Business feature: Area cotton farmers catching up on harvest after wet weather

Cotton is harvested Saturday in a field off Texas Farm-to-Market Road 145 east of Farwell. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Warmer weather and sunnier skies have allowed the delayed cotton harvest to get back into full swing. However, cotton producers say the record yields predicted earlier this year probably won’t be realized.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a good year.

The Parmer County Co-op Gin is expected to handle about about 35,000 bales this year, according to business manager Randy Mitchell, which is up drastically from last year. The Co-op handled 8,000 bales last year when inclement weather ruined the crop early.

Mitchell said he’s seeing yields averaging upwards of two bales of cotton per acre, which is above the national average of roughly 1.7 bales an acre.

“We had good planting conditions, got it going, had a good strong start, and it came in here and got wet, and then stayed cool,” said Edwin Teltschik, manager of Parmer County Co-Op. “When it’s cool outside, that cotton just doesn’t mature.”

However, for this region farmers expect about 2.6 bales per acre in an average year, Teltschik said.

Teltschik said this will likely be an average year in terms of bales produced, and a little below average in terms of bales per acre harvested.

However, the cool weather late in the summer reduced crop quality and will hurt market value, cotton farmers say.

“Quality and yield is probably 20 to 40 percent less than a normal year,” said Billy Rucker, who farms in Curry and parmer counties.

Rucker said improved weather has allowed him to get the harvest machinery through the fields. Now he is working about 16 hours a day to get the crop in — starting about 8:30 a.m. and finishing by 11. p.m. — in the hopes of getting his entire crop out of the fields by Christmas.

“They are real soft because they are still saturated,” he said, “but it’s tolerable now.”

Mark Howard, who farms cotton in Parmer and Curry counties, finished his cotton harvest over the weekend. He said the maturation rate of his cotton was managed in a way that allowed him to finish up earlier.

“There’s a lot of different production systems out there, and ours is one that promotes earliness,” he said. “We’ve got some nice weather now.”

About 13,700,000 acres of cotton were planted this year nationwide and13.2 million have been harvested so far. US cotton production for 2004 is estimated at 22.8 million bales, or about 1.7 bales per acre. The national cotton crop yield is at 818 pounds per harvested acre, up more than 23 percent from last year’s production, according to numbers from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Cotton count
Cotton statistics for New Mexico and Texas:

•New Mexico
Acres planted in 2004: 60,000
Change from 2003: Up 4,000
Yield per acre: 938 pounds

•Texas
Acres planted: 6 million
Change from 2003: Up 400,000
Yield per acre: 663 pounds

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service.