Extreme heat threatening Texas farmers and their crops

Texas is the largest producer of cotton in the United States, but scorching heat and little rainfall are leading to inconsistent crop yields.
Posted at 12:35 PM, Jul 20, 2023

Record-breaking summer temperatures and a lack of consistent rainfall have caused great challenges for farmers across Texas.

Specifically in South Texas, farmers are faced with scarce crop yields in hopes of squeezing out whatever they can for the remainder of the summer. Within this particular region, corn and cotton are among the most common crops that are harvested.

Matt Huie and his wife have been farmers for more than 25 years, but farming has been in his family for generations. He grows the typical crops for South Texas: corn, sorghum, and cotton, and he even has his own ranch-to-table beef business called Raising 'Em Right.

This year, other farmers — particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, where corn crop is a staple — are having to deal with the issues of the scorching heat and lack of water.

In 2019, farmers were growing it on more than 100,000 acres in the region. However, corn is the most vulnerable to heat out of all the commercial food crops.

Silhouette of person in cowboy hat walking under the hot sun.

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Luckily, for Huie, his corn yield was above average this season because of the swift winds and low spring temperatures we received as a premature saving grace earlier this year.

Because it was so cool and wet in April and May, it turned out to be great months to grow, but Huie said that it would have been better for the heat to hold off until the second week of June.

"I think we took 15%–20% off of what could have been, but it's still an above-average crop because April and May were so good," Huie said.

Thankfully, he's one of the dozens of farmers who saw a great outcome while harvesting corn in the Coastal Bend. But planting and growing cotton is a different story.

In the U.S., Texas is the largest producer of cotton, contributing at least 40% to the nation's distribution.

"Cotton is mostly made in June and July," Huie said. "The cotton has really struggled with this heat. It hasn't had enough moisture and it's just burning the bolls open prematurely, so our cotton crops, I think, are going to be well below average."

Farmer working in a field.

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Huie said this year's cotton crop was the best he's ever planted, but it didn't remain consistent, especially when there aren't any clouds, winds, or rain within the past 50 days.

But contributing to the nation's corn and cotton production is not the only challenge Huie faces. If the extreme heat continues, this could turn into bigger problems for farmers' wallets.

"You know, we're spending money and then working stuff as hard as we can to make a big crop, and then it just shut off," Huie said. "Now we gotta pay all those bills, but we don't have the crop to show for it."

The hope is that next year's crop will show a different outcome, but the answer is all up to one uncontrollable element: Mother Nature.

Huie said that the climate is not going to stop him from growing some of the best crops in the country. He added that he's going to stick with what he knows and what every other farmer does: adapt to the weather and keep going.

This story was originally published by Alexis Scott at Scripps News Corpus Christi.