Too much rain is bad business for farming in general, but a late season deluge of heavy rain on a good, defoliated crop of cotton can be devastating—and heart-breaking for growers.
That’s a reality for many cotton producers in the Texas Upper Coastal Bend between Victoria and Sugar Land, where near 18 inches of rain have fallen in some areas over the last week.
"It's a pretty sad development for a lot of farmers. We haven't even started harvest across much our region and now we're having to deal with this," reports Fort Bend County Agent Derrick Banks. "In our tri-county region conditions vary a lot, but we have a lot of fields where cotton is sprouting because of the recent wet conditions, and this after we started out the year planting late because of heavy rains and flooded fields."
Indeed, it has been a strange weather year for all of South Texas. In April and again in May, torrential rain caused serious flooding in fields. Cotton and grain that had been planted was largely damaged or completely destroyed requiring costly replanting efforts. Young plants that survived were often growth-stunted and subject to disease pressure.
Following historical rains, a period of extreme dry weather set in for almost the entire coastal Texas region. While hot weather provided substantial heat units and sub-soil moisture sustained crops through the dry period, late season rains in the Upper Coast region now threatens to ruin cotton crops for many.
"We were able to bring in a fairly good corn and sorghum crop after such a slow start, but we have some concerns about our cotton," Banks added.
Kate Harrell, Texas AgriLife integrated pest management (IPM) specialist for Wharton, Jackson and Matagorda counties, agrees.
"We had good corn and grain sorghum crops this year, but we suffered from boll worms and some whitefly pressure in cotton late in the season. But driving across the region last week revealed sprouting problems in many fields. Our cotton has largely been defoliated and fields have been too wet to access in most areas, so there is a lot of concern what is going to happen," she reports.
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Harrell said the extent of the problem varies, largely based upon who you talk to and where their farm is located in the region.
"I had a ginner tell me they have seen this problem before and were still able to salvage a crop, though cotton grade was reduced and the ginning process was longer and difficult. It depends on who you talk to, with some farmers saying they will still get a crop out if the rains stop and the fields dry, and others not so optimistic, fearing they have lost their entire crop," she added.
VARIED CONDITIONS ACROSS REGION
A random survey across the region this week confirms that problems associated with late season rains are anything but uniform. Hit hardest are counties farther up the coast, as far as Harris County (Houston) and up to the Louisiana border. South of Houston, the problem seems to lessen the further south you travel.
In Victoria County, for example, some problems with rains and flooded fields have been reported, but not as severe as points north and up the coast.
"We may not be out of the woods yet," Harrell added. "We have rain in the forecast for tomorrow and in the days that follow, so our problems could get a lot worse if we can't catch a break from the weather soon."
Until then, she said some optimism remains that conditions will improve, but for many, the damage has already been done.
"For those who remain hopeful, we still need to wait and see what kind of disease pressure may develop as a result of all this rain. That's another potential problem in the days ahead," she said.
Hardest hit in August were areas east of El Campo and south, along the Tres Palacios River, and along the lower Brazos River north to the Angleton area and near West Columbia. The 14-day total for these areas ranges between 9 and 18 inches of torrential rains.