NEW YORK (Reuters) - The worst snowstorm to hit West Texas in more than 30 years has brought much-needed moisture to parched farmland in the top U.S. growing cotton state, potentially helping to boost yields next year and encouraging farmers to increase acreage.
With the harvest complete, farmers say there is little chance of major damage to the current crop which is currently being ginned, but precipitation will help prepare the land for sowing in the spring after years of drought.
“I don’t remember one like this,” said Mark Williams, a farmer in Farwell, Texas, who finished his harvest of around 9,000 bales just before Thanksgiving.
While farmers would still need a “planting rain” before sowing seed in May, the snow would give added moisture to soil, he said.
Steady rains in Texas have helped crops this year, offering some respite from a years-long drought in the state that produces 40 percent of U.S. cotton, and pressuring prices.
Cotton futures have fallen by more than two-thirds since 2011, when a prolonged dry spell devastated crops, alongside strong buying from China, propelled prices to their highest since the U.S. Civil War in 1861. They are currently languishing below 70 cents per lb.
Lubbock, Texas, the heart of the state’s cotton industry, received more than 11 inches of snow over the weekend, the largest snow event since 1983.
“Water’s water, but snow’s real good,” said Jobe Moss, a broker with MCM Inc in Lubbock, remembering similarly heavy snow in December 2004, which led to a bumper crop the following year.
In 2005/06, the country grew almost 24 million bales of cotton, the highest on records going back to 1962.
“It goes right into the ground and gives the ground enough time to absorb it all,” Moss said.
Williams planted 4,000 acres of cotton on his farm this year and said he expects improved yields in the 2016/17 crop, which he will plant in the spring after rains this fall and the recent snowfall.
He expects to devote more acreage to cotton.
The strong winds that came with this storm blew some of the snow into ditches and off the roads, leaving other portions without snow and leaving many cattle missing.
Still, with this year’s strong El Nino pattern likely to bring more precipitation to the region, he is expecting more storms.
“Maybe next time it will fall straight down instead of sideways,” he said.
Reporting By Luc Cohen; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama