Texas crop, weather for May 5, 2015

Cotton farmers face price quandary but will probably plant anyway


Though soil moisture is better than it has been for years, Texas High Plains growers are hesitating planting cotton because of low prices. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Gaylon Morgan)

Though soil moisture is better than it has been for years, Texas High Plains growers are hesitating planting cotton because of low prices. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Gaylon Morgan)

Cotton growers in the Texas High Plains have been facing a quandary: to plant or not to plant, said Dr. John Robinson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service cotton economist in College Station.

Most Panhandle, South Texas and Rolling Plains farmers are seeing the best pre-plant soil moisture conditions they’ve had in years, but with current futures prices, cotton still doesn’t promise to be profitable – even with good yields, Robinson said.

“The futures price for the crop that’s fixing to be planted is right now trading around 66 cents per pound,” Robinson said. “That futures price has been in a really tight range since October — it’s been trading between 60 and 66 cents — and it just keeps bouncing around in there. About a year ago, it was trading above 80 cents, and it fell because of expectation of Chinese having a surplus and importing less – and it rained in West Texas.”

A fall futures price in the 66-cent range means a cash price to a farmer who sells his cotton would be in the upper 50-cent range, he said. Normally, the cash price farmers receive will be less than the futures price largely due to the expenses related to carrying the commodity until delivery.

“Generally that is not going to be a profitable price – unless we have one of those years like 2007 and 2010, where it’s a really wet year with the rain coming at the right time and lots of it,” Robinson said.

At two bales per acre, dryland cotton farmers could make money at current prices, he said. However, those kind of growing conditions come about once in 10 years. A more likely scenario is average or little better-than-average moisture during the summer and fall. This scenario would allow them to make good yields but not extraordinary ones, which means they could just about break even.

“These wetter summers can happen during El Niño years, and NOAA happens to be forecasting an El Niño year, so it’s possible, but still uncommon, and it’s a lot to risk,” Robinson said. “So if you’re the grower, or the grower’s banker, the question is should you hold onto wheat if you have it, or should you plant cotton or should you plant grain sorghum? They been in this quandary since the winter.”

The quandary is further complicated by the new farm bill provisions for cotton, which are really just “supplemental crop insurance,” and based on the current unprofitable prices, he said.

Still, Robinson believes that most farmers will stick with cotton because it’s a “known,” and the profitability outlook for grain sorghum at current prices is not that much better.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Central: Soil moisture, rangeland, pastures, crops and livestock were all in good condition. Hail and tornadoes damaged crops and structures in some areas. Stock-water tanks and lakes were full, and rivers flowing. Livestock were in good condition. Producers were cutting hay and preparing to bale it. Wheat looked very good. Corn and grain sorghum benefited from moisture. Some fruit crops were lost due to storms.

Coastal Bend: The weather was very nice, with most days dry, cool and clear. Soil moisture was very good. For the most part, crops fared well enough through the heavy rains and storms during the past month. The exceptions were a little wind damage to wheat and some isolated hail damage to watermelons. Planters had been rolling since April 30, although there were still some areas in fields that were too wet to navigate. Most farmers expect to be finished planting soon. Producers were also busy spraying pastures to control weeds. Many hay producers finished their first cutting of the season. Cattle had plentiful grazing and were in good shape.

East: Wet conditions continued throughout the region. Fields and pastures were soggy and soils saturated. Some producers reported tractors stuck in their fields and waiting for dry weather to get them out. Row-crop planting was slowed by the wet conditions. Vegetable producers were getting a few vegetables planted on hillsides and sandier soils. Ponds and creeks were full and overflowing. In Houston County, no cotton was planted as fields still had standing water. Already planted corn was under water. In Panola County, potatoes and onions had to be replanted. Disease pressure increased on vegetables and fruit trees. Most counties reported subsoil and topsoil moisture as adequate. Some northern counties had drier, warmer weather, which caused stimulated warm-season forages to grow rapidly. However, producers were not getting much fertilizer out on warm-season pastures due to the very wet ground. The southern counties had heavier rains and strong storms. Cattle were in good condition. Spring cattle work continued on new crop calves. The horn fly population exploded. Feral hogs were damaging upland pastures for a change, because they were being pushed out of bottom areas due to excessive rain.

