Cotton has been the king crop of West Texas for nearly a century, but the 2019 harvest took a turn for the worst, as farmers are reporting new lows in yield and quality.
However, all the stars were aligned for cotton producers to have a huge crop this harvest -- great moisture in the spring, early rains, and everything running on schedule -- but a drought at the end of the season took things off the rails.
"It all looked good until August. In late August, we could see it wasn't going to be as good as what we hoped for. Then sure enough, everything from dryland to irrigated went from about a bale and acre to two-thirds a bale," Doug Hlavaty, a West Texas cotton farmer for 42 years, said.
Plains Cotton Growers CEO Steve Verett said that hot and dry August month was the biggest turning point of this harvest.
"Most producers are finding that yields are off at least 15 to 20 percent of what they thought," Verett said.
That was reflected in the latest Ag Statistics report, as the High Plains of Texas was down 740,000 bales this month.
Verett said that kind of drop is unprecedented.
"I don't ever remember Ag Statistics lowering or raising the crop 700,000 bales in one month. That really tells you what had happened to the crop during that period of time," Verett said.
This underwhelming harvest is not just about the quantity lost; it is also about the quality.
Doug Hlavaty said when you combine the untimely heat and staple length issues with the China trade war and pressure on commodity prices, this year has been one of the biggest disasters of his 42-year career.
"We lost our quality, so that cuts our price down a nickel or so, and then we're about 10 to 15 cents less than where we were at last year. On top of that is your production is down and our expenses haven't gone down. If you break even, you're really lucky, and most farmers including myself, we're not making any money this year," Hlavaty said.
The USDA announced another round of payments last month to farmers suffering from China's tariffs, as the total amount given this year has now reached $16 billion.
Verett said this move by the Trump administration is the only reason why our farmers have a chance to pay out this year.
"Without it, I shudder to think what most farmers would be looking at right now," Verett said.
Hlavaty said this payment shows President Trump has the back of the nation's farmers.
"Thank goodness for President Trump for giving us that tariff payment. That's probably going to keep us in business for another year. It will sure help us so we can go another year," Hlavaty said.
This willingness to help farmers when they need it most is why Verett and Hlavaty said they will have President Trump's back in fighting for a fair trade deal with China, as long as it takes.