EDITOR’S NOTE: The 2011 cotton crop season was difficult for nearly all producers in Texas. Producer Rickey Bearden reflects on what it was like to endure a recordbreaking drought and hope for a better crop in 2012.
Much like my fellow producers on the High Plains of Texas, when the 2011 growing season came around, my sense of pride for what I do swelled up again. With a near record production year behind us, I, like most cotton producers, looked forward to what I hoped would be a good season.
A lot of my optimism was based on the fact that prices were good, well above a dollar, and all we needed to capture them was to do what we normally do – produce a crop.
We knew going in that things were going to have to fall just right for us to have a chance on most of our dryland acres in 2011. Soil moisture was very short, but farming for as long as I have, I’ve seen plenty of years start on the dry side.
In most of those dry years, though, it rained. Maybe it wasn’t enough, or in time, to get a dryland crop started or carry a crop very far, but the rain usually came. When it did, it was always a help to our irrigated acres.
Based on that history, we didn’t expect 2011 to be any different. We hoped things would fall into place for the dryland and had a reasonable expectation that our irrigated crop would get a little help along the way.
Long Drought Begins
Unfortunately, that help didn’t come. April and May passed, then June and July with no rain. There was no dryland crop to speak of – the seeds never even emerged. But we still had the majority of the region’s irrigated cotton, and we kept watering, praying that Mother Nature would come through for us.
By mid-August, the writing was on the wall, and we learned exactly what our “supplemental irrigation” was – or wasn’t, in this case – capable of doing. Month after month of above normal temperatures, nonexistent rainfall and relentless winds stole much of the irrigation we tried to apply. It was an extreme three-way combination that we just couldn’t effectively combat.
The end result is a 2011 High Plains crop that will fall somewhere between 1.5 million and 1.75 million bales, the lowest output we have seen since 1992.
Another thing we learned this year is the true value of crop insurance. If there ever was a textbook year for showing how crop insurance was supposed to work, 2011 might be it.
Workable Crop Insurance
Because of the support of people who understand the unique risks that agriculture faces, we have a program that worked like it is supposed to and, as a colleague of mine said, will help us live to see another day as cotton farmers.
Once this harvest season ends, we will pick ourselves up and get ready for 2012. Although the situation moving forward isn’t really that much different now than it was a year ago, we hope the historic drought that we are still enduring will come to an end soon.
Soil moisture is still extremely low, but a few weather systems have managed to bring rain to some parts of our region. It hasn’t broken the drought, but has been enough to remind us that it will rain again, and that the timing is still in God’s hands.
Although current forecasts don’t indicate much of a change for us through early spring, our situation literally could change overnight with just a couple of good rains. So far, nobody on the High Plains – producers or merchants – are expected to go too far out on a limb with regard to the 2012 crop until there is tangible evidence that prospects have changed for the better.
Our management decisions will be made with a calculated, wait-and-see approach. We will walk that fine line between being ready to take advantage of an improved moisture situation and not overspending on inputs that might not bear an economic return.
The bottom line is that our outlook for 2012 depends on how much precipitation falls between now and planting time for both dryland and irrigated acres. As always, the dryland crop will need moisture at planting time and timely rains to produce cotton.
The irrigated crop is a little different, but will also likely require adequate moisture reserves at planting to get started. We must see some rain before people around here are even going to consider much preparation for a crop, whether it’s dryland or irrigated.
Consistent Rainfall Needed
From an irrigated standpoint, we can deal with a less-than-optimal rainfall situation as long as we get a little something to help us sustain the moisture demands of the crop throughout the year. As always, timing will be everything in 2012.
Like all farmers, I will not ask for a whole lot in 2012 – just a little rain before we plant, a little more to get it up and going, and then a little more during that peak time in late August when the bolls are filling out.
We are cautiously optimistic that 2012 will be a better year. Cotton prices aren’t at the levels we had last year, but they’re still pretty good nonetheless. We will all be ready to jump at the chance for another crop if the moisture comes. All we need is just a little bit of help, the best of which would be healing rains on our land.
We know the Lord will provide in His timing, so we will keep the faith, just as we always have. But the bottom line is that even with all of our inputs, only the good Lord and a good rain can improve prospects for 2012.
Cotton producer Rickey Bearden resides in Plains, Texas. He is a former president of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., and is current chairman of Cotton Incorporated. Contact him at (806) 456-4797 or firstname.lastname@example.org.