Drought, lack of irrigation water taking their toll
WESLACO — Despite drenching rains April 28, drought-stricken row crops growers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley may be in for another disastrous year, possibly doubling their $50 million drought losses of 2006, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts in Weslaco.
“Reports of failed acres of cotton, grain sorghum and corn have not yet started coming in, but I suspect they will in the coming days and weeks,” said Dr. Luis Ribera, an AgriLife Extension agricultural economist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.
This year is shaping up to be much like 2006 when growers were challenged by an extended drought which was only made worse by a severe lack of available irrigation water from the Rio Grande, Ribera said.
“In 2006, Valley dryland growers lost 75 percent of their cotton acreage, 86 percent of their corn acreage and 43 percent of their grain sorghum acres to drought,” he said. “At 2006 market prices, losses exceeded $50 million. But market prices have more than doubled in some cases, so losses could be much higher this year, as much as $100 million.”
In 2006, cotton prices were 55 cents per pound, corn was at $2.35 per bushel and grain sorghum was fetching $4.15 per hundredweight, he said.
Today, those prices are 87.5 cents per pound of cotton, $6.84 per bushel of corn and $11.50 per hundredweight of sorghum.
All indications are that area cotton growers will produce one of their smallest crops on record this year, according Danielle Sekula, an AgriLife Extension cotton integrated pest management entomologist in Weslaco.
“Our estimations are that growers have planted only 80,000 to 90,000 acres of cotton,” she said. “That compares with an average of 150,000 acres planted each of the last three years, and an average of 220,000 acres of cotton planted between 2004 and 2006.”
This year could rival 2009 when only 60,000 acres were planted, 77 percent of which were lost to drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The lower acreage years, like this year, are mostly due to drought,” Sekula said. “But this year we also have a lack of irrigation water in reserves, as well as higher market prices for alternative crops that growers switched to, like corn and grain sorghum.”
Growers have planted an estimated 30,000 acres of corn and 410,000 acres of grain sorghum this year, Ribera said.
“We’re just not sure how helpful Sunday’s rains will be for growers in the immediate future,” he said. “Rainfall varied from 1 to 6 inches, so it depends on where the heaviest rains fell and what crops they fell on. It likely helped farmers on irrigated fields more than dryland fields.”
For irrigated farmers, the rains provided a free irrigation, Ribera said. And it helped wash the salinity out of the soil that had built up from irrigation water.
“For many dryland farmers who never saw their crops emerge, rains were likely too little too late,” he said. “But even if the rains helped an irrigated cotton farmer make it through the season, he or she likely won’t have enough irrigation water allocations for their fall crop.
“It’s just not looking good. We need a big rain event this summer to turn this drought around and start filling our reservoirs upriver at Falcon and Amistad dams.”