WINDMILL COUNTRY: Cotton acreage down; yield depends on weather


SAN ANGELO, Texas — The nation’s cotton producers expect to plant 13.2 million acres, down 11 percent from last year, with hopes of producing a good crop at harvest. But it all hinges on the weather during growing season, according to the annual Prospective Plantings report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Heavy precipitation in the Delta Region has delayed fieldwork in some areas. A mild winter in some cotton-growing states also has producers bracing for higher-than-normal insect and weed pressure this year.

Across Texas, farmers are projecting production of nearly 4 million extra cotton bales in 2012, depending, of course, on the weather.

Last year, 7.4 million acres were planted, said John Robinson, a cotton marketing economist at College Station. Robinson predicts 6.8 million acres in Texas will be planted in cotton this spring. A large part of the South Plains, known as the world’s largest cotton patch, remains in a drought. That region will determine the outcome next fall.

“We see some guarded optimism,” Steve Verett, executive vice president of Lubbock-based Plains Cotton Growers Inc. told Ron Smith, of Southwest Farm Press. “We’re not where we need to be, and some places on the High Plains are still very dry, but nowhere is it as dry as it was last year.”

Randall Corner, executive director of Southern Rolling Plains Cotton Growers Association, said deep moisture in the soil profile in the 12-county region is a good sign for prospects of a better-than-average crop yield as planting time approaches.

“The SRPCG board is projecting 240,000 acres will be planted in cotton throughout the region this year,” Corner said.

Last year, 359,000 acres were planted in cotton, but only 18,000 acres were harvested, he said. The majority was declared a disaster after a hot summer with daily temperatures exceeding 105 degrees and the worst drought in history.

The Southern Rolling Plains region is composed of Tom Green, Runnels, Concho, Coke, Coleman, Brown, McCulloch, Mason, Menard, Irion, Schleicher and southern Taylor counties.

Meanwhile, there has been a shift from cotton to corn in the Southeast and Mid-South since March 1, when the Prospective Planting survey was taken, according to some sources. The NASS report stated the nation’s farmers intended to plant 95.9 million acres of corn in 2012. That was already a 75-year-high.

The 2012 winter wheat planted area is estimated at 41.7 million acres, up 3 percent from 2011. In Texas, drought kept some farmers from planting, but rainfall started in December, which was enough to cause seeds to sprout. By late February, about 35 percent of the crop was termed good or excellent.

According to the weekly crop and weather report issued by Texas AgriLife Extension, the warm days quickened the maturing of wheat and brought warm-season grasses out of dormancy early in some areas. In other regions that were not so fortunate to receive frequent rains, the warm weather further dried out soils.

“(Last month) ended as the second-warmest March on record for Lubbock, with the last freezing low recorded on March 4,” agricultural agent Mark Brown said.

“Wheat is on the fast track of maturing, while some acreage is being harvested for hay,” said Steve Estes, Jones County agricultural agent.

“Warm weather and some rain have given wheat a big boost,” said Jerry Warren, agent in Callahan County, east of Abilene. “Weeds are going to be a problem in some wheat fields unless they’re grazed out. Some producers are considering buying back cattle that were sold during last year’s drought. They are cautiously optimistic.”

Oats and wheat are the best in Coryell County, south of Fort Worth, in the past 15 years, reports Lyle Zoeller, county agent. And good rains have filled all dirt stock tanks.