Cotton boll counts the deciding factor for farmers to harvest or not this season

Cotton boll in Lubbock county 2023.
Cotton boll in Lubbock county 2023.(KCBD)
Published: Oct. 1, 2023 at 9:37 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A Lubbock-based insurance company has 13,000 more claims open for failed crops this year, compared to a year with substantial rain. South Plains farmers will be considering the company’s boll count as they decide if harvesting is worth it.

The adjusters from AgriSompo North America, a crop insurance company, are currently making trips to the field to give farmers an estimate on what their yield might be. The director of policy analysis and research with Plains Cotton Growers, Shawn Wade, said the boll count helps producers determine what could hurt their pocketbook.

“The producer’s really looking to determine whether or not the production capability of that field is going to be enough to warrant the expense of harvest,” Wade said.

This year, it’s not looking good for king cotton.

“There’s going to be a significant number of these dryland acres that will not eventually go to harvest,” Wade said.

AgriSompo currently has 13,500 claims open. The Southwest regional claims manager, Derrick Haseloff, said a normal year with a good amount of rain brings 500 claims. He said there are more claims this year because the plants didn’t produce many bolls.

Adjusters take a sample in the middle of the field. In the example AgriSompo gave KCBD, they take every good open boll along a stretch of 174 feet. Then, they measure them from one side to the other.

“By measuring that, that tells us how much lint is in that boll,” Haseloff said.

After some calculations, they can determine how many pounds of cotton a farmer could get per acre. Working with the same example, Haseloff said that farmer could harvest two pounds per acre, but that is far from the goal.

“If he got rain on this right here, you could range from 300 pounds and if it’s a really good year, you could make a bale to a bale and a half of dryland crop,” Haseloff said.

After adjusters give their estimate, it’s up to producers to decide if it’s worth harvesting. Haseloff said if producers decide to take the insurance money, they must destroy the cotton by plowing or shredding it. Then, AgriSompo will get the money to them as quickly as possible.

“All we can do is do the best we can and whatever we can appraise it for and get them a check as fast as we can,” Haseloff said.

Haseloff told KCBD it’s never something a farmer wants to do. In fact, it’s a story he knows too well. He farmed until the extreme drought in 2011 and 2012 led him to leave the business.

“I lost a lot of money in two years. Insurance did help, but I needed to quit, or my brother did, because we farmed together,” Haseloff said. “I gave him all the land so he could have more land and then I got into insurance company.”

So, Haseloff knows it’s exhausting for these farmers to put so much hard work and money into a crop and have it fail.

“They’re tired,” Haseloff said. “They’re tired of worrying about is it ever going to rain, am I ever going to make a crop, am I going to be able to pay out, am I going to farm next year?”

If producers do claim insurance instead of going to harvest, it hurts their actual production history. That means they get less coverage every time they harvest nothing.