Saturday, April 20, 2024

A Century Of Cotton

van voigt my turnIn 2022, it will have been 100 years since my great grandpaw, Gotleib Voigt, moved up here from Central Texas and bought some land on the South Plains. I am the fourth generation to farm the home place.

Our family has always grown cotton, and it’s about the only viable crop option here in this region. In years past, I have split a pivot and planted half grain sorghum and half cotton. The main reason I did that was to get rid of some vert wilt issues by rotating to another crop.

Also, our irrigation is very limited. Some fields are what I would call “semi-irrigated” at best. The rotation allowed us to put more water on the cotton when it really needed it. We did this for about 10 years, and it worked really well. But grain prices went down so low those last two years that we decided to abandon it. The goal of anything we do is to try to make the cotton produce more or be better.

Around here, cotton is all we are geared up for. In this community, cotton gins are all there is. There are not even any grain elevators. For 100 years, we have been all about cotton.

My grandfather, Walter, farmed cotton. My dad, Harold, farmed cotton and at 90 years old still likes to know what is going on at the farm. Today, I farm cotton with my son, Kyle, and my wife, Darla, who is our main “lunch bringer.” It’s a family thing and something we have all enjoyed.

Fabian Sigala also works with us and has been with me for 25 years. He thinks like I do, which is probably dangerous, but it helps me keep up with everything. His father worked for me for 20 years before he retired.

When I try to explain why we all enjoy it so much, I think of my wife who used to teach second grade in elementary school. There is no sane person who will spend all day with a bunch of 6- and 7-year-olds trying to corral them and make them learn something unless you’re just meant to do that.

Farming cotton is exactly the same way. It’s something that is born in you that you want to do and were meant to do. And if you were meant to do it, you wake up happy every day. By the end of the fall, we are worn out and never want to see a cotton field again. But, by the next spring, you start getting that itch to do it one more time and see what happens.

When you plant the seed, it’s like having a baby. You are up 24/7 and have to watch everything they do. It’s just like cotton on the South Plains.

In May and June, the weather here is really volatile. The wind and the sand are blowing, and you spend every day and night worrying how those conditions will hurt the small cotton. You live seven days a week watching it.

Since the blowing sand will burn the little leaves, we get in there as quickly as we can with what we call a “sand fighter” that turns up clods and fresh dirt. We’ve also started using no-till and cover crops to stop the sand from blowing. The stubble from the cover crop takes care of the sand problem, but it uses up a lot of moisture. So you swap the devil for the witch.

As the year goes on, things get a little easier, you get the “family” up and grown, and then you can go watch a Rangers’ game or something. That’s the way I look at it.

When Kyle was about 5, we took him to Disney World. He and Darla were shopping, and the little lady who ran the kiosk asked where we were from and what did I do.

I said, “We are from Texas, and I am a professional gambler.”

She gave me a strange look and said, “You don’t look like a professional gambler.”

I said, “Well, some people call us cotton farmers. We roll the dice in May and see what comes up in December. We are never assured of anything. You just have to have the farmer’s heart.”

— Van Voigt
Slaton, Texas

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