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    Drought decimates Texas’ key cotton crop

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – On Sutton Page’s ravaged cotton fields, there is almost nothing left to pick. The Texas farmer managed to salvage maybe a fifth of his crop, but the rest was lost to the severe drought that has taken a steep toll across the region.

    This year, his harvest is “not well”, he says, but in reality, the drought in northern Texas has proven to be a disaster, with most of Page’s neighbours not even bothering to harvest their crop, leaving “bare, bare fields”.

    Texas produces almost half of America’s cotton, and the United States (US) is the world’s third-largest supplier, behind India and China.

    This year, national production will hit its lowest level since 2015, down 21 per cent year-on-year, and Texas will suffer a 58 per cent drop, the US Department of Agriculture estimates.

    In the northwest of the state, where cotton is the lifeline of the local economy and water is scarce, the 2022 harvest “could be one of the worst in 30 years”, worries a professor of agricultural economics at Texas Tech University, Darren Hudson.

    With the cascading consequences for the global textile industry, in an economy already reeling from the pandemic, Hudson put the likely economic impact for the region at USD2 billion.

    Farmers harvest cotton from a 140 acre field in Ellis County, near Waxahatchie, Texas. PHOTO: AFP

    Landon Orman, 30, works on 2,000 acres of cotton near Abilene, three hours west of Dallas. His non-irrigated cotton did not even sprout, while his partially watered crop grew but its yield will be slashed by half.

    In total, he predicts an 85 per cent drop in production compared to a normal year. Like so many others, he has crop insurance, so “financially we’re not really doing that bad. But as a farmer, it sucks pretty bad that we can’t grow stuff sometimes”.

    In Lubbock, the region’s cotton hub, rainfall over the past 12 months has roughly been half its normal volume, and what little fell came too late to save the crop.

    He had to plough 80 per cent of his dying crop back into the ground to stop the land from drying out. Of the few small plants that actually grew, it may not even be economical to harvest them. “It’s a little depressing to some degree, because you work hard all year and you get to get the farms ready and you fertilise and your crop doesn’t come up,” he said.

    Cotton farmers in the plains of Texas know there will always be bad years, but the drought of 2022 could be the worst yet. And some worry there could be more on the way.

    The region is “seeing worse conditions than this time last year”, and these are settling in over time, noted a climatologist specialising in drought, Curtis Riganti.

    “In the past 10 years, we saw maybe five or six of those years where we saw drought. Maybe one or two of those years we saw a very catastrophic drought,” said the director of one of the region’s cotton growers’ associations, Kody Bessent.

    These farmers in Texas, a state where climate scepticism abounds, prefer to see unpredictable weather cycles repeating themselves rather than the effects of global warming, which makes extreme weather events more common.

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