region had been experiencing a tremendous harvest to that point. There were reports of dryland growers harvesting three bales an acre or more throughout the region.
“San Patricio County northward, that’s the area that took the brunt of Hurricane Harvey,” says Dr. Gaylon Morgan, state Extension cotton specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Services. “Growers had a really good crop, and Harvey literally robbed it from them. For the most part, they were 50 to 70% harvested at the time.”
But if there was any lesson to be learned from the 2017 season, it’s that all those good decisions from earlier in the season were enough to salvage something from a hurricane damaged crop. In fact, many growers in South Texas posted amazing yield totals, all things considered.
“I’ve been surprised with the yield they did get out of those fields, even after Harvey,” Morgan says. “Of course, quality and seed quality was off, and there was a lot of hassle factor associated with it. But just from the lint yield perspective, it’s amazing what they did pull off, especially knowing what they had on the plant before Harvey arrived.”
Morgan points out that some estimates place hurricane yield loss between 200,000 and 300,000 bales. And yet, ginning reports out of Corpus Christi indicate that the surrounding area saw harvest increase of 800,000 to 900,000 ginned bales in 2017. Estimates predict the Corpus Christi Classing Office will class about 40% more cotton than it did in 2016.
“Pretty amazing when you factor Harvey into the equation,” says Morgan.
So how were growers in the region able to thrive even in the face of a direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane during peak harvest season?
Well, says Morgan, it helped that things dried out quickly after the storm. In fact, after being inundated with 20 to 40 inches of Harvey-driven rain, growers in the region had nearly a month with no precipitation. And there is still hope that some will be able to recoup some of the losses on harvested cotton through ginning insurance. In fact, after a season tainted by disaster, South Texas cotton producers are remarkably optimistic when it comes to their 2018 prospects.
“I’ve heard reports from different people that they think cotton acres will be up double digits in that area again in 2018,” Morgan says. “Some of the cooperators I’m working with, their acres are definitely going to be up.
“I was down there about a month ago and most of those growers already had their fields worked. I’ve been in communication with some of them, and they already have their fertilizer out,” Morgan said in early January. “They’re pretty much ready to roll.”
That enthusiasm extends across the state of Texas for 2018. The Northern Highlands region had a strong 2017 season in terms of yield and quality. Ditto for much of the Rolling Plains. The Winter Garden area had a “phenomenal” year, according to Morgan.
The High Plains region suffered a host of setbacks – from hail on the southern High Plains to micronaire-robbing cool weather farther north. And yet, growers in West Texas have indicated their optimism for a strong season in 2018, as well.
Texas growers and industry insiders who responded to Cotton Grower’s 2018 Acreage Survey indicated that they intend to plant 7,158,000 acres of cotton next season. That number is a full 250,000 acres higher than what was planted in the state in 2017, according to USDA.
So what should growers have in mind as they prepare for another banner cotton year in the Lone Star State? Morgan says there are a handful of basic steps Texas producers can take to ensure they’ll get off on the right foot in the coming planting season.
“The first thing is variety selection,” says Morgan, urging producers to do as much research as necessary in finding the right variety for their specific needs.
The 2017 season in Texas saw a major shift towards new weed technologies, as producers sought new tools in the battle against herbicide-resistant pigweed. Morgan suspects new trait technologies will once again play a major role as farmers consider which varieties to plant.
“Stay on top of agronomics and the insects,” he says. “We had some bollworm problems last year, blowing through some of the Bt traits. So I think we’ll see a big shift towards the WideStrike 3 and the Bollgard 3 and the TwinLink Plus varieties, for that reason.”
Morgan’s second tip for 2018 is for growers to begin to pencil their costs out. It’s never too early, he says, to take all potential expenditures into consideration.
“It’s always on a grower’s mind,” he says. “They need to lay out what they think their input costs are going to be and make sure that everything pencils out.”
Thankfully, this is a practice that more and more growers are warming to – and a reason that folks are realizing how attractive of an option cotton will be in 2018.
“A number of growers have been doing that for some time, and it’s one of the reason we’re seeing a shift to more cotton in 2018,” Morgan says.
Finally, the Extension specialist is encouraging Texas growers to learn from their mistakes when it comes to planting dates.
“Our guys started really early last year, at least in South and East Texas,” he says. “Mother Nature can throw some pretty mean curve balls. So hopefully we won’t try to get started too early again this year.”
Of course, with the unpredictability of weather patterns, there is no surefire target for planting dates throughout the state. Morgan says growers should turn instead to a different factor when assessing when to plant their crops.
“Generally, it should not necessarily be based on the calendar date, but on the soil temperature,” he says. “And that ideal temperature is 62 degrees to 65 degrees. And then you want a very favorable five- to-seven day forecast.”
These simple steps, Morgan says, can help turn all that enthusiasm for 2018 into another explosive yield season for the Lone Star State. ■