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Drought and heat takes its toll on Texas cotton growers

The 25 counties around Lukkock, Texas make up the world’s largest cotton patch; but most of the fields are barren.

High Plains cotton maturing during the 2010 crop year. Source - USDA NRCS Texas, CC SA 2.0.
High Plains cotton maturing during the 2010 crop year. Source - USDA NRCS Texas, CC SA 2.0.

The 25 counties around Lukkock, Texas make up the world’s largest cotton patch; but most of the fields are barren.

Extreme drought conditions, along with extreme heat and very little rainfall have severely damaged much of this year’s cotton harvest in the U.S., which produces about 35 percent of the world’s crop.

U.S. cotton is grown predominantly in 17 southern-tiered “Cotton Belt” States -from Virginia to California. Among the U.S. States,  Texas claims 40 percent of U.S. cotton production in recent years with most production concentrated in the High Plains region, as cotton is particularly suited for that area’s climate.

For cotton farmers, the extreme drought, plus the triple-digit temperatures have taken their toll. Where waist-high cotton plants normally grow, the landscape is now defined by barren, brown fields.

Nowhere in Texas is this more jarring than in the Panhandle, say cotton farmer Alan West in southwest Lubbock County. “There’s lots of infrastructure in and around Lubbock for ginning and cottonseed processing, bale storage, and warehousing equipment dealers,” West said. “So, Lubbock is kind of the hub of the cotton industry here in Texas.”

The International Center for Agricultural Competitiveness at Texas Tech University estimates this year’s cotton production in the High Plains will be down by about $2 billion.

Texas farmers planted close to 7.9 million acres of cotton, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that only around 2.5 million acres will be harvestable this year.

Farmers will collect some crop insurance, which is based on historical averages. “Crop insurance will not make you whole, but it allows us to sustain weather events like this,” West said.

Another thing to consider is that it is not just the farmers who are affected by the poor yield this year.

Farmers harvest cotton from a 140 acre field in Ellis County, near Waxahatchie, Texas, on September 19, 2022
Farmers harvest cotton from a 140-acre field in Ellis County, near Waxahachie, Texas, on September 19, 2022 – Copyright AFP Andy JACOBSOHN

“Reduced production from this year’s cotton crop will not only impact farmers who are already facing a challenging time due to drought and high input costs but will also have an impact on the local economies that rely on cotton,” Brant Wilbourn, Texas Farm Bureau associate director of Commodity and Regulatory Activities, said.

Wilbourn added, “As less cotton is produced, downstream users—such as gins, warehouses, and shippers—will oversee less cotton. That will lead to a loss of economic activity.”

Katie Lewis, a professor of soil chemistry and fertility at Texas A&M University in Lubbock, said extreme heat and dry events are growing more intense, but not necessarily more common, reports the Associated Press.

In late summer and early fall, rains began to fall across portions of the state, including the High Plains region. Unfortunately, it was too late to help this year’s cotton crop.

But like the cotton plant itself, Texas farmers have deep roots in the soil. And they’re optimistic that next year will be better.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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