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South Texas cotton acres down in ’23

Weather, input prices and the cotton market take a toll on planted acres.

Shelley E. Huguley, Editor

May 5, 2023

5 Min Read
cotton julie heron castillo
Julie and Heron Castillo stand in their cotton field near Mercedes, Texas. Heron and Julie Castillo

Planted cotton acres throughout South Texas are down compared to 2022. From weather to water to input costs and the markets, several factors have influenced the region’s planting decisions. Farm Press caught up with Dwight Jackson, National Cotton Council member services representative, to review the numbers.

In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, planted acres are down about 30% this year, from 182,000 acres in 2022 to 137, 000 acres, Jackson reported.

“Water is being rationed from the Rio Grande River and farmer allotments are way down,” Jackson said. “They have to use what they get for crops like sugarcane, citrus, or other crops, so there’s quite a bit of irrigated cotton that won’t be planted in the Valley.”

Dryland acres are off a bit as well. “There’s some that was planted where the moisture was favorable, and they got a rain the last week of March.”

The region’s insurance planting date is March 31. After the recent rainfall, he said more acres were planted. “Towards the middle of March, we were only at about 110,000 acres. Last I heard, it was 131,000.”

Of the acres planted, Jackson said the crop is off to a good start. “The crop is from just coming up to beginning to bloom.”


Heron Castillo, a Mercedes, Texas, producer said he planted less irrigated cotton this year. “We’ve been in a drought for a long time in the Valley,” Castillo said. “We call it a drought because it doesn’t rain like it used to.”

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Castillo, who is also a custom harvester, farms about 600 acres of cotton, milo and onions. His region didn’t receive moisture during onion season (October through April), forcing him to cut back. “I didn’t plant anymore acres because I needed to make sure I had enough water,” he said.

What water he and other LRGV producers don’t receive from Mother Nature is purchased through their local water districts. Allotments are limited, Castillo says. Producers can also purchase water credits from other districts.

“There’s people who own properties (in other districts) that don’t use water and then they sell it,” he explained. But it isn’t cheap. Locally, Castillo pays $15 per acre. When he purchases water credits from neighboring districts, he’s paid anywhere from $30 to $50 per acre. “It’s been costly to buy water.”

Irrigation water is released to LRGV producers from monitored water sources known as the Rio-Grande River Basin Reservoirs, which include lakes Amistad and Falcon. These water sources straddle the Texas-Mexico border. Water released between the two regions is regulated through the Mexican Water Treaty of 1944.

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According to the Texas Water Development Board website, “By treaty, Texas has rights to 56.2% of the total conservation capacity of Amistad and 58.% of Falcon.” Currently, Lake Amistad is only at 33.9% capacity, while Falcon is at 22.3%.

While drought is partially to blame, both Castillo and Jackson agree, there’s a bigger issue. “Mexico’s adhering to it (the treaty) but they are not releasing the water timely,” Jackson said, adding they have five years to release a predetermined amount.

“They hold a lot water,” Castillo added. “It’s very frustrating. It affects everything -- your yield, your business, your income, your finances.”

Castillo, who plants on 40-inch rows, planted his DeltaPine 1646 cotton Feb. 8. “I ended up with a skippy stand in some parts but then we got a 3-inch rain. I went in there did some touchups.” Overall, he says his cotton came up nicely.

Corpus Christi

West of Corpus Christi, Jackson says producers were in “dire straits” until the region received some rain the first week of April. “We were looking at pretty good abandonment until then. That crop was made on that rain. It was either dry planted or trying to come up.

The insurance planting date for Corpus Christi is April 15. Jackson said April’s early rain shower “really helped out. Unfortunately, rains late last week have overcorrected the situation bringing a little hail and quite a bit of flooding. The crop is behind and today rotary hoes are beginning to pick their way through young fields.”

Related:Sampling key to nematode management

On the east side of Corpus, up against the Gulf from Corpus Christi north, Jackson said that region’s cotton emerged and looked “okay,” but at the end of April, they received some “big rains” that included hail. “So, we do have some drown outs and we’re looking at some replanting.”

Compared to 2022, Jackson estimates the dryland acres are off 10% to 15%.

In the Winter Garden, the irrigated cotton is expected to be “way off.” Probably, about 30% to 40%, he said.

Upper Coastal Bend

In the Upper Coastal Bend, which encompasses Refugio to everything below I-10, Jackson said, his sources tell him planted acres are down about 30% or more. “I don’t know if it’s going to be quite that bad because there’s some sweet areas, southwest of Houston, that aren’t going to be that bad.”

The Upper Coastal Bend is “mostly planted and looking good,” he added.

“This whole side of the state got rain the last two weeks (of April), so, with few exceptions, we’re wet everywhere. The crop was struggling to come along and now the corn’s chest high and the cotton’s squaring.”


North of I-10 up to Waco in the Southern Blacklands, planted cotton acres are expected to be off 30% or more. “And they’re probably 70% to 80% planted,” Jackson said.

In the Northern Blacklands, from Temple north to the Oklahoma border, about 60% of the crop is planted. Similarly, planted acres are expected to be down at least 30% as well.

The reduction of planted acres throughout southern Texas has been influenced by the weather or water but other factors as well. “Undermining all this is input prices and the price of cotton,” Jackson said. “It’s not just the weather. The insurance price is lower. Basically, it’s the price of cotton compared to input costs.”

About the Author(s)

Shelley E. Huguley

Editor, Southwest Farm Press

Shelley Huguley has been involved in agriculture for the last 25 years. She began her career in agricultural communications at the Texas Forest Service West Texas Nursery in Lubbock, where she developed and produced the Windbreak Quarterly, a newspaper about windbreak trees and their benefit to wildlife, production agriculture and livestock operations. While with the Forest Service she also served as an information officer and team leader on fires during the 1998 fire season and later produced the Firebrands newsletter that was distributed quarterly throughout Texas to Volunteer Fire Departments. Her most personal involvement in agriculture also came in 1998, when she married the love of her life and cotton farmer Preston Huguley of Olton, Texas. As a farmwife, she knows first-hand the ups and downs of farming, the endless decisions made each season based on “if” it rains, “if” the drought continues, “if” the market holds. She is the bookkeeper for their family farming operation and cherishes moments on the farm such as taking harvest meals to the field or starting a sprinkler in the summer with the whole family lending a hand. Shelley has also freelanced for agricultural companies such as Olton CO-OP Gin, producing the newsletter Cotton Connections while also designing marketing materials to promote the gin. She has published articles in agricultural publications such as Southwest Farm Press while also volunteering her marketing and writing skills to non-profit organizations such as Refuge Services, an equine-assisted therapy group in Lubbock. She and her husband reside in Olton with their three children Breely, Brennon and HalleeKate.

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