July 25, 2020, Hurricane Hanna ravaged the Lower Rio Grande Valley's (LRGV) harvest-ready cotton crop. But this isn't the first time.
"This is the third year in a row that the LRGV has suffered devastating floods: June 2018, June 2019, and July 2020," says Webb Wallace, executive director, Cotton and Grain Producers of the LRGV. But it's also 12 years to the day, since Hurricane Dolly delivered the same devastation to the area.
Although Hurricane Hanna wasn't as strong as Dolly, Webb says it did equal damage.
"Unfortunately, our initial assessment following Hurricane Hanna is that 100% of all open (fluffed) cotton has been destroyed," Wallace says. "It's either been knocked on the ground by high wind and driving rain, flooded, or damaged with rain and splashing soil sufficient to render the quality unmarketable, and/or it's sprouting seed.
"Late maturing, green unopened bolls in the tops of the plants appear to have escaped damage, however, the proportion of green bolls in the majority of fields will not be sufficient to justify harvest operations, thus rendering the effective loss at 100% in the vast majority of fields."
Early in the season, the LRGV region battled drought, failing 30,000 dryland acres of the region's 167,685 planted acres, Wallace says. Producers were hopeful about the remaining 138,000 acres awaiting harvest.
"A small portion of the dryland cotton had already been harvested prior to Hurricane Hanna, but that portion is likely not more than 2% to 3% of the LRGV cotton crop."
In recent years, the average yields for the LRGV have been as high as 2.0 to 2.2 bales per acre, indicating that 300,000 bales or more will be lost to Hurricane Hanna, Wallace adds.
"Heck of a cotton crop"
In the center of the Rio Grande Valley, Edcouch farmer Brian Jones, says while he had harvested his sorghum and corn prior to the hurricane, he had just started defoliating his irrigated cotton the Thursday before the hurricane made landfall.
"Most of my cotton was around 70% open by the time the storm hit," Jones says. "According to the doppler, we had about 15 to 16 inches of rain through my area with 80 to 90 mph winds."
Along with flooding, Jones says the cotton was also blown out of the burr onto the ground or wrapped around the cotton stem of the next plant. "It's really a mess."
A week prior to the storm, some producers had begun picking the region's dryland crop. "We didn't think the storm was going to hit us and if it did, it was going to be minimal."
But Jones says the hurricane came in from the north and then moved southwest. "A weird phenomenon with this storm was that most of the rain stayed on the south side of that storm. Normally, the north side of the hurricane is the wet side but unfortunately, we got it all on the south side."
Ten days after the storm, Jones says they still have standing water in fields. "We're still draining water today."
Before the storm hit, "We had a heck of a crop. We'd had enough irrigation water throughout the year to take care of the crop and grow it, right up to the point of defoliating it and then losing it all," Jones says.
Once the water is removed from his fields and they begin to dry, Jones says he'll contact his insurance adjuster and evaluate what's left, "whether it's all destroyed and zeroed out or if there is enough in places to harvest. We're in a wait and see mode right now."
Uncertainty is high though that any of the region's cotton will be harvestable, he says. "The cotton industry took a huge hit on this. I doubt much cotton will be harvested in the Rio Grande Valley this year."
Both Jones and Wallace have contacted Texas senators and their congressmen about Hanna's devastation to the 2020 crops. "All the pieces are in place for a disaster declaration," Wallace adds.