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Harvest season challenges continue for Texas coastal farmers

A week of rain-free, sunny weather ramped up the temperatures to the “sweltering point” during the second week of August. That accelerated the drying of waterlogged grain sorghum and cornfields across the Lower Coastal Bend region. This, in turn, brought equipment back to the fields awaiting harvest.

After four or five days with harvest crews running as close to full-blast as wet soil conditions would allow, progress was once again stalled by a combination of problems. The primary problem was the lack of grain storage. Most country elevators were at, or very near, maximum capacity. The export elevators were also nearing capacity and besieged by long lines of trucks with in-bound grain shipments. This limited the country elevators’ abilities to create space by shipping out grain contracted to major buyers specifying delivery to export elevators at the Port of Corpus Christi, quickly enough to make more space.

A short supply of grain trucks further complicated the situation. This created a ripple effect that ultimately resulted in the “snails-pace” movement of grain from country elevators in the Lower Coastal Bend to the major export elevators. Most independent truckers had little desire to accept jobs moving grain out of the jam-packed country elevators to the export elevators. They didn’t want to risk being tied-up in long lines at the Port of Corpus Christi dumping only one load every day or two, when they could be hauling three or four loads per day from farmers’ fields to near-by country elevators.

Also, farmers were reluctant to release truckers from field hauling arrangements when they still had significant quantities of grain to transport. It became a difficult situation for all parties involved. All these problems go back to the basic issue of storage capacity. It could be said that our region has a “size 12" grain crop that we are attempting to cram into a “size 10-½” boot.

The potential for a problem of this type was recognized by area elevator managers just after the planting of the larger grain acreage was completed. It was also a topic in this column back in early June when it was apparent that a far better-than-average crop was in the making. At that time it was evident that generous moisture conditions would boost yield potentials to historic proportions for much of the South Texas grain belt.

During the past ten to fifteen years, there has been no economic incentive to hold grain in long-term storage due to changes in government farm policy. The trend moved toward growing more cotton and less grain during the past decade. Therefore, much of the older grain storage facilities across the coastal region were dismantled.

Typically, when mid-August arrives, farmers in the Coastal Bend are harvesting cotton at a rapid pace since their grain crop has been harvested nearly a month earlier. They are also keeping a sharp eye on long-range tropical weather conditions, because they tend to get more active about this time of each year. This season’s cotton crop was delayed from the start in Nueces, San Patricio, and surrounding counties. A wet July also extended the bloom period. Cooler nighttime temperatures slowed boll development. These factors have resulted in at least a two-week delay in cotton harvest season.

Many farmers began applying defoliation treatments on their more mature cotton during early August. In South Texas, under the hot temperatures typical for August, harvest aid-treatments can drop between 70 percent to 90 percent of the foliage from cotton plants in about a week’s time. That means picking machines will gather the cotton from these fields around the middle of the month, weather permitting.

Now that tropical weather conditions are developing in the Gulf, farmers are having to make some very difficult decisions — just how much of their cotton crop do they want to have exposed without the natural protection of cotton leafs to umbrella rainfall away from the open cotton bolls.

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