Far West: On April 29–30, Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties had nighttime lows in the upper 20s to 30s, but little frost damage was being reported. Temperatures were 10 to 15 degrees higher along the Rio Grande River, with the rest of the counties reporting nighttime lows in the 40s and daytime highs generally in the mid-60s to upper 70s. A few areas had lows in the 80s and windy conditions all week. Farmers were finishing planting grain sorghum. Some wheat was harvested as big round bales. Others were waiting to see what wheat looked like later in May to the first of June, and were considering harvesting it for grain. Cotton planting was underway in El Paso and Reeves counties, with earlier-planted cotton 60 to 100 percent emerged and in good stands. Alfalfa looked good and was almost ready for a second cutting. Reeves County rice was in poor condition. Sunflower planting began. Cattle were in great shape. Pastures were still green but beginning to dry out and needed more rain.

North: Topsoil moisture was adequate to surplus. Weather was cool, with nighttime temperatures in the mid 40s. Rain accompanied the cool weather, with some areas receiving as much as 6 inches of rain and high winds damaging structures. All ponds were full or overflowing, and the ground was saturated. Fieldwork, including planting, was nearly impossible due to the wet conditions. Planting of grain sorghum, soybeans, cotton and sunflowers was stalled. Cattle were in good condition with plenty of grass to graze. Wild hogs continued to cause damage. June bugs and flies were invading the area.

Panhandle: Temperatures were near average most of the week, with from a trace to 6 inches of rain received throughout the region. Cool temperatures and the rain stalled field preparations and planting in some counties. The planting of cotton and peanuts was about to start, and sorghum planting had begun. The rains delayed corn planting in some areas, and there will be a rush to catch up as soon as farmers can get back in the fields. Where conditions were drier, corn planting began in earnest. Some cattle were being taken off wheat grazing. Ranchers were busy mending fences to get ready to move some cattle to rangeland in the coming weeks. Many rangeland fields have not been grazed for years because of the drought. The grazing of these pastures will help suppress the weed competition and provide some hoof traffic to plant grass seed and start the process of rangeland recovery. Deaf Smith County producers were assessing crop damage from a recent freeze, hail storms and high winds. From 15 to 25 area fields may have been totally devastated by the hail. Hemphill County has received from 5 to 10 inches of rain in the past 10 days, which really turned around the soil moisture situation. Creeks and the Canadian River were full. Ochiltree County wheat improved with a 2-inch rain, but it left standing water in fields. Irrigated wheat producers able to shut irrigation off. Randall County also had some wheat lost to hail. Cattle were in good condition.

Rolling Plains: Rain continued to fall across the region, which improved the prospects for wheat and other crops. Farmers and ranchers were optimistic for the first time in five years about summer crops and pasture recovery. Rangeland was improving daily. No cotton was planted yet, but as soon as fields dry out, planters will roll. Although farmers have enough soil moisture to plant cotton, they were hesitating because of low cotton prices. Fruit and vegetable growers were having a good year. There was a bumper strawberry crop, which will probably last longer than usual because of cool, rainy conditions. Vegetables were behind at least a couple of weeks. Stock-water tanks were full. Lake levels were rising but needed more runoff water.

