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Timely rainfall prompts Southwest Plains cotton planting

The High Plains finally got some rain.

“Welcome and much needed rains fell across a large part of the Texas High Plains Monday (May 5) night and into the early hours of Tuesday morning,” says Roger Haldenby, vice president for operations, Plains Cotton Growers Inc., Lubbock.

“The band of precipitation moved from northeast to southwest, giving as much as 2 to 3 inches in localized areas west of Lubbock according to National Weather Service radar.

It was a much-needed rain as cotton farmers prepare to plant.

“Some areas needed rain more than others,” says Shawn Wade, media director for Plains Cotton Growers. “But the whole area needed a good general rain.”

Wade says April brought a few small showers, a few heavier rains in isolated areas and “50 percent of the days with 30 to 40 mile per hour winds. Areas around Lamesa received as much as 4 inches of rain in late April, but spots just a few miles away got much less. And high winds the next day pulled a lot of that moisture out of the soil.”

Wade says a few farmers with irrigation had started planting by the first week in May. “But temperature is still not great.”

He says the forecast for the Muleshoe area in early May indicated nighttime temperatures near freezing.

Weather, except for being dry and windy, has been inconsistent. Wade says temperatures will inch up for several days then drop back into the low 40s or mid to high 30s. “It seems like every third or fourth night we get a cool snap. We've just not had a consistent warm-up this spring.”

Plains Cotton Growers expects no significant change in estimated acreage for the area. “We still think farmers will plant about 3.5 million acres.” That's up slightly from 3.2 million last year and Wade says a few more could come in or fall out, depending on weather. Continued dry conditions might push some corn acres back to cotton. Or dryland cotton farmers may opt out and plant grain sorghum. “That's a better option this year with a better price for milo and for a good rotation crop. Usually farmers can't make money with grain sorghum.”

Vic Schoonover, with North Texas Oklahoma Kansas Cotton, says Oklahoma and Kansas cotton farmers face a mixed bag of weather conditions as they prepare to plant. Schoonover offered reports from both J.C. Banks, Oklahoma Extension cotton specialist, and Dick Cooper, marketing representative with Plains Cotton Cooperative Association in Liberal, Kan.

In Oklahoma, cotton farmers south of Altus have sufficient surface moisture to begin planting cotton. Conditions north of Altus are drier. Banks says the “farther north from Altus you go the surface moisture falls off more rapidly. In that area 50 percent to 60 percent have adequate moisture and subsurface moisture at 24 inches is still good.”

Banks recommends that farmers who have a lot of cotton to plant should go ahead and start so they will not fall behind. He says with a prediction for rain, farmers should wait for rain and then start planting.

Soil temperatures at the 4-inch depth were running 60 to 65 degrees in early May.

Cooper says farmers began planting around May 8 in Cowley and Sumner Counties, but most will plant from May 15 through May 30.

Kansas, like the Texas High Plains, has had below-normal temperatures across the state. “Cooper says forecasts for the week of May 5 called for 70 degree temperatures, the highest so far.

He says moisture conditions across the southern three tiers of counties in Kansas where cotton is planted vary from “excessive in the East to extreme drought in the southwest. Central areas including Pratt, Kiowa and Edwards counties have adequate moisture for planting.

“This is the first year we will see significant planting of dryland cotton in the southwest portion of Kansas,” Cooper says. “We received good rains in that part of the state the night of May 5, so we had adequate moisture for planting.”

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