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Brandon: Hard-hit cotton crop

For Mid-South cotton growers already facing a crop that’s expected to be short as a result of day after day of scorching heat and no rain, it’s scant comfort to know that things aren’t a lot better in other areas.

But one area’s misfortune may be another’s boon.

“What happens in South Texas this season may have a dramatic impact on basis levels for Delta cotton,” says Frederick Barrier, senior director of North American sales for the StaplCotn cooperative at Greenwood, Miss., who spoke at the recent joint meeting of the Delta Council’s Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee and the Southern Cotton Ginners Association.

As bad as things are in the Delta, high temperatures and drought have really taken a toll on the Texas crop. This description by Ron Smith, editor of our Southwest Farm Press, about a drive through the Rolling Plains:

“Cotton 3 inches tall, blooming out the top, wilting under the afternoon sun, holds little promise for any kind of yield…The few irrigated fields through this stretch of north Texas and southwest Oklahoma stand in stark contrast to the miserable dryland crop.

“Some fields were irrigated early in the season and developed healthy plants, until water sources dried up and irrigation was abandoned. Plants that have been irrigated are taller and have decent boll loads, but show signs of afternoon wilt and fruit shed. Without rain, soon, these fields will do little better than those never irrigated.”

StaplCotn’s Barrier notes that Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend areas produced over a million bales in 2005; “this year, we’re estimating production will drop to around half a million bales.”

For the last several years, he says, south Texas cotton has had predominantly high quality characteristics, with exceptional length. In 2004, 84 percent of that cotton was 35 staple or longer; in 2005, almost 60 percent was 35 or longer.

“Growers there have enjoyed outstanding quality, and mills from all over the world have been buying their cotton. They’re expecting it, they’re needing it, and all of a sudden they’re now going to find a shortage of that particular variety.

“I think this is going to be a heck of an opportunity for Delta cotton to fill the shortage in the Texas crop,” Barrier says. “Any shortage of long staple cotton there can have a very positive impact on long staple, high grade cotton here in the Delta.”

Any positive impact will certainly be welcomed by growers here, who not only have had to cope with one of the worst summers in a long time, but also one of the most expensive crops in years, thanks to energy costs that are through the roof.

“We’ve had 1.5 inches of rain since May,” a farmer/ginner told me. “Our irrigation costs are astronomical.”

And that’s the situation over much of the Delta: the rain gods have been snoozing or on strike. Toss in all the other energy-related cost increases — fertilizer, chemicals, harvesting, hauling, you-name-it — and most farmers will be only to happy to see this year gone.


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