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First in the field: Acreage battle begins in south Texas

Cameron County, Texas, farmers have a tradition of competing to produce the first bale of cotton in the U.S. Last year, Sam Simmons, a Harlingen,Texas, grower produced that first bale on July 13. (Photo above shows a field of flood-irrigated upland cotton in early stages of growth from a recent crop year.)

And with temperatures in the 80s in mid-February, farmers are in the field, ensuring that Cameron County will produce some of the nation’s first harvests of corn, cotton, grain sorghum and soybeans.

“We start harvest earliest in the nation,” says Cris Perez, USDA-FSA director in the county. Corn farmers get started in mid-July, he says.

The season got off to a bit of a shaky start with a cold snap two weeks ago, Perez says. An unusual cold snap in this no-freeze tip of Texas amounted to 29 hours of below-freezing temps. Some early planted corn was in the ground then but was still not emerged.

(Freezing weather in northern Mexico, however, did cause a loss of an estimated 4.2 million tons of corn there, Dow Jones reported on Monday.)

Farmers in far South Texas could give a preview of the results of the annual U.S. acreage battle.

The irrigated lands of Cameron County will see more cotton this year, perhaps double the usual 25,000 to 30,000 acres, Perez says. Most of that shift will come at the expense of grain sorghum, he says.

“We’re also starting to see more soybeans in the area,” he adds. Farmers have recently pushed yields up to 50 to 55 bushels per acre. The area has an advantage in soybeans for its rust-free status in the South.

If the 2011 crop season were a foot race, U.S. farmers are off the starting line in good shape in mid-February.

“The weather didn’t set us back,” Perez says. “Today, most guys are in the field. We’re back on track now.”

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