Pictured: A cotton harvester and harvested crops sit idle due to damp conditions outside of Alice. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR

Wet fields causing farmers to spot harvest crop

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Three weeks past the original harvest deadline of Sept. 1, nearly 50 percent of this year's cotton crop is still in the fields of Jim Wells County, after scattered rainfall caused local farmers to spot harvest.

Jim Wells County Extension Agent Rogelio Mercado said Friday the rain seems to be falling in places that are ready to be harvested, which has delayed the process quite a bit.

This has forced farmers to spot farm, or harvest in a drier area of the field, and then move on as the rainfall and ground conditions dictate, harvesting different sections at different times.

"Hopefully by the end of September we'll be through with harvest, if the weather holds," Mercado said.

After the harvest, farmers have to go back out again to remove the cotton plants; to be sure the area is unhostable for the boll weevil, which is always a constant threat to local farmers.

Mercado estimates that in terms of yields, there have been decent reports on cotton. The plants are big this year, in response to excessive rainfall.

He said, though, that just because they're big this year, doesn't necessarily mean a good crop.

Farmers sometimes suffer a reverse effect because of the extra energy the plant spends growing large, energy that should be directed to the crop itself.

"This growing season remained cooler early on, and was more wet than normal," Mercado said. "Cotton likes it a little more drier than we received this year.

"The bigger cotton bolls are set at the lower base of the plant, which didn't happen this year. Relative to other years, the yield was not affected as dramatically, but it was affected earlier in the year," Mercado continued. "As seen in the fields this year by a very distinct line of some 10 to 12 inches where there is no cotton."

Mercado said as the harvest continues the rainfall is having an effect on the quality of the bolls. As they open up and are exposed to the heavy rains, it will affect the quality of the cotton. One of the biggest challenges facing farmers is just getting into the fields, which are still extremely wet, he said.

The real effects of the weather on the quality of cotton this year won't been known until it is tested at the gin, to see how much is docked for quality.

Mercado said firm financial numbers will be calculated in the county agriculture report, which will be complied in November and released by Dec. 1.

"We'll see then what was harvested in the end, and what was made," Mercado said. "It's been a challenging year with a lot of potential. Most of our producers looking forward to wrapping it up."