Contacts: Brad Cowan, 956-383-1026, email@example.com
WESLACO – South Texas cotton and grain producers could have used some of the rain that was forecast for the area this week, but not too much of it, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
“Grain sorghum is being harvested right now, so a light rain of just a couple of inches would be good,” said Brad Cowan, an AgriLife Extension agent in Hidalgo County.
“What we don’t need is a prolonged rain that would affect grain quality,” he said.
” Heavy rains, like those that fell here in 2010, ruin grain weight, quality and value. Raging floodwaters in the Rio Grande that year came on the heels of Hurricane Alex. The storm made landfall in northern Mexico on June 30 and was followed by a tropical depression.
“By the time sorghum farmers got their grain to the elevators in 2010, a lot of it was ruined, worthless,” recalled John Norman, a cotton and grain crop consultant and retired AgriLife Extension entomologist.
“Many growers had to take their grain back out to their fields and just dump it,” he said. “We sure don’t need that. But we could use 2 to 4 fast inches of rain. That would cause a delay of three to four days, then get back to harvesting.”
With the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s cotton harvest still more than a month away, both Cowan and Norman agreed that a heavier rain would be good for both irrigated and dryland cotton.
“Growers have been having a hard time keeping up with the water demands of cotton,” Norman said. “We got beneficial rains in the spring, but we didn’t get those deep-soil soaking rains in the fall that would have come in handy now.”
The lack of rain has resulted in stressed cotton plants, Cowan said.
“There’s been a lot of irrigation activity the last few weeks,” he said. “Because of how our irrigation system is set up, not all growers can irrigate at the same time. So, some cotton and grain wasn’t irrigated in a timely fashion, or it was irrigated too late. Because of the high demand for irrigation water, growers have to take it when they can get it, instead of when they need it.”
Rain delays at planting initially slowed this year’s South Texas cotton crop by about two weeks off its normal pace. But not anymore, Norman said.
“We’re caught up now. We’re back to normal,” he said. “Fortunately, nobody has been cut off from irrigating. The limitations have been getting water to the cotton crop fast enough. With no significant rain and with the heat increasing, it increases the pressure and stress on plants. That can severely limit yields, so a good rain right now would improve chances of increased yields.”
Norman said some 400,000 acres of grain sorghum have been planted in the four-county area, alongside some 139,000 acres of cotton. Of that, 20,000 to 25,000 acres are on irrigated land; the remainder is on dryland farms.
“I’d say 99 percent of our growers produce both cotton and grain sorghum, so we’ll take whatever happens as far as rain is concerned,” he said. “But overall, both crops have good potential to produce higher yields than they did last year because it was so much drier last year.”
Despite increased chances of rain throughout the week, only light, scattered showers had fallen, none of them widespread, according to the National Weather Service website.
Another crop now being harvested is sunflowers, mostly in the McCook area, Cowan said.
“This could be a record year for sunflower acreage,” he said. “Hidalgo County normally produces between 5,000 and 10,000 acres, but this year we’re looking at about 22,000 acres. The increase is due to a good market, plus grower expectations of another dry year. Sunflowers tend to do better with less moisture.”
Cowan said sunflower fields are harvested with a combine, much like grain sorghum and corn. Depending on the market, the seeds are sold as a confectionary product for snacks and salad bars, or squeezed for their high-quality cooking oil.
“Growers can also take their product to the birdseed market if the price is higher. It all depends on the demand,” he said.