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Oklahoma farmer's only crop is cotton

LUTTMER—Robert Luttmer, Canute, Okla., farmer, has struggled for two years to make a cotton crop. Unusual for western Oklahoma, Luttmer's only money crop is cotton. He plants winter rye for a cover crop to protect the young cotton plants from wind and dust erosion, then plants the cotton in rows in the rye. (Photo courtesy of NTOK Cotton.)

Western Oklahoma farming usually means producers must grow several crops as well as keep livestock to make a living. Robert Luttmer, who lives near Canute, Okla., in northern Washita County near I-40, is an exception to that rule. His main--and only--crop is upland cotton. This year he is watching 1,500 acres of dryland cotton in its final stages of maturity. Recovering from the worst drought on record in 2011, Luttmer again sees hot temperatures and scarce rainfall as his main antagonists this farm year.

"We have had fewer extreme hot days and a little more rain this year," he said. "This 70-acre field could yield between a half and three-quarters of a bale of lint cotton. It was planted in a strip till in winter rye last May. The variety is FiberMax 1740, a Roundup Ready Flex, Bt2 variety. I have tried several different brands of cotton this year. I have planted varieties from DeltaPine, Phytogen, AmeriCot and NexGen."

Farming on sandy loam soil, for several years he has planted his cotton in furrows protected by winter rye to reduce the effects of wind and blowing sand on the young cotton plants. Luttmer's farming neighbor, Danny Davis, who also limits his farming production to upland cotton, Luttmer says, has given him plenty of good advice over the years on the finer points of dryland cotton production in Oklahoma's western plains.

Cotton has been good to both farmers when Mother Nature yields enough rain to make a crop, In 2005, a very good crop year in Oklahoma, Luttmer's cotton averaged 700 to 800 pounds, nearly two bales, of lint per acre. In 2010, another year with good rainfall, his cotton crop averaged a bale of cotton to the acre.

Along with the current problems of extreme heat and dry weather, three of Luttmer's farms' cotton was ruined by drifting 2,4-D, a popular herbicide which will drift 25 miles on wind currents from the target site where it is applied. When applied at the wrong time, like when succulent spring crops like cotton and grapes are just getting established, improper application of 2,4-D can be devastating. Oklahoma cotton farmers like Luttmer have tried for years to get legislation passed to better control herbicides in the state.

Luttmer serves as president of the Burns Flat Farmers Cooperative Association board of directors. He is also a new member of the Oklahoma Cotton Council board of directors.

A fourth generation Oklahoma farmer, Luttmer has been growing cotton for 35 years. The only other agricultural commodity he works with is a small herd of beef cows. "We have 40 cows we have to water from well water," he said. "All our ponds are dry."

Luttmer and his wife, Sherry, have twins, 23-year-old Matt and Ashley. Another son, Ryan, is 21. Matt will be getting married in September, he said. "to another Ashley." The first Ashley, their twin, is married to Casey Kenner. They live in Cheyenne and are the parents of 3-month old Charles.

Manager of the Burns Flat Farmers Cooperative Association Ryan Sawatsky expects his coop members will harvest 4,500 acres of cotton this year. He believes this will be a a better harvest this year, when compared to 2011. A unique service of the cooperative has been to furnish cotton planters and harvesters for its members. "We are still custom planting cotton. but everyone now has their own harvester or access to one. So we don't offer harvesting any more."

Talkin' Cotton is produced by NTOK Cotton, a cotton industry partnership which supports and encourages increased cotton production in the Rolling Plains of North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. For more information on the cotton scene, see ntokcotton.org and okiecotton.org. For comments or questions about Talkin' Cotton, contact bustersbarn1@yahoo.com.

Date: 9/17/2012

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