Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Life of Cotton


If I ever write my autobiography, the first line will be, “My earliest memory is of cotton.”  My playpen was in the front room of a cotton gin office.  I knew the farmers who brought their cotton to my dad’s gin so well that I thought of all of them as my “uncles.”  I always loved the clink-clank sound made by the big black weights of the old manual scale when a trailer load of cotton pulled over the deck.  When I heard that sound, I knew one of my “uncles” was about to come in and if I was lucky, they would buy a 5 cent soft drink in a thick green glass bottle from the old red soda machine and give me the first sip.
The Paymaster Gin in Ackerly that  was ran by my Grandpa Earl, about 1956
The Paymaster Gin my Dad ran in Brown, about 1959

The new Paymaster Gin my Dad built between Ackerly and Brown, about 1966
  
My Grandpa, Earl Brasher, was a cotton gin manager from the 1920's.  My Dad, Dan Brasher, was the youngest gin manager that Paymaster had ever hired when he became the manager of the Brown Gin at 21 years old in 1956.  Being the daughter of a second generation cotton ginner, and now married to a multi-generational cotton farmer, I consider the excitement of that first load of cotton as the beginning of the best time of the year, time to harvest and gin cotton! The local newspapers will run a little story each year of the farmer who harvests the first bale of cotton in the county, sometimes with a photo of the farmer and ginner standing with the actual bale of cotton.  I can't seem to find it, but I remember my Dad standing beside one of his smiling farmers in one of those little newspapers.
My Dad playing in front his his Dad's gin in Truscott, Texas, about 1945

Me and my little sister, Cindy, playing in front of our Dad's gin, the Ackerly-Brown Gin, about 1968

Growing up on my Dad's gin yard is about as good as it gets when you are a kid.  There were endless places to play hide and seek up and down the rows of cotton trailers and bales of cotton. Later, much to my Dad's dismay, those same places made for great motorcross trails for a bunch of Junior High kids on dirt bikes! While rummaging through the old photos, I came across a letter of reference for my Grandpa Earl.  Seems he was a mighty good gin manager back in the early 30's. 
Part of a letter about my Grandpa Earl from 1931.

Me and my Grandpa Earl about 1961
My seasons are not marked by a calendar, but by watching all the different colors that paint across the fields of cotton throughout the year.  Bright crayon green as it peeks up out of the ground in the spring.  Soft butter yellow flowers that turn baby girl pink, then just briefly a gem stone purple before falling off as it produces the boll in the summer.  Deep olive green and rusty red leaves as fall approaches.  Crispy brown and bridal gown white as the bolls pop open to dry in the sunshine, waiting for the best time of the year, time to harvest and gin cotton.  I have been wrapped in the the fabric of our lives quite literally my entire life, and what a beautiful, colorful life it is.

Since this is for Father's Day, here are a couple more photos of my Dad.  He was not just a gin manager, he loved big trucks and fast race horses too!  Make sure to listen to this link for a great song from my son, Billy Dan Langley, singing about Paymaster with a video showing some great footage of my Dad's gin and a community cotton harvest he organized for a friend fighting cancer:  Workin' for the Paymaster  

*Adapted from a blog I wrote for my friend Janice Person on A Colorful Adventure.
Dad finally got his own big truck to haul the cotton bales to the compress, 1980

One of Dad's horses, Ka Cee Bim, in the winner's circle at Sunland Park, 1981

Monday, March 24, 2014

GMO Cotton's not perfect.....WHAT??

