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S. Texas needs dry weather

Lower Rio Grande Valley cotton and grain farmers were hoping the 2010 crop would make up for two straight years of disappointment.

It still might, but farmers likely will not see the high yields and top quality they had hoped for early in the season.

“The year started off promising,” says Ruben Saldano, Texas AgriLife District 12 Extension Administrator at the Weslaco Research and Extension Center.

“Now, some farmers are having grain sorghum rejected.” He said in some cases, growers are not sure why loads are docked heavily or refused.

“Many have had quality issues,” says Rod Santa Ana, Extension media specialist.

“We have not heard a lot of yield loss so far,” Saldana says.

They say grain sorghum was more vulnerable to heavy rains dropped on the seven-county Lower Rio Grande Valley area by Hurricane Alex and a tropical depression shortly afterward. Those came on top of a wetter than usual spring that provided ample moisture for farmers who had been drought plagued for the past two years.

Saldana says he had four inches of rain in his rain gauge before Alex hit. “The hurricane added another seven inches of rain.” The tropical depression added more. Total rainfall for the year stands at 26 inches, “above average,” Saldana says. “And most of that fell within a two- to three- week period.”

Cotton is faring better and Saldano says some growers expect excellent yields. He says the King Ranch is looking at potential for two-bale dryland cotton. “They made no cotton last year.”

But the crop is late. “Farmers planted late because of wet conditions. Harvest will be even later because of the storms.”

Extension economist Luis Ribera says Valley cotton farmers typically begin harvest in July. By mid-August, harvest had been underway for only 10 days.

“It’s well underway, but we have less than 25 percent harvested,” Saldana says. “Some farmers have fields harvested and stalks shredded.”

LRGV cotton producers have a September 1 deadline to destroy cotton stalks to comply with Boll Weevil Eradication Program regulations. That deadline likely will be extended because of unavoidable harvest delays.

Acreage is up this year to 90,000, compared to 60,000 last year.

Ribera says cotton yield and quality likely will take a hit from the heavy rain and harvest delays.

Santa Ana says all but 2,000 acres of grain sorghum had been harvested by August 11. “Farmers have had quality issues but hardly any sprouting.”

Farmers who plant in the floodway, he says, have experienced significant loss. “They are waiting for water to recede to see what shape the land is in. Some will not be ready to plant winter vegetables.”

Ribera says the seven county Lower Rio Grande Valley has been declared a disaster area.

The good news for farmers so far has been strong commodity prices, but Ribera says cotton may drop by late fall. In mid-August, Dec. cotton futures were at 80 cents a pound. Soybeans were at $10.44 a bushel; corn was $3.94; grain sorghum around $3.80; and wheat at $6.93.

“We have about 20,000 acres of soybeans in the area this year,” Ribera says. “Farmers are looking for a rotation for grain sorghum.”

They say sugar cane has fared well through the wet summer. “But some (citrus) orchards are under water,” Saldana says.

Farmers are now hoping for favorable weather to finish 2010 harvest and then to get winter crops in the ground in time to make market windows for 2011.

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