Despite heavy flooding in the Carolinas, the U.S. cotton harvest is progressing on schedule. Cotton production also will be close to early estimates, and prices will likely continue to trade in a range. Yet despite the status quo statistics, many of the nation’s cotton farmers are under stress.
“December cotton futures, and most of the other contracts, have been stuck in a range of 60 cents to 68 cents per pound, and growers get about 5 cents or 6 cents fewer than that,” said John Robinson, cotton specialist with Texas A&M University. “It’s a sub-profitable price range. Growers could have problems paying off operating notes, and there could be some financial stress.”
U.S. cotton harvest, however, is right on schedule with 31% of the nation’s crop picked as of October 18. That compares with the five-year average of 32% and last year’s 28% for the comparable week.
While many states are ahead of schedule, cotton harvest in several states, including California, Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and South Carolina, is lagging the states’ five-year averages.
Carolinas in Rough Shape
Of all the cotton-growing states, both South and North Carolina have been hit particularly hard due to heavy rains and flooding. More than half, or 62%, of North Carolina’s cotton is in fair to poor condition, and South Carolina’s crop is in even worse shape, with 78% rated fair to poor.
Four of the worst hit counties in South Carolina were Clarendon, Williamsburg, Georgetown, and Florence, where as much as 75% of the cotton is lost, according to Jacob Stokes, Florence County extension agent with Clemson University.
“There is some harvestable cotton,” said Stokes. “In some spots, they are just getting into the fields, but some spots are still wet, and some of the cotton still needs to be defoliated.”
Most of the floodwaters have receded in South Carolina, except for where rivers are still above flood stage. On fields that flank these rivers, the ground is still too muddy to bring in equipment, said Stokes.
“I am expecting USDA to downwardly revise production estimates for the Carolinas,” said Robinson. “There could be 200,000 to 300,000 fewer bales of cotton coming from that region.”
According to USDA’s October Crop Production, the Carolinas were expected to produce a total 1.08 million bales of cotton.
Texas Expects Better Yields
What happens in Texas, where 44% of the nation’s cotton is grown, and other states, however, could at least partially offset the severe damage in the Carolinas. Early observations in the Rolling Plains region of Texas are calling for better-than-expected yields, said Robinson.
“The Rolling Plains is a large area of dryland production,” said Robinson. “There are times with it produces lots of bales and times when it produces next to nothing.”
This year, he said that an extra 100,000 bales, compared with USDA’s latest estimate of 885,000 bales, could be harvested from the Rolling Plains alone.
Planting in Texas and some other states was late due to cool, wet weather, but somehow the cotton crop “cut out,” or dried out, quickly, said Robinson.
“There is a lot of cotton in the world,” he added. He expects both world and U.S. cotton prices to trend sideways well into next year.