For two years now, I have raved about the benefits of the GMO cottonseed that The Farmer I Kiss plants.  So why now would I say it's not perfect??  Well, that's because besides a beautiful newborn grandchild, nothing in the world is perfect.
This is a low lying lake area that Daniel was not able to plow after planting
It took me several tries to get permission from Daniel to show these photos.  Why?  Because farmers don't like their fields to look messy and this is pretty messy.  If you are not all that familiar with cotton fields, you may just think that this is a photo of cotton waiting to be harvested.  You would be wrong.  This part of the field has been harvested.  What you are seeing is called Volunteer Cotton.
Our varieties are storm resistant, but some locks still wind up on the ground
Throughout the growing season, locks of cotton can fall out of the burr to the ground.  Also, as we harvest in the fall, pieces of cotton fall to the ground.  Both of these situations result in cotton which contains cottonseed lying on the ground.  The next spring, those seed sprout and grow Volunteer Cotton in the blank spaces between the newly planted rows of cotton, essentially making those Volunteer Cotton plants "weeds."
The Volunteer Cotton plants usually sprout early in the season, and are more mature than the cotton in the rows. 
The smaller stalks are from the cotton planted in the rows.  The larger stalk is a Volunteer Cotton stalk.
The definition of a weed on a cotton farm is any plant that is growing and taking valuable nutrients and more valuable water away from the rows of planted cotton.  The rouge Volunteer Cotton plants must be controlled just like any other weed because they are not harvestable in the fall.  (Disclaimer:  There are ways to harvest cotton that is not in the rows, but that requires additional harvesting equipment, fuel or trips over the field which makes the process close to impossible.)
Notice the small amount of cotton that is left on the ground after the cotton stripper has passed.
So here's the part about GMO cottonseed being less than perfect.  The particular varieties of GMO cottonseed that we plant has the genetic trait from the pansy flower that allows us to spray glyphosate herbicide (the chemical in Round-Up) in the field of growing cotton.  This kills the weeds but leaves the cotton unharmed.  But since the Volunteer Cotton that we are considering a weed is resistant to the herbicide, it does not die like the other weeds.
This is in another low lying lake area on the farm of a neighbor.  Notice the harvested rows of bare stalks.
To control the Volunteer Cotton, you have to get the plows back out and plow between the rows of cotton.  Not having to plow the land after it is planted is the whole idea behind planting GMO cottonseed with the glyphosate resistant genetic trait.  The Farmer I Kiss would get to plant and then leave the soil undisturbed to preserve the moisture, but the Volunteer Cotton issue is requiring an early plowing.
This is more representative of the Volunteer Cotton population where the field was plowed early after planting.
One solution is to rotate between varieties of cottonseed that would have resistance to another herbicide such as Dicamba.  That way, the field could be sprayed with a herbicide that your planted cotton is resistant to, but the Volunteer Cotton would not be resistant to it.  Another solution is to rotate the fields with wheat or grain sorghum from year to year.  This allows for different types of herbicides to be used to rid the fields of the Volunteer Cotton plants.  We do have a rotation plan, but we plant cotton for 2 to 3 years in a row before rotating.  So in the meantime, The Farmer I Kiss gets to plow, which he really loves to do, so he really doesn't mind the fact that GMO cotton is not perfect!
When this is the result, some small imperfections are easy to deal with!
Updated:  After a few questions, I thought it would be good to add a little more information.  (1) Why not just leave the Volunteer Cotton Plants?  They get really big and grow very big stalks, which takes a huge amount of water.  Something we have very little of out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert! (2) Why not spray a different herbicide before you plant to kill the Volunteer Cotton and the weeds.  The herbicide that you would have to use can damage or destroy growing grain crops that may be too close to your field.  Drift with these other herbicides is a big problem and one that we choose to avoid.  Round Up does not have quite the drift problems of other herbicides, so we use that exclusively at this time.  (3)  What kind of machine would you have to use to harvest the Volunteer Cotton.  I posted a link here to see the different header (part out in front that gathers the cotton) that would be put on the cotton stripper to get the cotton that is either not in rows or in ultra narrow rows.  It would mean changing out the the front part of the stripper, a pretty major task, then driving all over your field again, which is bad for compacting the soil and using lots of fuel.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Grass, Roots and other Ponderings: Making ready for the TXFB Annual Meeting

This time of year our calendar revolves around two events.  No, it's not Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It's the Texas Farm Bureau Annual Meeting and the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention.  We decline holiday parties and babysitting requests each year because of these events. 

These gatherings of farmers and ranchers mark the end of each year's work of developing the policies that will guide the organizations for the next 12 months.  Not a day goes by, literally, that Daniel and I don't discuss some issue, policy or other Farm Bureau related topic.  We read the literature and watch the emails for new items that we can discuss on our back porch each evening.

Why do we spend so much time, effort and money on these organizations?  Isn't there something more interesting, more exciting to talk about after a long day of farming?  For us, the answers to these questions are simple.  A grassroots organization without the roots is nothing but a bunch of dead fodder laying on the ground.  We the roots keep the organization alive and viable.  And with farmers and ranchers making up less than 1% of the population, we must join together in these types of organizations to have our voice heard.  A single voice gets lost, but a group of voices all saying the same thing can make a difference.

Daniel just started a term as President of the Runnels County Farm Bureau.  It's a job he takes very seriously and devotes a lot of time to the details that position demands.  He also serves as Chairman of the TXFB State Cotton Commodity Advisory Committee.  This is another position to which he is very committed and devoted.  I am active in the TXFB Texas Agriculture Challenges Team (and also enjoy the perks that come with being the First Lady of Runnels County!)  We both are staunch supporters of the TXFB political action committee, Agfund. 

There are other great farming and ranching organizations out there that we could have chosen to join.  Why did we choose Texas Farm Bureau?  There is a story that the current state president, Kenneth Dierschke, loves to tell about when he decided to become involved in farming and his father told him to get involved with an agriculture organization.  He chose Texas Farm Bureau.  I guess it's just that simple, that Daniel and I have chosen to be part of Texas Farm Bureau, but what keeps us here is that we can be the roots that keep the grass green and growing.

The farmers and ranchers across Texas will soon be washing the dirt and other farm related materials from their trucks and descending upon San Antonio for the 80th Annual Meeting of the Texas Farm Bureau and soon after back there for the 95th Annual Convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation.  Once there, the roots will set the course for the grass to follow for the next 12 months.   And Daniel and I will have a new set of topics for our back porch evenings.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

TOPGUARD Fungicide for Texas Cotton Gets Top Marks!

