Wet weather dampens cotton outlook

Rain soaked cotton remains on the plant in a field south of Melrose. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Farwell farmer Randy Cain said there’s little chance his cotton crop will produce quality T-shirts this year. And the more it rains the greater the chance his 220 acres of cotton will produce nothing more than yarn.

The clock is ticking for Cain and other area cotton farmers. Wet weather over the weekend stopped the area harvest in its tracks. With fields soaked and muddy, farmers are now faced with the tedious task of waiting for extended periods of dry and sunny weather before they can get into their fields and bring in the crop.

“If the sun came out today and started shining and didn’t have any more wet weather it would be minimum five days before we could even get back in the field,” said Cain, branch manager of the agriculture store Wilbur-Ellis in Farwell. “We’re not losing quantity, we’re losing quality. In other words, they wouldn’t be making a nice cotton shirt out of it, but probably put it into yarn.”

Mark Williams, a member of the National Cotton Council, said much of the cotton in other parts of the country was harvested before the rains came, leaving only a little crop in their fields.

Williams, who works about 2,500 acres of cotton with his son Ryan in Farwell, said this area’s harvest didn’t start until just before the rains started, leaving he and other area farmers in a vulnerable position.

“It is by far the worst here on the High Plains of Texas and eastern New Mexico, because we just barely got started with our harvest,” Williams said. “Some people hadn’t even put a (harvester) in the field yet.”

The wet weather comes right as farmers were starting into the cotton harvest, leaving over 90 percent of the crop in the fields at this critical time, said Stan Jones, Curry County’s Ag. extension agent.

If it freezes while water is in the field or on the plants, farmers could experience severe plant damage and crop loss, he said.

“Most of them were going to get after it (start harvesting), either last Friday or (Monday), and it’s just not happening,” he said. “It’s too wet.”

This fall the North Plains Pest Management News reported the accumulation of heat units was slower this season, which prevented normal maturation of the cotton crop.

Because of this, most farmers let the cotton mature in the fields until the recent freeze. This fact, combined with the recent wet weather, is making harvest decisions for area farmers difficult.

The longer the cotton stays in the fields, the more the quality of the crop will suffer and market value per bale will drop, area farmers say. That is putting a premium on getting the harvest in as soon as possible.

Williams said he hasn’t experienced big losses on his cotton crop yet, but the longer the rain stays around, the more likely he will incur big losses in quality and quantity.

“We’re just hoping for the weather to clear up before we really have big losses,” he said.

Once the farmers begin the harvest, it may take upwards of 30 days to bring in the entire harvest, farmers say.