South Plains planting off to a slow start

By Jennifer Dorsett

“The weather is not cooperating.”

Crosby County Farm Bureau member and farmer Lloyd Arthur said that’s the bottom line across the Texas South Plains when it comes to the 2020 planting season.

Although Motley County is the only county in the region that is officially experiencing drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Arthur said high temperatures, lack of moisture and an overall atmosphere of uncertainty have area farmers hedging their bets a bit when it comes to planting.

“Very little cotton has been planted so far in this area,” he said. “I have about 200 acres of cotton planted that’s under irrigation right now, but I have some dryland milo that hasn’t even germinated yet because of the lack of moisture.”

With the area’s U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated planting deadlines looming, Arthur said it’s hard to decide what—and how much—to plant.

“Planting cottonseed is an expensive undertaking,” he said. “It can cost anywhere from $250-$450 for a bag of seed depending on the quality and crop technology that’s gone into its development. So, it’s difficult to set your mind to planting high-priced seed when you think it may not make a crop.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to farmers’ uncertainty, Arthur noted. He said prices were already low, but now cotton and sorghum prices are well below production costs.

“But the irony of this whole deal is that we may end up having a wet growing season and get a great crop, or October could see higher prices when we go to harvest,” Arthur said. “There are just lots of factors outside of a farmer’s control.”

Arthur recently attended his first farm equipment sales auction since the pandemic hit the U.S., and the effects of COVID-19 are starting to be felt downstream, too.

“The prices closed at levels I would consider to be depressed,” he said. “It’s indicative of the times, I think, because there was a pretty good crowd, and big crowds tend to increase sale prices, but not this time. People are just being very cautious because of the weather and the economy.”

While the area doesn’t rely much on H-2A labor, Arthur added, he’s concerned the pandemic may make the existing shortage of agricultural laborers worse.

“We’re always looking for seasonal help, especially around planting and harvest time,” he said. “It’s always hard to find, but I think things may get harder now.”

Farmers are getting by with using more technology and bigger equipment to make up for fewer laborers, but it’s hard to know how the situation may look closer to harvest season.

But currently, those concerns are far off. The biggest worry on South Plains farmers’ minds right now is lack of rain and low commodity prices.

Lloyd said despite receiving some rain in Crosby County on May 13, the soil in some of his fields still doesn’t have enough moisture to germinate seed. Rain is in the forecast for the weekend, however, so he and other area farmers will continue to remain hopeful for more.

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