For the second year in a row, the Farmer I Kiss used TOPGUARD Fungicide when he planted our cotton.  You may have read my previous two blogs about TOPGUARD, Serendipity and No Fungus Among Us, where I have talked about the 100 year fight West Texas cotton farmers have had with cotton root rot.  The results that area farmers have gotten with TOPGUARD are amazing.  Fields of beautiful white cotton have replaced fields of white cotton mixed in with huge areas of black, dead cotton.  Here is a link to a great short video showing our neighbors and their success with TOPGUARD.  Click Here

Below are photos that show our farm that had TOPGUARD and a farm 1/2 mile away that did not have TOPGUARD applied.  The trees in the background of the neighboring farm are the trees around our barn, so you can see that the farms are very close to one another.  The results are very evident:
 
Our field of cotton with TOPGUARD back on 9/15/2013



Neighboring field and all the brown plants have died from Root Rot
Acres and Acres of cotton are affected




Why is there one plant that is unaffected?  No one knows that answer!


That's our barn in the background where our farm of Root Rot-Free cotton lies.  I would add that where the cotton did not die of root rot, this neighboring field produced very good cotton.

TOPGUARD is not without it's drawbacks.  Cotton is a tricky plant to get established each spring to say the least, and applying the new fungicide adds a new twist to that all important task.  The TOPGUARD has to be applied at exactly the right spot, so that when the seed sprouts, it can sprout through the fungicide and have it taken in by the cotton plant.  This way, the plant then protects it's self from the fungus that lives in the soil.

 Working out the specific details as to how you apply the TOPGUARD with each of the different types of planters is proving to be a very hot topic at the coffee shops and cotton gin offices.  Our friend, Marcus, shared some photos of his rigging:

These are a close up of the sprayer attached to a planter. 




The tricky part is planting while applying the TOPGUARD at exactly the right time.  A rain on the newly planted seed can cause it to seriously slow down sprouting and emerging by reducing the vigor of the seedling.  So watching the Weather Channel each night becomes very serious business during planting season.
Look closely and you will see that only one row of cotton is up.  This row had a nozzle that was not working and did not get TOPGUARD applied.  The other rows had working nozzles and it took several more days before they emerged.  Eventually all the cotton emerged and this field does not have any root rot.

We had a big, fast, hard falling three inch rain on one of our farms after we had planted with TOPGUARD and before the seed had sprouted.  This washed the loose soil in and packed the seed bed so tight that the tiny cotton plants could not push through so we had to replant. Along the outside of the field, we found plants trying to push through the crust where Daniel's planter missed a few inches, showing that the plants were not affected by the rain on the TOPGUARD.  We hope that tells us that we applied it at the right depth. 
These are some seedlings that were trying to push up through the hard crust that formed after the 3" rain.  This is why we had to replant the entire field, not because of any negative effects from the TOPGUARD.
 
 Once Daniel replanted, we got a perfect stand within 5 days of planting, and the end result shows that the TOPGUARD was still there and was taken up by the plants so that they were protected from the root rot fungus.
Replanted cotton just coming up next to a stand of older cotton that was planted earlier and came up prior to the big rain.

Perfect little cotton plants protected from the evils of Cotton Root Rot by TOPGUARD!!
 Many farmers are foregoing the cost and headaches of applying TOPGUARD and just living with the dead cotton in their fields.  Perhaps they are waiting until the farmers who are using the fungicide, like the one I Kiss, have worked out all the kinks.  I for one am happy to be standing on the turn row with the Farmer I Kiss, looking at beautiful fields of white cotton this year!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lessons From Spain

My first ever Guest Blogger is none other than my amazing Niece, Jayci Cave.  Jayci is a Senior at Texas Tech University (GUNS UP!!) majoring in Ag Communications with a minor in Ag Economics.  She is the daughter of a third-generation cotton farmer and the grand-daughter of a second generation cotton ginner, so like her Aunt Suzie, she has been surrounded by cotton since the day she was born.  This summer, Jayci spent time in Spain learning about their agriculture from the field to the market place.  She has shared some of her experiences here and has related them back to our beloved West Texas Cotton.
Jayci in a vineyard in Spain


Agriculture.  This one word has many different meanings and every person associates it with something specific to their lives. For me, when I think of agriculture I think of family, hard work, good values, cotton, school, and Spain. Yes you heard me correctly, Spain. 

            My father is third generation dry-land cotton farmer in West Texas. Before this summer, agriculture was something I associated with being home and cotton farming. I am a senior at Texas Tech University pursuing a degree in agricultural communication with a minor in agriculture economics. My education is another one of the many faces I put on agriculture. 

