What is in this article?:
• Together, the three Texas farmers have put in more than 150 years raising cotton in the unforgiving environment of West Texas.
• This year they’re facing one of the toughest droughts they’ve seen in a long time.
• But it might not be the worst.
Irrigated cotton also hurt
Irrigated cotton will not perform up to usual standards either, they say. “Most all of our irrigated cotton is up,” Gilbreath says. “It should be alright if we can keep it wet but I don’t know if we can.”
“Our irrigated cotton is up,” Marble says, “but if it doesn’t rain it will be hurt. We’ve been making two or three bales per acre but we might be proud to make just over a bale this year.”
They say the heat and wind dry the soil out almost as soon as they can apply water.
Langston says his son-in-law is switching from sprinkler irrigation hoses to drag hoses every other row, to conserve water.
Marble says planting a half a circle in cotton and half in wheat helps conserve water. “And no-till helps. We are using a lot of no-till.”
They are also running sand fighters to diminish damage from wind and blowing sand. “We’ve been over all the irrigated acreage,” Langston says. “We’re trying to sand fight dryland fields.”
They talk about how long this drought has persisted and all say they’ve had no appreciable rainfall since last July.
“We’ve had barely one inch of rain since October,” Langston says. “We got about a half-inch Oct. 21, two-tenths about May 7 or May 8 and three-tenths last week.”
“We’ve had no significant rain in South Plains since last July,” Marble says, “so we haven’t had rain in almost a year.”
One of the most unique aspects of the 2011 drought is that farmers have never had a dry spell this bad with cotton selling for nearly $1.30 a pound. Marble says he sold a little cotton for a bit better than $1.50 a pound last year. “I contracted about two thirds at what seemed like a good price at the time,” he says.
He turned down one offer of 99.5 cents a pound. “I told them I had to have $1 a pound because I’d never sold dollar cotton before,” he says. He got it. “Later it went to $1.25 and then I sold some for $1.55, I think.”
They’ll rely on crop insurance to make up part of what they would get if they could make a full crop this year.
“We could contract now for about $1.30 a pound,” Langston says. “But we have good insurance coverage and the guarantee of $1.23 a pound will help. That’s up from 72 cents last year.”
They also get help this year on loss of cottonseed revenue.
Marble says the prolonged drought and likely abandonment of many thousands of acres — some estimates predict losing up to 2 million acres of dryland cotton — will affect more than just the farmers struggling to make this crop.
This drought will hurt our infrastructure,” he says. “The boys who are spraying and fertilizing will be hurt.” Gins and other support industries also will suffer from lost acreage and reduced production on the acres that remain.
Langston says cotton continues to be the best option for the area “year in and year out.”
The three have been through tough times before and agree that hanging on is the best they can do. “We may not make two or three bales an acre this year,” Langston says. “But I want to know that I gave it everything I had. I’ve seen some similar droughts but I got through them and kept on going.”