The cotton harvest in the area began Aug. 14 with some bolls never reaching maturity before drought struck in July making this crop hit and miss like corn.
“We needed a good, gentle rain about three weeks ago. We have some cotton that is good and some that is not good at all,” said Jimmy Roppolo, United Ag general manager.
“There were fields that flooded (June 5) that won’t see anything, and had to be destroyed, but the cotton that got planted earlier and got some decent rain on it will be better,” Roppolo said. “I think it will be a decent crop.”
Planting dates for cotton this year in Wharton County ranged from March 22 to May 15.
Some cotton planted later that was not irrigated had small, immature bolls fall off when hit with drought, he added. Issues with the cotton in addition to fruit shedding included leaf disease, leaf shedding, nutrient deficiencies (primarily potassium) and cotton root rot later in the season.
Insects were also a problem, and a recurring trend for years, with fleahoppers requiring multiple insecticide applications and bollworms were on the Bt cotton.
The cotton coming into the Danevang gin from Placedo, Palacios and El Maton is “exceptional” in color and in fiber length, strength and uniformity, Roppolo said.
“It was planted early, and it was picked dry. That’s something we’ve not witnessed in the last three years. We’d have had a huge crop had they been able to plant on time and had we had rain three weeks ago,” Roppolo said.
Picking should pick up by next week, he said.
“Hopefully, we will keep the rain out now. As bad as our pasture people need it, our cotton people need dry weather now,” he added.
As of Monday, the gins have not received any Wharton County cotton, but that cotton is expected to come in by the middle of this week.
Seed moisture is the limiting factor on how fast cotton is ginned. With that in mind, the United Ag board changed ginning charges for wetter cotton.
“We may be the first gin in the world that has looked at moisture on seed cotton. We are hoping it works well, brings us great cotton to gin efficiently to make good money and pay people good dividends,” Roppolo said.
Lower prices per pound, tariff wars with China and the lack of foreign buyers have those in the industry concerned including Roppolo.
“Yield wise it will be fair, but price wise it stinks. We’re seeing cotton at 50 cents a pound when we saw 80 cent-cotton last year,” he said. “Even a good crop will have marginal profits.”
Where will the cotton go if not enough countries like China, Mexico, India and Vietnam are not buying?
“We are real concerned about where cotton will move. Not many people contracted any before they planted. Our exports are not any good right now,” Roppolo added.
Of the cotton grown in the area, 23 percent goes to China.
“I think these other countries are importing cotton but not much,” he said.
Without a change in the tariff situation, governmental payments to producers will not be enough, Roppolo said.
“If we don’t get some help pretty quick, there will be a lot more acres of corn and lot less acres of cotton (planted),” he said.
“The government has come up with payments to the producer in lieu of the markets we’ve lost, but it doesn’t come close to being what we need in price to make our producers whole. It’s a lot better to be able to sell it and not worry about what we might get from it.”