            Now, let’s get back to Spain. When most people think of Spain they probably think of flamenco dancing, Spanish food, or even the beautiful architecture. For me, however, Spain holds a very different meaning. This past June, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Seville, Spain. While there I took two agricultural economics classes, Farm and Ranch Management and Agricultural Marketing. From now on, I will forever associate Spain with agriculture. 
The vineyard "Vinicola"
          While we were in Spain, we had the opportunity to study the industry and look at the different aspects of agriculture. Not only were we able to look at the farming side of things, but also how the products were marketed and how both differed from the practices in the United States. 

            We saw a lot of high-value agriculture while in Spain. Although, we did see a couple of cotton fields, vineyards and olive orchards were much more prominent. We also had the opportunity to visit a strawberry farm, olive press, winery, hog farm, and a ham processing facility. 
What an amazing experience!
             Cotton is a commodity, which means in order to successfully make a living; a large amount of land is needed. With grapes, however, they are a high value product. The vineyard/winery we visited was a cooperative. The cooperatives 400 members own and manage both the cooperative and the winery, which purchase their product. Each member farms around two to six hectares of land; a hectare is approximately two and a half acres. The producers rely solely on the plants to be rain fed and land in the region we visited costs around $13,000 per hectare. When looking at land and production costs, maintaining a vineyard is fairly inexpensive. How nice would it be if a cotton farmer could be successful under these same conditions? 
Non-irrigated grapes!!
             When comparing this operation to those in Texas the first obvious difference is that Texas wineries are not cooperatives. Another major difference is most Texas vineyards are irrigated. The weather does not allow them to be rain fed like the vineyard we toured in Spain. Other than irrigation techniques, most of the farming practices in Spain are very similar to those in the United States. However, the producers in Texas also farm somewhat larger plots. The average plot size is between five and ten acres. One winery in Texas may only get grapes from around 20 producers, while the cooperative in Spain has around 400 members. This is a significant difference in the size of the wineries. 
Barrels and Barrels of Spanish Wine!
             Studying in Spain allowed me to broaden my view of agriculture. When thinking of the word agriculture now, along with my family and cotton, I think of my adventures in Spain and the different aspects of agriculture I was exposed to during my time in Spain.
            What does the word agriculture mean to you?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

You Might Be A Cotton Farmer If...

Every industry has it's own "Language."  Cotton farming is no exception.  Many of the terms and sayings around the cotton industry go back several generations, and while we don't Tromp cotton with our feet any more, the module builder does a might fine job of Trompin' cotton these days.  So taking a lead from Jeff Foxworthy and his Redneck gig, You Might Be A Cotton Farmer If... (PS There is a dictionary at the end!)

You've ever cursed a Boll Weevil 
You've ever visited with a neighbor on the Turn Row 
You've ever blew a hose on your 8400 
You've ever responded to "How's your day going" with "Oh, Fair To Middling"
You've ever spent all day Sand Fightin' 
You've ever been happy to see your Cotton Rowin' 
You've ever decided to plant 2 and 1 instead of Solid 
You've ever heard that Ol' Stanley's pump is Suckin' Air 
You've ever been concerned that the Table's Droppin' 
You've ever used a Quart of Topguard to fight your Root Rot 
You've ever had a buddy already Sprayin' For Worms because he didn't plant Bt 
You've ever Worried About the Wind because your neighbor didn't plant Round Up Ready 
You've ever chopped cotton with a crew of Hoe Hands 
You've ever been excited about a good Burn Down 
You've ever had to Cultivate because you are having trouble with Volunteer
You've ever been Strippin' 
You've ever ended up with too many Barks

Some of these are self explanorty, but I'll translate them anyway:

Tromp or Trompin': To compact the cotton for transport.  People used to get inside the cotton trailers and compact the cotton with their feet in order to get more cotton in each trailer.  Now the Module Builder has a hydraulic press that compacts the cotton into large blocks that are transported by Module Trucks to the gin.

Boll Weevil:  A vile little creature that causes so much damage to a cotton crop that many regions of the United States stopped growing cotton all together.

Turn Row:  Small dirt roads that lie around the perimeter of a field and allow room for farm machinery to turn at the end of the rows.

8400:  There are hundreds of model numbers for tractors.  This particular number happens to be a John Deere 8400 Front Wheel Drive Tractor.

Fair to Middling:  Refers to the USDA classing system used on cotton and Fair to Middling is about in the middle of the scale.  There are colors, strengths, lengths and other factors that lead to the final grade of a bale of cotton.  That grade determines the final price a farmer gets for his cotton.

Sand Fightin':  When a hard rain falls on farms that are mostly sandy soil, the surface quickly dries off and becomes smooth.  If the wind starts blowing, the smooth surface will begin to blow sand.  Blowing sand can burn the leaves off of a cotton plant in a matter of a few minutes.  Sand Fighters are very wide implements that have small rolling blades which dig into the soil and break up the smooth surface and prevent the sand from blowing.  They can be pulled very fast to cover a lot of acres in a short amount of time.

Cotton Rowin':  This is when the cotton first pops up out of the ground after planting.  The first day you can drive up and see a green streak down the row, your "Cotton's Rowin'."

