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Continuing drought means lower yields as Texas corn producers harvest their crop

Lorne Matalon
Marfa Public Radio

Drought conditions in Texas have taken their toll on all kinds of agriculture. That includes the state’s corn growers, who are seeing their crops wither as temperatures continue to climb and rainfall remains scarce. Colin Chopelas, who runs a family farm about 35 miles north of Corpus Christi and is a member of the Texas Corn Producers Association, told Texas Standard that corn producers in most parts of the state are feeling the effects of drought. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: How are you doing this summer – your farm, southeast Texas? Been getting much rain?

Colin Chopelas: Oh, it’s been a little scarce on the rainfall front. We’ve really only received about an inch to two inches of meaningful rainfall since we planted our corn crop in the middle of February. So we’re actually in the middle of harvest in this region right now. And things are pretty scarce – about half or a little less than half of what normal production should be.

What about other Texas corn growers? What are you hearing from your colleagues? 

You know, it seems like the whole state of Texas is in some form of drought and lack of rainfall. Regions have a crop and seem to be doing OK, but maybe didn’t receive the last timely rainfall that they might have needed to finish out that crop. And so yields are certainly going to be down statewide. I think the exception to that may be the very northern Panhandle where they have quite a bit of irrigation and they’re just getting started with their crop. So it’s a mixed bag all over the state.

What about for you? How serious is this year looking? Are you going to be able to make it through without taking extra steps?

We are blessed with the fact that commodity prices have been up quite substantially this year. And so that’s supported us the opportunity to sell what little we have produced this year. And beyond that, we certainly rely on the safety net of crop insurance to get us past the difficult years like this. We’ve been real fortunate the last few years to have some high-yielding crops. And sometimes you just take a step back on a year like this and you just try to manage your inputs as best you can and hope that this doesn’t continue into 2023.

What’s your sense of where the industry is headed right now? What are farmers doing, especially as it seems that the weather’s getting hotter and more predictably so.

We get this typical Texas weather, I mean, extreme heat and periods of dry weather – that’s historically been the case. And as somebody that’s been on a family farm for multiple generations, you weather through these hard years and try to make the best you can of what you’ve got.

And certainly in this environment, with extremely high input costs on fertilizer and chemicals and particularly on fuel, you try to manage what you can and make less trips across the field. Be realistic about your yield expectations and only apply those inputs that are necessary to get you where you think you’re going to end up. Because anything beyond that is just cutting into your bottom line and you can’t have that on years like this; you really got to tighten things up.

From a larger perspective, how’s the how’s corn production looking in Texas? And is there a danger that you might sort of reach a point of no return for some farmers? 

Well, I don’t think we’re at a point of no return yet. Certainly, several inches of rain in September or October could set us up for a good year next year. And I think statewide, the state’s still doing OK. We’ve had these periods before. I know when I first started back farming in 2011, 2012 and 2013, we had some extremely dry years in a row. and those really took a toll on a lot of operations. And that was a hard one to get past. We have a decent safety net, and we certainly rely on that in years like this to get us through to the next one.

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Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.