Cotton Growers Predict Successful Harvest if Rain Stays Away
BROWNSVILLE - Dr. Webb Wallace has become a sort of weather expert. His job requires it of him.
He's a cotton grower and the executive director for the Cotton and Grain Growers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Wallace said keeping a close eye on the weather is key, especially when rain is in the forecast.
"We pull-up the radar constantly to see where it is, sometimes every hour, to see where it's coming," Wallace said. "Usually every evening and every morning, to see what the forecast is."
The number of cotton farmers in the Valley is decreasing, Wallace said, but this year, there's more cotton planted - nearly 200,000 acres. That's 60,000 acres more than last year.
It's one of the more profitable crops for the area, he added.
"Even more so than other crops because of the economic activity that spreads around," Wallace said. "Whether it's aerial applicators, crop insurance agents, chemical deals men, seeds salesmen (and) gins."
Wallace added, dryland cotton, that is cotton that relies solely on rainwater to grow, needs the water at just the right time.
For farmers in the Valley, that's in April and May.
Now that it's July, the cotton is open and almost ready to be picked, Wallace said, farmers want the rain to stay away and the hot summer days to continue.
"If it's just a light rain, it doesn't get knocked out, it'll dry right back out and it doesn't stay wet very long, it won't be stained," Wallace said. "The biggest danger in cotton, like this cotton that's open behind me, is if it gets enough rain to knock it on the ground. Once it's on the ground, it's lost."
Such was the case in 2008. Hurricane Dolly wiped out the cotton fields in the lower Valley. When it made landfall, it brought high winds and two feet of water.
This year, Wallace added, farmers are on track for a successful harvest.
"There's almost always some crop that needs rain, whether it's sugar cane, citrus or pasture," Wallace said, "but no one wants rain when they are harvesting."
The deadline to get cotton fields cleared is Sept. 1, he said. However, it's unlikely farmers will wait till then, as August tends to bring more water than the fields need.