2 and 1, Solid:  In this area of the United States, many farmers plant their cotton in Skip Row Patterns.  This leaves blank rows in between rows of cotton to give the plants more room for rain fall.  2 and 1 means that there are two rows of cotton with one blank row in between the next set of two rows.  Solid means there are no blank rows.  Row spacing comes into play here also.  Some cotton is on 40" wide rows, others may only be 30" row spacing.  This is all a personal preference by the farmer.

Suckin' Air:  The irrigation pump in the water well is pumping less water and some air because the water level in the well is dropping.

Table's Droppin':  The underground water table tends to rise and fall with the weather and also during the growing season when lots of irrigation systems are in use, leading to pumps "sucking air."

 Quart of Topguard:  The fungicide that was approved in 2012 for the treatment of Cotton Root Rot.  It is applied to the soil at the time of planting in quantities of one pint to one quart per acre.

Root Rot:  Several of my previous posts have dealt with the fungus we call Cotton Root Rot.  It lives in the soil and kills the cotton plants.

 Sprayin' for Worms:  Without the genetic trait for the resistance to the boll worm, a farmer must spray insecticide on his cotton many times throughout the growing season to combat the damage the boll worm causes to cotton.

Bt:  Cottonseed varieties that contain the genetic trait which makes the plant resistant to the boll worm.

Worried About The Wind: When a farmer plants genetically modified cotton in a field next to a farmer who plants non-genetically modified cotton, the wind direction must be considered before chemicals are applied in order to protect the farm with the non-genetically modified cotton from chemical damage.  Most farmers are very considerate of their neighbors in this respect.



Round Up Ready:  Cottonseed varieties that contain the genetic trait which makes the plant resistant to glyphosate herbicide, also known as Round Up.  Cotton grown with this trait can have glyphosate sprayed directly over the growing crop to control the weeds.

Hoe Hands:  Before herbicide was used to control weeds, large groups of farm workers would move from field to field chopping the weeds by hand with hoes

Burn Down:  After a field has been sprayed with herbicide and the weeds have died, you consider that a burn down.

 Cultivate: If you planted genetically modified cotton containing the Round Up Ready trait the previous year, the volunteer plants will be resistant to the herbicide and you must mechanically remove them by plowing with a plow called a cultivator.  Also, if you don't want to spray herbicide or plant non-genetically modified cotton, this simply refers to plowing your cotton crop and cleaning out the weeds between the rows.

Volunteer:  During harvest, locks of cotton are dropped and left in the field.  These locks of cotton contain cottonseed that will sprout the following spring.  These volunteer cotton plants are considered a "weed" since they are not in the row and are not easy to harvest.

Strippin': Dryland cotton is smaller than irrigated cotton and most harvesting is done with Cotton Strippers.  This refers to the way the harvester removes the cotton from the plant.  Sections of rubber flaps called bats and sections of long brushes rotate to strip everything from the stalk: leaves, burrs, cotton and all.  Larger cotton and much of the irrigated cotton use Cotton Pickers to harvest which use units that literally spin the cotton out of the burr taking only the cotton from the plant.

Barks:  Refers to the bark from the woody cotton stem.  This bark can make it's way into the cotton fibers and cause the grade of the cotton to come back marked "Bark."  This lowers the price a farmer will receive for that cotton since the bark must be removed from the fibers before it can be spun into thread and fabric.  Different factors can contribute to the problem, such as cotton that has died due to Cotton Root Rot.

I hope this clears up some of the language barrier that can occur as you read my blogs about cotton farming or if you ever find yourself leaning on the back of a pick up truck on the turn row talking about cotton to the Farmer I Kiss.  Leave me a comment with your own special definitions from your farming operations.






Thursday, June 13, 2013

"If Only...": Even GMO Cottonseed Can't Survive A Desert Downpour

If only...the Farmer I Kiss was finished planting...It had been a stressful few weeks because the moisture was disappearing at a rate faster than the tractor could plant.  So the longer he planted, the deeper he had to push the seed into the soil.  With the first day of planting finally just peeking out of the soil, the rest of the seed were sitting about 2 1/2 inches deep...too deep to be planting cotton but doing it anyway to chase the last of the moisture.  Then it happened.  A 3 1/2 inch rain in about 30 minutes.  A Desert Downpour.
This was a field of planted cotton.
 If only...That's what Daniel kept saying as he shook his head, looking at the fields of standing water and buried cottonseed.  If only that rain had came 3 weeks earlier, then he could have planted very shallow, the seed would have emerged in just a few days, life would be good.  If only that rain had came 1 week later, the seed he had planted would have already been emerged and happily drinking it all up.  But "If only" didn't happen.  So now, the seed has too much soil washed in on top of it, the sun has baked it and even the very expensive GMO/Crossbred/Favorite cottonseed can't push through that.
Load # 2
If only...we didn't have to go back to the seed dealer for a new load of seed.  Most seed companies have a replant policy that allows the farmer to buy new seed at a discounted rate, so at least it won't cost quite what the first round did.  And our TOPGUARD fungicide for the Cotton Root Rot (which I have wrote about in previous posts Serendipity and No Fungus Among Us) should still be there waiting to protect the new seed.  Since this is only the second year that TOPGUARD has been used for Cotton Root Rot, a lot is still left to learn and this will be a great way to know how a Desert Downpour affects it for future crops.  Daniel is watching closely and jumping from field to field where spots dry up so he can get back in them and replant almost every acre.  Chihuahuan Desert 1...Wilde Farms 0...
TOPGUARD should still be waiting for the new seed.
 Bright side:  Even though the cotton will be a little later, it will now have a really good start, which is about 50% of the battle out here.  That rain will carry it through several weeks before needing another good drink.  We don't need a lot of rain to grow cotton out here next to the largest desert in North America, we just need it to fall at the right times.  If only...the Farmer I Kiss had a crystal ball... 
That seed costs WHAT!!!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Green Snakes on the Ceiling

