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Tropical storm benefits Valley agriculture

Some concern over damage to cotton. As much as 12 inches fell on part of LRGV. Too late for dryland acreage.  

What a difference a rain makes.

Lower Rio Grande Valley farmers and ranchers received as much as 12 inches of rain from June 22 through July 2 and turned from a situation of 10 percent annual rainfall total for the year to 100 percent of normal.

Much of that turnabout came in one day, June 22, says Webb Wallace, executive director, Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

“A wide swath of Cameron and Willacy counties had up to 6 inches, with a smaller area between Combes and Santa Rosa receiving almost 9 inches,” Wallace says.  “Another 2 to 3 inches fell on Thursday, June 30, and a little more on Saturday, July 2.”

He says the overall result of the heavy rains is positive but that timing could have been better.

“Overall, it's hard to deny that the rain was a real blessing for most of agriculture –citrus, sugarcane, vegetables, pasture, etc.  However, it may be a mixed blessing for cotton.  Dryland cotton was almost ready to be defoliated, so the small gain in late boll production (could be) offset by small losses in quality (we assume) and a very small amount knocked out.  Same on irrigated cotton with bolls beginning to crack—some benefit on late, top bolls, but beginning to get some light boll rot on the bottom.”

John Norman, retired Texas Extension integrated pest management specialist and currently editor of the Lower Rio Grande Valley AgriLife Extension Pest Cast newsletter, says damage may not be as severe as early estimates suggested.

“Despite our earlier fears of damage to cotton by the rains of last week, the opposite may have been the case,” Norman says. “Virtually no cotton was dislodged from the open burrs and only some of it was strung-out from the burr. Hard locked bolls were seen in minimal numbers.

“Growers even commented that the smaller bolls which likely would have remained small and contributed little to the yield may now grow much larger and add much more yield than was possible before the rains. What the rains will do to the crops has yet to be determined.”

He says grain sorghum harvest was halted due to wet fields. “We’ve had no reports of sprouting grain in the unharvested heads. A few fields dried enough by early this week to allow continued harvest. Additional rains and delays in harvest may lead to some damage in the 20 percent to 30 percent of the crop that was still in the field as of this week.”

With open weather, Wallace expects cotton harvest to ratchet up quickly. “Our forecast looks fairly clear now, and dryland producers are busy defoliating this week.”

The rain was too late for much of the dryland cotton crop. “Unfortunately, most of the dryland cotton is poor to fair,” Wallace says.  “Some producers are getting their insurance adjusters to look at the fields this week.  I have not heard of any adjusted yields yet.”

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