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Column: Gulf Coast crop has been a survivor in 2004

The cotton crop in south Texas reminds you of the old Timex watch slogan: “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

This year’s crop in southern Texas, and in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, is unusual in that, rather than being starved for water as has often been the case in recent years, it has received far more moisture than normal.

By the end of June, most of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the Coastal Bend, the Brazos Bottoms, the Blacklands and much of Louisiana had received the equivalent of their average annual rainfall – in the first six months of the year.

Since then, much of the region has turned dry. Clay soils in some fields have cracks more than an inch wide. But some areas have cotton that appears to have the potential for making the best yields in years.

Cotton traders, some of who believe USDA’s August crop report could raise total U.S. production to 19 million bales or 1 million bales more than the July estimate, are taking all of this into consideration.

Not that the condition of the U.S. crop has as much bearing on cotton futures these days. The attention of cotton traders seems fixated on reports that China, which is believed to have increased plantings significantly after last year’s weather-reduced crop, is enjoying much more favorable weather conditions.

Growers in Texas and Louisiana would remind you that their crop is far from made. The heavy rains across Texas and into Louisiana and the lower Delta of Mississippi in May and June did not encourage the development of a taproot in many fields.

With dry weather occurring now, growers and consultants report the crop is deteriorating, particularly on heavy clay soils that are stingy about giving up water.

The Texas Gulf Coast crop is also late – either from delayed planting or because cotton sat in water for extended periods – and growers are becoming concerned about harvesting the crop before the beginning of September, which typically is the wettest month for the region.

Any shortfall in south Texas could have a greater bearing on futures prices this year because of efforts by one of the major seed companies to promote the region’s cotton as a higher quality fiber.

The fact that south Texas has a crop at all may be a testament to plant breeders for all of the seed companies who have been working to develop varieties that producer higher quality fiber – and yields – under a wide range of growing conditions such as those that threatened to inundate the region earlier this season.

At this stage, the last thing growers want to hear is that they should have forward contracted or hedged their crop when prices were considerably higher last winter and even into the spring. For now, we’ll just say thank goodness that the U.S. cotton program has remained whole this far into the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

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