South: Weather conditions were partly cloudy with no significant rains. Temperatures were cool at night and mild during the day. In the northern part of the region, Bermuda grass hay was being harvested, and wheat was maturing. Early planted corn was entering the tassel stage. Supplemental feeding of livestock was halted due to good forage conditions on rangeland and pastures. Soil moisture was mostly adequate in all northern counties. In the eastern part of the region, fields remained muddy in some areas. Producers will probably not be able to plant corn and grain sorghum until later in May. No significant rains occurred in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. Cotton and grain producers there will most likely leave unplanted fields fallow. Rangeland and pastures continued to be in good to excellent condition. Soil moisture was adequate in Duval, Jim Hogg and Jim Wells County, and surplus in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. In the western part of the region, coastal Bermuda grass hay fields neared being ready for the first cutting. Producers were preparing to plant onions, watermelons, cantaloupes, corn and sorghum. In Zavala County, corn, cotton, sorghum and watermelons didn’t develop well due to extremely below-normal temperatures. Pecan trees were blooming. Soil moisture was adequate in most of the western counties. In the southern parts of the region, field activity increased, including weed management in row crops. In Cameron County, cotton, corn and grain sorghum progressed well, and limited haying continued. In Hidalgo County, sugarcane harvesting began in fields that had dried out. Vegetable and citrus harvesting was winding down, and sesame and late grain sorghum planting was active. In Starr County, row crops were progressing well. Onion harvesting was interrupted by rain late in the week. Soil moisture was adequate throughout the southern counties.

South Plains: The region received more rain, from 0.5 to 1 inch. In Floyd County, the rain will help finish out the winter wheat and add good moisture to the soil for grain sorghum and cotton planting. Despite the continuing dry conditions, Bailey County producers began planting corn. Lubbock County recorded an official low of 38 degrees on April 29. Sorghum and corn were being planted by Lubbock County producers; early plantings had already emerged. Because of the rain, some Garza County farmers were unable to continue field preparation for cotton planting, but planting should get underway in the next couple of weeks. Scurry County cotton farmers were in good shape, but farmers are having a hard time getting wheat-for-hay fields baled because of frequent rains. Rangeland and pastures were in good to excellent condition. Cattle were in good to excellent condition, too.

Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely but was mostly in the adequate to surplus range. Many parts of the region remained very wet, which was preventing fieldwork and hay harvesting. In Walker County, trees were down are due to saturated soil conditions and high winds during the last storm. In Brazos County, sunny days and limited pest pressure allowed pastures to grow rapidly. In Montgomery County, the cool conditions hampered warm-season grass growth. Bitter sneezeweed, dog fennel, ragweed and other weeds were growing fast. Montgomery County conditions were dry enough to allow for some herbicide and fertilizer applications. Waller County also had heavy rains and tornadoes that uprooted trees and damaged structures. Metal debris from barns littered pastures. Corn was emerging in some areas. In Chambers County, some planting has been done by “mudding in.” Ducks feeding on new shoots, as well as excessive water, have resulted in uneven rice stands. Fort Bend County had dry enough weather to allow producers to continue planting cotton and apply fertilizer. Low-lying fields of sorghum were showing some yellowing due to wet conditions. Livestock were in good condition.

Southwest: Some counties received rain last weekend but dried out during the week. The rain delayed the first hay cutting and cotton planting. Some counties received hail, high winds and excessive rain damaged wheat and other crops. Local government offices and crop insurance adjusters were assessing the severity the damage. Corn and grain sorghum were generally in good condition, as were pastures and rangelands. Livestock and wildlife were in good condition.

West Central: The weather was excellent with warm days and cool nights. Scattered showers fell in many areas. Soil moisture was adequate in most areas. All area lakes and ponds needed more rain. Field activity increased, with producers preparing fields for cotton planting. Wheat was mostly in excellent condition. Producers continued to harvest some wheat for hay and forage but will harvest most wheat for grain. Many producers were planting forage sorghum. Spring planting of grain sorghum and hay was underway. Producers were busy applying fertilizer and weed killers on hay pastures. Haygrazer was up and off to a good start. Rangeland and pastures were in good to excellent condition. With excellent grazing conditions, livestock were in fair to good condition. Cattle and goat prices remained very good. Pecans were progressing well.