By Tommy Horton
When attempting to grow cotton on the Texas High Plains, it pays to expect the unexpected. In other words, be prepared for unusual weather and try not to become easily discouraged. This is the simple philosophy that producer David Carter has embraced for the past 23 years on his family farm near Levelland, about 30 miles west of Lubbock.
It’s this kind of practical experience that might explain why Carter has survived through the years – especially in 2011 when a historic drought prevented many Texas producers from even making a crop.
The Carter farm has 3,400 acres, including some grain sorghum, and is about 80 percent irrigated. At this point in the season, it’s hard to predict yields on the farm, but David is sure of one fact. The final numbers will be better than 2011 when the entire state withstood the effects of a devastating drought.
USDA’s most recent report estimates that the 2012 Texas crop will be 6.1 million bales, but many observers say the actual crop may be lower.
Timely Rains Needed
If a field was lucky enough to catch timely rains, it had a chance to deliver a better crop this fall. On Carter’s farm, the cotton got off to a good start because of rainfall occurring after planting. That was followed by a hot and dry July.
The bonus occurred in August when the region received some much needed rainfall, which helped the crop’s progress heading into September. Given the limited water sources for the Carter farm, any additional precipitation always has a positive effect on crop development.
“We need to finish out this crop and have a good dry fall season,” says Carter. “We aren’t going to turn down a timely and beneficial rain if it’s offered before harvest.”
When a farm doesn’t have access to a large water supply, it creates challenges in irrigation. That’s why Carter implements a system where he rotates center pivots. It helps maximize water usage. In addition, he has two areas on the farm that use a drip system.
Varieties Need Right Fit
Soil variability exists throughout Carter’s acreage, and that might explain why he is willing to plant so many different varieties. For the 2012 season, he planted nine varieties in an effort to have the right fit in each field.
If a first-time visitor walked through all of Carter’s fields, he’d find Fiber-Max, Deltapine, All-Tex, Americot, Stoneville and PhytoGen represented in the varieties he has planted.
“It’s a good mix, but that’s how we like to approach the season,” says Carter. “I’m always trying to find the one that will fit a certain soil type.
“This kind of approach doesn’t work all of the time, but it’s always our goal to find the best combinations. We have soil variability, and, of course, you have to factor in the water situation.”
More Grain Sorghum?
Carter knows the history of the High Plains. He is a fourth generation cotton farmer and has never veered too far from his usual acreage mix, which consists of cotton and grain sorghum.
Will high grain prices cause him to increase grain sorghum acreage next year? Not surprisingly, he can’t say for sure. But chances are good that he won’t veer too far from his normal strategy, which has always rewarded him throughout his career.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he says. “It’s hard to ignore these grain prices. It’s something we’ll definitely have to think about.”
Whether he follows through and actually increases grain sorghum acres remains to be seen. One fact is clear. Carter will discuss his business plan with the local banker and negotiate a crop loan.
“I have a good relationship with my banker, and together we’ll try to come up with the best decision,” he says.
History Of Innovation
This will be Carter’s 23rd cotton crop, and his long-time consultant Darrell Kitten has worked with him for 20 of those crops. He says Carter is the kind of farmer who is very progressive and open to new ideas – especially in the area of technology.
“He is really open to trying things in precision agriculture,” says Kitten. “We do a lot of soil sampling, but we’re also into variable rate technology. He is willing to try new things and isn’t afraid to go against the norm.”
Kitten says Carter’s temperament is one of his best assets in the sometimes stressful life of a farmer. No matter what happens during the crop season, Carter’s mood never changes.
“He is very easy going,” says Kitten. “Plus, he is always on time with everything he does during the crop year. That is one thing that helps make him successful.
“When hardship comes along, sometimes it can change a person’s entire personality. David is always on an even keel. There aren’t many peaks and valleys.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ginner-Producer Partnership Remains Important
David Carter is a firm believer in being active in the cotton industry, and that is evident in his involvement with Plains Cotton Growers (PCG), National Cotton Council (NCC) and other cotton organizations.
He is also on the board of directors of United Cotton Growers (UCG) Gin in Lubbock where he serves as secretary. He and gin manager Paul Wilson became friends when Wilson assumed his current position in 2000.
“One of the things that makes David such a valuable board member is that he understands the business side of farming and ginning,” says Wilson. “Plus, he is active in the industry and is really informed on what’s going on.”
Wilson says his 12-year friendship with Carter has been a mutually beneficial one. They keep each other informed before and after ginning season.
“This kind of information exchange is crucial to both of us,” he says.