July and August brought more than its share of up's and down's for farmers and ranchers in the South Texas Region.
On the down side, the Lower Rio Grande Valley had a direct hit from Hurricane Dolly just as the spring cotton and grain crops were ready for harvest. That storm had a negative impact on citrus and other horticultural crops in the area as well. But rainfall from that storm perked up ranching areas to the west and north of the Valley that were in a lingering drought that began nearly a year earlier.
In the Lower Coastal Bend, Dolly's effects were not as severe. Early cotton that had been defoliated and ready for harvest took the brunt of losses. But the hurricane-related rains helped green up grazing pastures and hay meadows while it "ragged-up" early cotton fields that had a high percentage of open bolls. Scattered shower hampered progress of cotton harvest across the region.
The field cleaning efficiency of cotton harvesting equipment dropped sharply following Hurricane Dolly. The storm's winds and driving rains matted cotton fibers and took the "fluff" out the cotton bolls making it difficult for spindle pickers to grab locks of cotton and remove them from the cotton burs.
Some Coastal Bend farmers indicated that picking difficulty following the storm was contributing to losses of 100 to 200 pounds of lint per acre. That resulted in some grower switching from cotton picking machines to cotton stripping machines on their lower yielding, shorter stature cotton patches.
This is being done in an effort to retrieve as much cotton from these fields as possible. These fields were drought stressed during the growing season and storm ravaged during the harvest season. They are far from high yielding, so every pound that can be gathered counts.
While Coastal Bend farmers were struggling with the challenges of harvesting storm battered cotton, the market for their late-planted grain sorghum was steadily dropping in price. With this scenario, an old saying among farmers comes to mind: "If the weather don't get you, the markets will." Unfortunately, some time these two factors converge to worsen the blow.
Granted, the corn futures markets had taken a major "weather panic" jump due to the massive flooding that occurred across the Mid-western corn belt states during June and was due a correction. That futures market jump drove up competitive feed grains like grain sorghum.
Once the floodwater receded and the Mid-west croplands had a couple weeks of sunshine, their crop prospects looked much better than first estimated. Grain futures began to decline. The reality of a dry spring across much of Texas and Oklahoma did little to moderate the adjustment that turned into a price plunge during early August.
Since early July, the South Texas grain sorghum market dropped from around $10 per hundred weight to prices in the neighborhood of $8.30 per hundred during mid-August in the lower Coastal Bend. That kind of drop in less than six weeks is serious.
Fortunately, the prices for crude oil also started dropping during this span of time. Unfortunately for fuel users, it was not as fast as grain prices fell. But that has lead to some lower gasoline and even cheaper diesel prices at area retail stations.
Is this a sign of an adjustment to a less speculative and more demand-driven market economy? Or, is this purely a coincidental occurrence and just another sign of continued volatility?
Farmers are in need of relief from high fertilizer and diesel fuel prices. Ranchers and cattle feeder need relief from higher grain and cattle shipping prices.
Consumers need relief from higher energy prices that drive up food and transportation costs for their family.
Hopefully, this is the beginning of a return to a more realistic balance in food production cost and not just another temporary gyration in a very unpredictable agricultural economy that must have cheaper oil in order to produce cheaper animal feeds and foods for our nation.
We can only hope that lower fuel prices will lead to lower fertilizer prices. That will help improve agricultural productivity and profitability.
In turn, a strong agricultural economy provides the basis for a stronger national economy by insuring an affordable food supply.
Now, if consumers will only refrain from buying grossly over priced real estate and pay-down those credit card debts.
Harvey Buehring is the former Agricultural Extension Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5223.