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The Newest Drought Victim in Texas: Cotton

Cotton is a key crop in Texas' High Plains region, but droughts have dramatically reduced the area's yield.

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Texas Tech University estimates that the state’s economy could lose $2.1 billion.
Texas Tech University estimates that the state’s economy could lose $2.1 billion.
Image: Sabrina Janelle Gordon (Shutterstock)

As droughts continue to sweep across the United States, Texas is in a precarious position. The state’s incredibly dry conditions are taking a toll on its cotton crop—a major export for the state—and some experts are worried about what this could mean for the Texas economy.

As our changing climate continues to foster drought conditions, places across the country are succumbing to hot and dry weather in their own ways. According to a new report from the Texas Tribune, the Lone Star State is reckoning with the devastating impacts of a dry, dry summer as Texas’ cotton yield continues to shrink.

The International Center for Agriculture Competitiveness at Texas Tech University estimated in a recent brief that cotton production represents as much as 15% of the economic activity in the state’s High Plains region, and recent droughts could cause a 65% loss in production of the crop in the region. Texas is the country’s number one producer of cotton—around 38% of the U.S.’s entire cotton crop is produced in Texas—and is the biggest crop in the state, making up 9% of all of the state’s agricultural output. The drought, the brief estimates, has cost the industry $2 billion this year alone.

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The reduced cotton yield is having downstream effects too—if there’s no cotton, there’s nothing to process. Related industries like cotton ginning and textile production could see a reduction in their workforce and a rise in prices (especially during ongoing inflation). The Center for Agriculture Competitiveness’ report estimates that typical cotton production (farming and processing) in the High Plains offers about 26,353 jobs and contributes over $3 billion to the Texas economy. In a 65% production loss scenario, 17,130 jobs are at risk. While crop insurance may be able to bail out farmers and the economy to some degree, jobs in processing could still be on the chopping block.

The extreme drought conditions have also reduced the output of other crops, like corn, which in turn effects cattle farmers as feeding animals becomes more difficult. Texas’ current predicament is a cautionary tale in how climate change will uproot our society past making us suffer through hotter days. As the atmosphere warms and droughts become more frequent, the effect on worldwide agriculture and economics could prove disastrous.