Science

“It ripples through the entire economy”: Climate change costs cotton farmers billions

Lubbock, Texas As the cotton harvest season approaches, many tractors and other farm equipment are lying idle in Texas. Climate change Threat to the $7 billion industry.

“It was never so bad,” said Ricky Yantis, a fourth-generation farmer in West Texas.

The region produces more than a third of the country’s cotton. Yantis has healthy plants on just 168 acres of 6,000 acres—less than 3% of his land.

“Where our harvest lasts for about a month, a month and a half, it will last for a day,” he said.

Extreme drought and a relentless heat wave are taking an unprecedented toll. Farmers like Yantis had to plow the fields without irrigation because the plants were burning. Across the state, around 70% of cotton crops were similarly abandoned.

Economists predict a $2 billion hit to Texas.

“Most of these cities — maybe 75% to 80% — get their cotton from cotton,” said Texas Tech University agricultural economist Darren Hudson. “So when it goes away, it has a huge impact on rural communities.”

Hudson says crop insurance will only help farmers. Elsewhere, thousands of jobs will be affected – from truck drivers driving cotton to small-town restaurants and grocery stores where workers spend their paychecks, to cotton gins that are now completely quiet after being run around the clock.

Gin operator Gille Roberson says he will hire fewer employees.

“We typically have about 100,000 lumps per year,” Roberson said. “I think we will be lucky to get around 20,000 bales this year.”

Experts say that with less cotton available, everyone will have to pay more.

“We will anticipate the impact on consumer goods prices,” Hudson said. “It ripples through the whole economy.”

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