Turn west at the traffic light.  There's only one. Go over the low water crossing. Don't worry, it hasn't seen water for two and a half years.  Take the dirt road down by the river to the pavilion.  Just a tin roof and a cement slab circled by ancient live oaks.  Bring your cooler and your lawn chairs.

Everyone sits and waits, under the orange, pink and purple painted evening Texas sky.  Slowly, a figure steps up on the flat bed hay trailer parked at the end of the cement slab.  Big white cowboy hat, graying beard, fiddle in hand.  The small band starts to tune.  Plink plink, twang twang.  The steel guitar player slides the bar across the strings.

Finally, what we all drove miles through twisting, whitetail deer infested roads to see.  A real Texas Legend.  He brings the bow up to the fiddle and no one is left in their seats as Johnny Bush belts out his Texas mainstay "Green Snakes on the Ceiling."


If you have never watched a bunch of real Texans doing the Texas Two-Step to Green Snakes on the Ceiling, you may have a hard time grasping the deep seeded meaning in this act.  It's an Unofficial Law of Texas that you are not allowed to sit in your seat when certain songs are played, Green Snakes being one of them.  Now, someone who is not familiar with this ritual may be very confused as they watch 50 couples dancing to the same song, all supposedly doing the same Two-Step, because there are 50 different versions of the dance all happening at the same time.

Mothers teaching their 10 year old son to slowly step forward-forward-back.  Little girls perched atop their daddy's cowboy boots as they shuffle-shuffle-skip.  The aging ranch couple who dance so smooth that you would swear they were on ice skates.  The young farm hand, dancing quick-quick-slow-slow with the farmer's daughter (under the watchful eye of the farmer's wife) trying very hard not to step on her fancy new cowgirl boots.  Miss Turkey Fest still wearing her crown, now in bare feet instead of her high heel red satin pageant shoes, scandalously dancing very close with someone just a bit too old.  Twirls, twists, spins...fast, slow..and sometimes even a couple who actually boot scoot to the beat.
Johnny Bush...A Texas Legend
It's a tradition that doesn't seem to be fading, unlike many other traditions these days.  Everyone leaving their fields and cattle a little early, putting on a clean, starched pair of blue jeans and their "town" hat to go dance in a circle all night to old country music.  It can be out under the stars at night on a cement slab, in an old dance hall with a real wooden dance floor, or the linoleum tile floor of the community center.  No matter where it is, a few things are always the same:  there will be a fiddle, a steel guitar, cornmeal sprinkled on the floor, and the unspoken rule that you never sit when the band cranks up Green Snakes on the Ceiling.

The Farmer I Kiss and our good friends Allen and Michelle drove 66 miles to Menard, Texas last weekend to attend their First Annual Turkey Fest, in honor of the amazing turkey hunting the area provides.  We counted 105 deer on the sides of a 17 mile stretch of road going back to their cabin after the dance (a hint of the amazing deer hunting the area is also famous for.)  All to hear the amazing voice of Johnny Bush and to have the opportunity to dance to a live performance from the Legend himself singing Green Snakes on the Ceiling.  It was a great trip!
Scootin' a boot with the Farmer I Kiss

Friday, April 26, 2013

How does it stack up: STAX, WTO and Cotton

Although the Farmer I Kiss raises some wheat and milo in order to rotate the land from cotton every two to four years, these crops are planted mainly for their foliage that can be incorporated into the topsoil.  They are not his primary focus, because at the end of the day, no matter which crop is in the field, he is a cotton farmer. 
A Cotton Rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.

Cotton Organizations

One of the things that comes with being a cotton farmer are the great cotton organizations that exist across the southern states.  One of the best is the National Cotton Council, (NCC) who "serves as the central forum for consensus-building among producers, ginners, warehousers, merchants, cottonseed processors/dealers, cooperatives and textile manufacturers. The organization is the unifying force in working with the government to ensure that cotton's interests are considered."   The regional organization here is the Southern Rolling Plains Cotton Growers, (SRPCG) who are members along with other regional groups of the Texas Cotton Producers, Inc. (TCP)  Our very good friend and fellow Concho Valley cotton farmer is currently the president of  TCP.   These organizations have spent the past couple of years developing a program for cotton producers called STAX, Stacked Income Protection Plan for Upland Cotton.


