Cotton acreage has almost tripled in the last five years in the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service District 1, which covers the 22 northernmost counties in the Panhandle.
Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Amarillo, said the cropping picture has definitely changed as producers dealt with declining irrigation capacities, variable weather and lower commodity prices.
In 2013, producers in District 1 planted 300,000 acres of cotton, compared to the 850,000 acres planted in 2018, Bell said. Of that 550,000-acre increase, 350,000 acres have been north of Amarillo.
In 2013, less than a third of the cotton acres were irrigated, but in 2018 about half of the acres were planted under irrigation. Cotton in this region is estimated to require 12-15 inches of total water to produce two bales per acre, so only about 8 inches of irrigation are required in most years when soil moisture and in-season precipitation are average.
At current commodity prices, however, the decision to plant cotton can be based more on economics. A producer can use the same amount of water typically used by a corn crop and produce four bales of cotton per acre, and thus yield a greater net profit per inch of water.
“Based on 2019 price and cost projections from Texas Panhandle AgriLife Extension budgets, $4.15 per bushel corn will net around $300 per acre, while $0.68 per pound cotton will net almost $600 per acre, meaning cotton can be a very attractive crop to area producers,” Jones said.
Both Jones and Bell feel the combination of several factors – declining irrigation capacities providing producers an opportunity to maintain the profitability of low-water acreage, investments made in cotton equipment and increased ginning capacity – suggest a regional commitment to cotton acreage.
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