Ag economy takes a hit with hurricane

September 6, 2017

Texas cotton damage reports are filtering in slowly as we go into the second week since Hurricane Harvey moved into the coastal regions as a Category 4. Many cotton fields are still underwater making it difficult to calculate acre losses and the number of modules destroyed, or at least heavily damaged, where harvest was in process or had been completed. Complicating the situation is the fact that some Extension personnel, who were evacuated, have not been able to get back to their regional locations.

Conservative estimates are that Harvey wiped out unharvested fields representing a potential loss of 400,000-plus cotton bales. Nearly all of the 200,000 acres lost in the Upper Coast were loaded with bolls. Quality loss will be a huge issue for growers who were pounded by rain but are still able to harvest the crop. Harvey hammered crops in the southern Blacklands and left Brazos Bottom fields under 2 feet of water. Several cotton gins were damaged and others could be without electricity for weeks.

Elsewhere, aphids are a problem in parts of the South Plains, and bollworms are still on the radar. Panhandle fields look good but need more heat. Bollworms are active in southwest Kansas fields and concern over Bt resistance is increasing. Arizona could see more heat stress damage than anticipated.

Crop Reports from the Coastal Areas  

John Robinson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Economist/Cotton Marketing Specialist, College Station: “We’ve projected that about 400,000 bales worth of cotton was still on the stalk when Hurricane Harvey and the huge amount of rainfall hit the Coastal Bend, the Upper Gulf Coast and other southeast Texas production areas. That is a conservative estimate and likely the minimum amount of damage. The cotton was either blown away or heavily degraded. Even if farmers are forced to harvest the damaged fields by the Risk Management Agency, they will probably receive a heavily discounted price.

“Overall, those 400,000 bales are a small portion of the projected harvest of 8.8 million bales in Texas. That’s about 5% of the projected production. There are also hundreds of conventional modules that have been destroyed or damaged on farms or at gin yards.

“For farmers and gin operators who suffered losses, this is a tremendous hardship. Insurance will help some, but won’t approach what the return would have been for bumper crops.

“For cotton markets, the timing of the damaged cotton creates a gap in the timely availability of quality cotton. Farmers there had a high yielding, strong quality crop that was ready for processing. Cotton that is too wet will see poor color grades and maybe bark, trash, etc. As the tropical storm moves up through Louisiana and into Mississippi and Arkansas, there could also be some quality issues for that cotton.

“The impact on the futures market out of New York will likely be minimal. December futures were up a little this morning (8/30) at 70.30 to 70.40 cents. There is not any limit-up reaction.

“Again, it is far too early to determine the magnitude of the economic impact of Harvey on cotton and other agriculture. Farmers, gin operators, allied industries and AgriLife and USDA personnel will be examining the aftermath for a long time.”  

Jeff Nunley, executive director, South Texas Cotton and Grain Association, Victoria: “Our association represents 25 to 30 gins and many farmers. This year they were expected to grow about 225,000 acres of cotton north and east of Victoria toward Brazoria and Fort Bend counties and about 465,000 acres south and west toward Kingsville and Uvalde. I fear the worst for those farmers northward in the Upper Coast.

“Only about 35% of that cotton had been harvested before Harvey struck. Of the remaining acres that were not yet harvested and were probably lost in the storm, those losses are likely in the $100 to $150 million range or more. That probably doesn’t include the value of the seed.

“Many of those harvested acres had been custom picked. So those farmers are also out those expenses. For cotton that had been picked and in a module, there are concerns about how the quality will be impacted and if they can still be ginned. For acres that had not been harvested, I’m hoping that USDA and RMA can provide some relief for those farmers. If some of that cotton is harvested, much of it will have already sprouted, and ginning cost will come out of their pocket.

“I feel we dodged a bullet in Victoria. We were far enough away from the eye wall. Our damage is nothing like Rockport, Port Aransas and Bayside areas and we didn’t receive the rain like those northward. Others need to know that our area farmers have suffered a tremendous loss. They need to know how bad this is.”

Josh McGinty, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agronomist, Corpus Christi: “We toured damage north of Corpus Christi on Tuesday (8/29). We won’t know all of the damage for a week or more, but it’s a bad thing to see. A lot of conventional modules were heavily damaged by 100 mph-plus winds and lots of rain. Some modules are completely obliterated. Modules scattered by wind and rain will see the quality go way downhill.

It’s nearly a total loss in some cases.

“In Corpus we were lucky. We only had 4 to 5 inches of rain. We were 100% picked before it hit and most of that cotton goes into round modules. As long as the round modules are not in standing water, they should be all right. I saw very few of them with physical damage.

Acreage south of Corpus seems fine. But as soon as you get north of San Patricio and Nueces counties, it’s a different story.

“In the Bayside area cotton is devastated. Modules we saw on Thursday (8/24) were nearly gone on Tuesday (8/29). The Bayside Gin will likely be down several weeks or even months. We saw probably 200 conventional modules on gin yards that were destroyed or heavily damaged.

“Most gins seem to have just cosmetic damage except Bayside and one or two more. The bigger struggle will be getting electricity restored.

Officials are talking about 4 weeks or more to get power restored. We saw miles and miles of downed power and telephone poles.

“There are big efforts to get livestock and show animals out of flooded areas. We’re also hearing it’s a struggle to get proper water to animals in some areas. We’re getting requests for water safeness test kits.

“A lot of our county agents are not yet back in their counties. Many are still under mandatory evacuation. All of this just breaks your heart. We had such a good crop with production so high that gin trucks couldn’t get to all of the modules. Gin yards were so full before the hurricane. But growers and their families are safe and sound and we can be thankful for that.”

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Category: Agriculture