Lots of cotton

Staff photo by Albert Villegas

With the cotton harvest in full swing, pink and yellow cotton bales may be seen all across Wharton County, including these as you enter the El Campo city limits on the US 59 frontage road. The bales are awaiting transportation to a cotton gin.

Some Wharton County roads are still lined with little patches of white fluff, continuing to signal the strong 2020 cotton harvesting season.

The busiest harvest time for Texas cotton producers is between Sept. 13 and Dec. 21, according to state agriculture data. Several Wharton County cotton producers began harvesting last month.

Cotton merchandiser for United Ag Sally Andel estimated more than 7,500 acres of cotton had been picked locally as August was ending.

“We began ginning five days earlier this year.” Andel said. “At this time, we have not received any large amounts of rainfall on open cotton.”

Cotton producer A.J. Kresta of El Campo started harvesting in August. He got an early start this year, he said, and has finished picking one field.

“I’m about 15 percent done,” Kresta said. “There’re some farmers who are going to wrap up (by August’s end).”

The field he harvested had an above average cotton yield, but he expects the other fields he harvests to have smaller yields.

“About half of my acres are going to be really good, and the other half is not going to be as good because of weather conditions early on,” Kresta added. “About half of my field I had to replant because of flood and sands and wind.”

Danevang cotton producer Dean Hansen began early this year and expected to have about 90 percent of his crop harvested going into September.

“The yields have been really good,” Hansen said. “Right up there with last year, and some exceeding last year.”

When he first began harvesting earlier this summer, the weather conditions were ideal, Hansen said.

“We’ve got a few showers popping around today, but up until this point ... we’ve had just excellent weather for harvesting,” he said. “It’s been a real blessing.”

Texas cotton producers planted about 6.6 million acres of cotton in 2020. This is almost a half million acre decrease from nearly 7 million acres planted a year ago. In 2020, Texas producers planted 15,000 acres of American Pima cotton with the remaining acres being Upland cotton.

Low market prices due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic triggered a decrease in the number of cotton acres planted this year, said Andel, and demand for cotton has also been impacted.

“Retail sales for clothing, towels, sheets, etc. are down significantly,” she said. “Many manufacturers have closed to slow the spread of the virus. There is so much uncertainty. People are afraid to do anything.”

The low demand for cotton could also lead to problems with warehouse storage in the future, Andel said. If previous years’ crops aren’t used, there will be less space to store the cotton harvested this year.

“With low consumption, cotton is left in storage,” Andel said.

Hansen, Kresta and most local producers had kept an eye on Hurricane Laura as it headed to the Texas and Louisiana coastline last month. The storm didn’t affect Wharton County, even though it had been listed on Gov. Greg Abbott’s disaster declaration.

“We’ll harvest right up until the rain and sand starts blowing,” Hansen had said.

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