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2022 cotton season was one to remember

Across the U.S. Cotton Belt, weather, yields and production varied wildly in 2022.

Ron Smith

December 16, 2022

5 Min Read
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File Photo

From the worst crop ever to the first time making three-bale on dryland, the 2022 U.S. cotton season was memorable.

In the Southwest, especially across the Southern Plains, 2022 was worse than the 2011 drought-ravaged crop. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Cotton Specialist Murilo Maeda said producers in West Texas and the Southwest in general delt with historic drought.

Across the region (the Northern and Southern High Plains) farmers seeded 4.7 million cotton acres in 2022 according to the Oct. 3 FSA report. Of those, 38% and 62% were irrigated and dryland, respectively, Maeda said.

Lack of planting moisture resulted in 2.95 million acres, or about 63%, of failed cotton acres. “This represents 41% and 76% of the irrigated and dryland acres, respectively,” Maeda said.

Dan Jackson, manager at the Meadow, Texas, cotton gin says, “Last year, we ginned 51,000 bales. I expect to run no more than 10% of that from the 2022 crop. This will be the worst year of my career.”

Jackson is perplexed at the USDA cotton prospect numbers and the going price for cotton. “I don’t think Texas will be close to 3 million bales.”

South Texas

“This was the only place in the state that didn’t burn up,” said Webb Wallace, executive director, Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. “It was our turn to get a good crop. We started off with good moisture, and the crops came up well. We got a little dry in April until a 2-inch rain on the 26th.  Four weeks later, we got a 4-to-5-inch rain that made the grain and cotton crops.”

One more June rain would have made a bumper crop. The Valley harvested around 165,000 acres and averaged around two bales per acre, Wallace said.

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He voiced concern over irrigated acreage, which was no better than dryland. Some districts were short of water and producers rationed it, he said.

Boll weevil numbers were down until late. “We only caught 140 weevils all year until August. They blew up in one field close to the river (Rio Grande),” he said.

The Boll Weevil Eradication program jumped on it. Over the last few weeks, numbers dropped to two, then three, and then zero, he said.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma conditions might be slightly better, according to Oklahoma State University Extension cotton specialist Seth Byrd.

“We’re just getting started in Oklahoma,” Byrd said in early November. “We’ve had a challenge in many areas getting adequate defoliation, primarily due to drought stressed leaves.”

He said a record-breaking crop is not happening because of late drought. “However, I have run some quality tests on early harvested dryland samples and the quality isn’t awful.”

He said harvest ramped up in late October. “I think low yield will be common, but I hope good quality numbers will be a trend. Some pockets of pretty good cotton will show up in places, particularly some of the irrigated crop.”

Delta

Brian Pieralisi, Mississippi Extension cotton specialist, said producers were wrapping up harvest by early November with pockets in east and north Mississippi remaining to pick.

“We had approximately 490,000 acres this year,” Pieralisi said. “Yields have been variable. The dry, hot summer was the biggest yield limiting factor, affecting earlier planted cotton the greatest. This was worse on dryland cotton but affected all cotton entering the reproductive stages under dry soil and hot day/nighttime temperatures.”

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Then the weather changed. “A system in late August dumped heavy rainfall in many locations leading to boll rot and hard-locked bolls. This too was variable but most noticeably in areas south of Highway 82.”

Many North Delta locations produced exceptional yields, with more average yield in Central and South Delta, Pieralisi said.

Tennessee

In Tennessee, Extension cotton specialist Tyson Raper calls the 2022 season “a very different experience.  Our planting windows opened early with warmer-than-normal temperatures but closed hard with either large rainfall events or cold snaps. Planting also stretched longer than preferred.”

Producers replanted about 15% of the acres, or far more than in a normal year. Most of West Tennessee went from the middle of June until the middle of July with no measurable rainfall. The hardest hit areas suffered 45 days without rain, he said.

A fortunate end to a difficult cotton season

Rain came in August. “For the early-planted crop, these rainfall events only helped fill bolls that were already set. For later planting dates, rains came just in time; vegetative growth stayed just ahead of reproductive growth almost through the end of August.  Although we typically consider flowers that open after the Aug. 20 to represent bolls that will likely not have time to mature and harvest, many producers continued to protect blooms into September.”

“This year has been a rollercoaster of gives and takes,” Raper said.  “Early May tricked us into believing we had an incredible opportunity to plant everything on-time; weather shifts delayed planting and forced replants. Lack of rainfall through June and July had us hoping for a 600-pound crop, but subsequent rainfall and boll retention through August pushed that number almost to 1,000 pounds.  September’s mild temperatures and the early October freezes pushed hopes back down into the 800- to 900-pound range.”

Southeast

Dave Ruppenicker, CEO of the Southern Cotton Growers, expects an above-average crop across the Southeast region in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

“I’m hearing about good yields in Georgia, which grows as much as the other five states combined,” he said.

Camp Hand, University of Georgia Extension cotton specialist, said, “Early stuff wasn’t as good as it should have been, but things are picking up. We still have a long way to go in some spots. Overall, harvest season has been incredible. Bluebird skies and warm temperatures made for an extremely productive cotton harvest and has contributed to good quality. Color grades are exceptional, and all other quality parameters are on par with what we normally expect.”

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Ruppenicker said some pockets across the region missed a timely rain and will not produce as well. Florida Panhandle cotton also looks good.

He said much of the Southeast missed a bullet from Hurricane Ian. Ian went into North Carolina and Virginia but caused less damage. Cotton shows promise in those areas.

North Hampton County, N.C., farmer David Dunlow said he’s picking a better-than-average crop. “We’re picking 1,200- and 1,500-pound dryland cotton. Three-bale cotton — that’s amazing. We’re picking 1,000 pounds across the board. We got rains at just the right time; the crop never wilted.

He said quality is also good with grades showing a 2-cent to 3-cent premium.

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith

Editor, Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 30 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Denton, Texas. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and two grandsons, Aaron and Hunter.

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