STAX and the WTO

STAX is an additional crop insurance product that can be purchased in addition to the regular crop insurance policy.  It helps to cover the large deductibles that the regular crop insurance policy has and works as an area-wide type of a product instead of basing coverage on a farmers individual operation and yields.  Many of the aspects of the STAX program were developed to answer the issues that are unique to cotton due to a World Trade Organization dispute that Brazil raised against features of the U. S. cotton program.  In March, the Delta Farm Press stated, "Besides providing a much-needed safety net for an industry that is reeling from a greater-than-50-percent reduction in cotton prices over the last two years, policymakers also face the challenge of ultimately settling the WTO case filed by the government of Brazil nearly a decade ago."

Direct Payments Eliminated

The STAX program has been embraced by most policymakers who are involved in creating the new Farm Bill currently being put together in Washington, D. C. As it was originally designed, STAX in combination with the elimination of direct payments, SURE disaster program and counter-cyclical payments would reduce spending in the cotton program by an estimated 46%, a number that is much greater than many other commodities are proposing for their spending reductions.

Strong Safety Net

The supply of food and fiber are a vital part of our national security.  The natural disasters of the past two years have brought our food and fiber supply under attack, reenforcing the need for a strong, stable and affordable safety net with crop insurance serving as it's backbone.  As the new Farm Bill looks to eliminate most of cotton's program funds, support for the STAX program as an affordable option for the portion of their risks that currently have no coverage is basically unanimous among cotton producers across the cotton belt.   Organizations like the NCC, SRPCG and TCP are working hard to represent the cotton farmers, like the one I Kiss, from all across the cotton belt as our policymakers develop a Farm Bill that will have sweeping changes and much needed spending reductions.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Shouldn't we have parades? It's National Agriculture Day

We have parades in this town at the drop of a hat.  The small street down by the river gets blocked off at least once a month for a line of crate paper adorned floats.  But March 19th will be conspicuously quiet down along the river road.  No floats, no motorcycle groups, no marching bands.  Yet, here in town, we will all eat at least three meals that day, wear clothes and drive our cars.
March 19th is National Agriculture Day.  Not only should we recognize the day, we should have a BIG parade to celebrate those who produce the food we eat, the fiber we wear and the fuel we burn.  San Angelo is an agriculture town.  In fact, at one point in time, we were the wool and mohair capital of the world.  Just get out an old encyclopida and there we are, our one claim to fame.  Shouldn't we block off the river road for trailers full of sheep and goats?  Shouldn't we invite all the farmers to drive their tractors through the middle of downtown while we line the streets to cheer for them?

Sadly, the day may go past with most Americans failing to even know it's National Agriculture Day as they go about their lives eating three meals of safe affordable food, wearing comfortable cotton clothes and driving cars fueled in part by grain derived ethanol.
On March 19th, I plan to thank the Farmer I Kiss and all the other farmers I know for their part in making America such a great place to live.  I hope you do the same!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Decision 2013: Drought Resistant & GMO Cottonseed Varieties leading the polls

About this time each year, the Wilde household takes on a full blown campaign atmosphere.  The Farmer I Kiss and I both have very strong opinions about which brand and variety of cottonseed to plant.  Lying around the house you will find lots of magazines and brochures conspicuously left opened to a favorite brand, or maybe a new, exciting variety.  Big red circles have been drawn around the front runners.
Waiting for our food at the restaurant...Daniel just happened to have some reading to do...
Underneath all the hub-bub, Daniel studies carefully to try and find just that right combination of crossbreed and genetic technologies which could give him just a tiny edge up on the Chihuahuan Desert.  The main concern right now is finding a variety that will tolerate both the extremely low humidity and extremely high heat which we have been experiencing the past few years.  Many brands have varieties that are proving to be drought tolarant, but not all droughts are the same.  Producing cotton with less rainfall is one thing.  Producing cotton with less rainfall, 10% humidity and 110 degree heat is quite another. This is where he depends on the years of cross breeding done by seed companies, followed by farmer planted trial plots to finally isolate the traits which will form the perfect "Edge of the Chihuahuan Desert" dryland cotton variety.

