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Little Valley cotton to make it to harvest

While parts of the state have seen some rollback of the worst drought conditions, Lower Rio Grande Valley farmers continue to endure another year of extreme and severe drought, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

Brad Cowan, AgriLife Extension agent for Hidalgo County, said he’s lost count of how many consecutive years the region has suffered from drought, or of the losses incurred. Cotton producers, in particular, have had very “frustrating” years.

“It won’t take long for the cotton harvest to happen in the Rio Grande Valley this year,” he said. “There’s just not that many acres. For what did make a crop, it’s going to be a good year—where irrigators had some water.”

Traditionally, about half of Valley cotton and other crops are irrigated, according to Cowan.

“We had a significant number of acres that did not get planted, where growers took a preventive planting on crop insurance for cotton and grain because irrigation districts told them they would only have one irrigation on their acreage for the season,” Cowan said. “Many growers decided that wasn’t enough to justify chance putting in a crop at all.”

Typically, in the region, “one irrigation” amounts to 6 acre-inches of water, he said. One acre-inch is equivalent to a little more than 27,000 gallons.

The drought has been particularly hard on dryland cotton farmers, he said. There was no soil moisture before planting, and there were no rains in time to bring it up.

“We did get scattered showers in May and early June, but they were too late for most of our row crops—at least for the bulk of them,” he said. “It did help some of the irrigated crop that made a stand and could take advantage of the extra moisture. But for the dryland guys, it just compounded their misery.”

This was because before the rains came, dryland crops were on the verge of being zeroed-out as they hadn’t even emerged due to dry weather, Cowan explained. But after the rains, plants emerged. And though fields still had no chance of making a crop without some very significant rains, by crop insurance rules, farmers had to carry it through the season.

Drought and international politics have conspired to limit irrigation water available to Valley agriculture, according to Dr. Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. In Ribera’s 2012 study, lack of irrigation water and drought cost South Texas agricultural and agri-businesses nearly $400 million and resulted in the loss of almost 5,000 jobs.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought.

Date: 8/19/2013

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