Farmers grow cotton after hail-damaged wheat
As a crop, cotton leads the field when farmers are making choices on what to grow after suffering hail-damaged wheat in a drought-stricken environment.
The sustainability and advantages of cotton were voiced recently by Kater Hake, Cotton Inc.’s vice president for agricultural and environmental research at the Concho Valley Cotton Conference in San Angelo, Texas, and reported in the Southwest Farm Press.
“Cotton farmers have listed six different top production concerns for Cotton Inc. to find answers,” Hake said. “They are input costs, herbicide resistant weeds, variety selection, variety tolerance to heat and drought, early weed control and tied for sixth, seedling vigor and cottonseed value,”
Along with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Cotton Inc. is working on getting more value for soil organic matter and conservation tillage, he said.
Increased efforts in these two areas help cotton producers to increase water infiltration in protecting the soil surface from hard dashing rains. Conservation tillage helps reduce soil surface water evaporation and promotes root growth near the soil surface. The practice also increases water holding capacity and may expand root growth, Hake said.
As all cotton producers know, water availability is a key issue in times of drought and extreme heat, he said.
“In the last 30 years, we have seen a vast improvement in water efficiency with cotton,” he said. “The footprint of cotton production is steadily decreasing. Soil erosion and land use are both down. And we use 75 percent less irrigation water.”
Sustainability throughout the cotton production cycle is a key effort for Cotton Inc., as it demonstrates it is an environmentally friendly crop, he said.
More water efficient cotton varieties offer a solution where level of irrigation will be a key to cotton water use, he said. In much of West Texas irrigation is supplemental to a typical 10-inch total annual rainfall, he said, and more water efficient varieties will help to offer a solution to water use.
Hake pointed out cotton plays a role in food production. “We get 1.4 pounds of food product for every one pound of cotton fiber we produce,” he said.
Cottonseed is used for livestock feed as well as for nutritious cooking oil for human consumption, he said.
Hake pointed out the recent development of flavored cottonseed oil shows promise of increased demand for the product. Hake said Cotton Inc. is promoting cottonseed feed for dairies and is developing a new marketing plan for that program. Hake explained the program links dairymen directly with cottonseed suppliers.
The reasons stressed by Hake concerning cotton’s advantages over other summer crops are why Oklahoma farmers like Doug Scherler and Marvin Wyatt intend to plant cotton to help replace income lost from winter wheat seriously damaged by late freezes this spring.
Scherler, who lives at Walters in Cotton County, said his family lost 100 percent of their wheat crop to crippling freezes. “The freezes we suffered in the last few weeks cost us our entire wheat crop,” he said. “This includes all of our family, Jeremy, my son, Stan, my brother and Marvin, my father.”
“We intend to plant 2,000 acres of cotton as soon as the weather is warm enough,” he said.
He stated crop insurance companies have been reluctant to release farmers’ wheat so they can decide what to do with the freeze-damaged crop. “We were fortunate our company gave us the go ahead on our wheat.”
Scherler says it is too early to decide what varieties he will be planting, but “you can be sure they will be Roundup Ready varieties for better weed control.
“We have received some welcome rain the last few days,” Scherler, who is a dryland farmer, said. “If it continues to rain on into the summer, we will have a good chance to get a cotton crop started. But it sure needs to keep on raining.”
When reminded about recent rains, part of them in the four inch plus amount, Mark Gregory, Oklahoma State University Extension area agronomist at Duncan, is cautious in explaining the current severe drought has left much of Oklahoma farmland with little, if any, soil moisture for rains to build on.
“We are fortunate to see these recent rains,” he said. “But we need to receive a lot more moisture to fill up the soil profile, particularly here in southwestern Oklahoma. The western part of the state is in a more severe state of drought than the rest of the state. We need a lot more rain to put moisture in the subsoil, provide moisture later to get summer crops up and to provide surface water for ponds and lakes.”
Marvin Wyatt, a Lawton-based farmer in Comanche County, is typical of a lot of farmers who are still waiting to see how much wheat will be declared a loss for crop insurance purposes. Wyatt has earmarked several of his fields for increased cotton planting to offset any losses from freeze-damaged wheat.
“We will be planting cotton later in the spring on that land as well as on fields we have already selected for cotton production this year,” he said. “We try to follow a definite crop rotation from year to year, but dryland farming in this country demands you stay flexible when making any future plans.”
Gregory and Scherler both agree cotton is a good choice for a crop to replace frozen-out wheat. Cotton varieties in the cotton-growing areas of North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have been developed for dryland production where farmers have to depend on what the sky brings them. Cotton has proven to be a good choice for agricultural production in semi-arid climates with low humidity and warm weather. Modern cotton varieties are developed by seed companies and land-grant universities specifically for different parts of the U.S. cotton-growing states. Cotton, either in dryland or irrigated production, requires less moisture for good growth than corn and similar crops.