Last year in the Concho Valley, one particular brand and variety,  Deltapine 1044 seemed to beat all the rest in both production and quality.  Unfortunately, we didn't plant that variety.  We planted a variety that has been a top producer with excellent quality for several years, but just didn't hold up to the low humidity and high heat of 2012, FiberMax 1740.  Daniel likes to choose a variety that has a good showing from farm to farm in the farmer field trials.  Not the one that suddenly jumps out of no where to the front of one trial and not the one that lags at the bottom of all the trials.
I am pulling for one of the new-comers this year!
Daniel also has to take into consideration how early he will plant.  The relative maturity of varieties come in Early, Medium and Full season.  If he plants in mid to late May, that takes an entirely different variety than when he has to wait until late June.  Trying to guess the rainfall situation in May or June in order to pre-book a variety now does not always work out as planned!  A change in planting intentions can leave him with a barn of Full season seed while he frantically tries to locate somewhere to buy a barn full of Early seed!

Another vital issue is insect pressure.  Every storm from the south can bring in a new crop of boll worms.  These vile little creatures can strip a cotton plant clean in a matter of a few days.  That makes the bollworm resistant genetic trait (Bt) very important in the decision.  Thanks to the Bt trait, our farms have been insecticide free for five years.  A friend of ours decided three years ago to forego the Bt trait and planted conventional cottonseed.  He had to spray his fields four times with insecticide and still lost over 30% of the crop.  My brother-in-law farms cotton up on the plains north of here where there is very little insect pressure.  He plants cottonseed every year that does not contain the Bt genetic trait.  For us the choice is Bt genetics or lots of insecticide.
Here's hoping this will be waiting for Daniel's cotton stripper this fall!
So what variety of cottonseed is ahead in the polls?  Will it be one of the big name front runners or a small time dark horse that makes it's way to the planter boxes of the Farmer I Kiss?  More campaigning is needed before Decision 2013!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cotton Farming doesn't take a winter holiday

Since we are in the dead of winter out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert, one might think that I see a lot more of the Farmer I Kiss.  After all, what would a cotton farmer do while it's too cold to grow cotton?  If I could find him, I would ask him!  So I decided to head out to the farm.
The Dirt Mover!!  Reminds me of a Transformer movie.

When I finally found Daniel, he was in his tractor with a big yellow dirt mover repairing the terraces that were damaged this fall when we had over 10 inches of rain. When fields have slopes to them, these terraces are built, which are really just small dirt dams all running parallel in the field allowing us to harvest and hold the rainwater and topsoil.  The parts of the fields that hold the water in front of the terraces had over filled after the "Hundred Year Rain Event" and finally broken through creating wash-outs which allowed the water to fill up in front of the next terrace.  
Wash out over knee high
Wash flowing into our coastal grass field

Luckily the terraces on the lower end of the field were big enough so that we didn't lose the water and topsoil.  Our coastal grass field caught the water on the other side (which means we should make some really great hay this spring!) 
Hay Hay Hay this spring!

Now comes the slow task of repairing each of the wash-outs without creating holes in the field.  And I do mean S-L-O-W!  One bucket at a time, Daniel finds soil from the right spot and slowly bumps his way back up the field to put the load in the wash-out.  Moving two inches of soil across the terraces on 200 acres of land, one bucket at a time, is certainly not as fast as those old Tonka Trucks used to be in my back yard.  Carefully repairing the terraces can take several weeks in order to not cause damage to other parts of the field.
Small wash out already repaired

Once the the wash outs are filled in, the soil must be put back into condition for raising cotton.  Daniel will hook his tractor to the chisel plow and plow the field from top to bottom.  The chisel plow is 20 feet wide and plows only about 3 to 4 inches deep.  This will only skim the top to loosen the soil and break up all the tractor and harvester tracks from the previous year.
Repaired terrace after running the chisel plow

After the farm has been chiseled, Daniel will hook his tractor on to the lister, a plow that makes beds, or rows, in the soil about 6 inches tall.  He will lay off nine 40 inch rows at a time.  These rows follow the contours of the terraces and also help to hold the precious rainfall we hope to receive this spring.
Hooking onto the lister
  Daniel has found by trial and error over the past 40 years that this minimum tillage combination of shallow chiseling and forming rows works good to keep the top soil from blowing before the cotton is planted and to keep the surface moisture available.  There are some no-till farms in the area, but they are not having the success with cotton that minimum tillage is having.  The desert environment is presenting challenges for no-till that hopefully will be worked out, such as heavy grass infestation and surface moisture that sinks with the extreme heat. For now, our minimum tillage practice can require less herbicide usage than the no-till and the rows help to keep the surface moisture closer to the top for sprouting the newly planted seed.  We normally have only two herbicide applications per year and replace other needs for herbicide applications with spot tillage for weed control.  Daniel likes to have a conventional practice that balances the lowest chemical inputs and lowest tillage instead of going completely one direction or another. 

When all the repairs, conditioning and rows have been completed on the first farm, it all has to happen on the next farm, then the next farm...so if I hope to see the Farmer I Kiss this winter, I will have to hitch a ride in his tractor (which happens to be a great place to steal one of those famous farmer kisses!)
All this...to be here again next fall!

To see more about our soil and water practices, check out our earlier blog  Maybe the most important harvest of all.

Also follow us on our Facebook page as we start a new year of raising cotton on the edge of the largest desert in North America  Kissed A Farmer