CASA GRANDE — John Walker works outside, so like a lot of Casa Grande Valley residents he has enjoyed the last month’s cool weather. While the lack of heat makes for a pleasant day, it creates a problem for cotton farmers such as Walker.
“Cotton is not coming out of the ground as fast or as strong as it normally would, but we are still seeing cotton coming out of the ground,” he said. “The cool weather slows things down.”
In addition to the unseasonable weather, a late harvest last year and excess moisture in the off-season have put this year’s crop behind schedule, farming experts said.
On May 22 the high temperature in Casa Grande was 74 degrees, while the historical average was 99. In 21 of the first 25 days of May, Casa Grande saw temperatures below the historical average, according to AccuWeather. On 12 of those days, the difference was 10 degrees or more.
“This has been the coolest May since I’ve been farming,” Walker said. “I’ve been farming since I was 18. I’m 64 now.”
Heavy rain in late September and early October disrupted last year’s harvest, and more heavy rain came in the spring.
“Some cotton had to be replanted because of poor stand establishment,” said Blase Evancho, an expert in field crops at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension office in Pinal County. “(Farmers) were late preparing the fields and late planting this year because of moisture. ... It’s really hurt.”
Nonetheless, farmers aren’t worried yet because there is plenty of time for the crop to rebound.
“Is it hurting us really bad? No. I’m enjoying the weather,” said Walker, who has 700 acres of cotton planted. “I think we are going to see really hot weather.”
Dean Wells, who has 130 acres planted near Casa Grande, predicts that growing conditions will improve.
“The last couple of years have been really good years. This will be average,” he said. “I’ve seen really cool springs before.”
The farmers are more concerned with other issues.
“The price will hurt us more than the weather,” Wells said.
In 2011 the price of cotton surged above $2 per pound. Now it’s around 70 cents, a drop-off that’s even worse when inflation is considered. The price has spent most of the last seven years between 60 and 80 cents, the same range it mostly was in all the way back in the 1980s. In the last two years the Trump administration’s trade war with China has depressed crop prices.
“We just can’t make money growing cotton at that price,” Walker said. “It has to get to about 80 (cents per pound) or more for most of us. We are trading dollars, trying to survive until things get better. A lot of people are holding on waiting for good times.”