SAN ANGELO, Texas — The long, hot summer, with daily temperatures exceeding 105 degrees and an unforgiving drought that enters the history books as the worst in the Lone Star State since 1895, could result in driving Texas’ cotton production to the lowest yield in years.
Cotton harvest is 98 percent complete across the 12-county Southern Rolling Plains region with most of it produced from irrigated fields in the Lipan Flats farming area east of San Angelo.
Rodney Ripple, who farms southeast of Wall, said his irrigated cotton had an average yield of 2½ bales per acre this season.
Up the road and to the north of Wall, John and Doug Wilde reported harvesting from 1½ to 2 bales per acre on a 4,000-acre irrigated cotton field.
A mid-October cotton harvest on the Kenny Gully farm produced yields ranging from ½ to 1½ bales per acre.
“The heat along with no significant summer rain during the growing season was a big deterrence which didn’t help drip irrigation,” said Gully who farms in the “golden triangle” of Eola, Vick and Vancourt, 21 miles east of San Angelo.
A few scattered dryland cotton fields — crops that rely solely on rainfall — that reached harvest produced less than a bale per acre.
However, because of the weather circumstances of constant hot summer days and no moisture, cotton farmers seem pleased to make even this kind of yield.
“The 2011 cotton crop will likely go down as one of the worst production years since the Southern Rolling Plains Cotton Growers Association was organized in 1989,” said Randall Conner of Winters, the organization’s executive director. “We expect the total to run from 15,000 to 25,000 bales when ginning is complete.”
Last year the region produced 187,048 cotton bales. The record crop was set in 2007, when 301,848 bales were produced.
The 12-county SRP region entered the growing season last spring with 359,000 acres of planted cotton, Conner said, which was a significant increase over the average of about 225,000 acres.
The Southern Rolling Plains region is composed of Tom Green, Runnels, Concho, Coke, Coleman, Brown, McCulloch, Mason, Menard, Irion, Schleicher and southern Taylor counties.
The Wall Co-Op Gin, 10 miles southeast of San Angelo, had produced more than 7,000 bales by last Friday.
“Back in late July, some of our farmers were pitching guesses that the co-op would gin from 5,000 to 8,000 cotton bales in this dry year,” said General Manager Jerry Multer. “We could hit 8,000 by the time the last bale is ginned in a couple weeks.”
In normal years, the Wall Gin produces more than 40,000 cotton bales.
The Kasberg Gin Company in Miles, 17 miles northeast of San Angelo, also could reach 8,000 cotton bales. In comparison, the gin produced 38,912 bales last year.
“The quality is good, but the staples are short,” said Eugene Kasberg, gin manager. “I am surprised at ginning 8,000 bales this season. I figured we would be lucky to do 5,000 early in the season because of the drought.”
The Kasberg Gin serves farmers in a 70-mile radius, including Runnels, Tom Green, Concho, Coleman, Schleicher and McCulloch counties.
The Miles Co-Op Gin, southeast of Miles, had ginned 2,245 cotton bales as of last week, compared with 19,089 last year. Ron Niehues is manager.
Mereta Co-Op Gin, 19 miles east of San Angelo, has ginned 7,600 bales with approximately 70 bales left in modules on the gin yard.
Cotton modules — the rectangular packed cottonseed, fiber and stalks that normally hold from 10 to 12 bales each — store freshly harvested cotton at the edge of fields or in gin yards until ginning takes place. A bale weighs 480 to 500 pounds.
The Mereta gin, established in 1939, produced 47,768 bales last year, manager Tony Newton said.
Collected samples from cotton gins in the southeast portion of West Texas, along with all of Central and East Texas plus Oklahoma and Kansas, enter the U.S. Department of Agriculture Abilene Classing Office, where the quality of the crop is determined.
The Abilene facility, 90 miles northeast of San Angelo, has classed 426,918 samples so far, said John C. Fox, area director of the USDA Cotton Classing office in Abilene.
A sample of at least 4 ounces is taken from each side of the cotton bale by a licensed sampling agent, and the 8 ounce sample is delivered by the agent or designated hauler to the USDA classing facility.
USDA personnel measure the fiber and enter the classification results into a computerized database that reveals how cotton might affect the quality of the finished product and manufacturing efficiency.
Besides Abilene, there are three other classing facilities in Texas — in Lubbock, Lamesa and Corpus Christi.
Last Friday the Lubbock Cotton Classing Office reported 1.42 million samples had been classed. The Lamesa office reported 320,371 samples were classed for the season.
“Texas High Plains cotton production figures continued on their season-long decline, dropping by 180,000 bales,” said Mary Jane Buerkle, with the Lubbock-based Plains Cotton Growers. “Texas High Plains will likely produce 1.93 million bales, down from just more than 2.1 million bales.”
Expected yields statewide dropped from 4 million bales to 3.7 million bales.
Yields per acre estimates increased for the northern half of the Plains Cotton Growers service area from 576 pounds per acre up to 583, Buerkle said. However, that number dropped from 536 to 460 for the southern half.
About 4.61 million acres of cotton were planted on the High Plains, and 1.84 million acres is expected to be harvested.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, all cotton production in the United States is forecast at 15.8 million bales, down 13 percent from last year.
Yield is expected to average 771 pounds per harvested acre, down 41 pounds from last year.