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Rovey exploits new technologies to grow quality cotton

Todd Fitchette, Associate Editor

February 16, 2024

5 Min Read
Jerry and Dianna Rovey
Jerry and Dianna Rovey farm cotton near Buckeye, Arizona.Todd Fitchette

Growing cotton in the desert is challenging. Intense summer heat, occasional insect infestations, and urban encroachment are nothing new for Jerry Rovey, who has farmed west of Phoenix, Arizona for over 60 years.

Rovey continues farming cotton in a region that, perhaps sooner than later, will close a chapter on farming in Arizona as cities like Buckeye, Tolleson and Goodyear continue to merge in a seamless urban landscape surrounding Phoenix. Once just a small farming community some 30 miles west of downtown Phoenix, Rovey’s seen his region grow rapidly. In 2017, 2018 and again in 2021, Buckeye was America’s fastest-growing city.

Farm Press honors Rovey this year for his commitment to Arizona cotton and his longstanding acumen of sustainable farming practices with its annual High Cotton Award. Rovey is a lifelong cotton industry leader in Arizona, where most recently he served as board chairman for the Arizona Cotton Growers Association.

Rovey owns Flying R Farms in Buckeye with his wife, Dianna and their sons Dean and Todd.

Arizona cotton

Rovey grows Upland varieties along the Gila River, alongside alfalfa, wheat, and silage corn. Since 2008, Rovey has partnered with Deltapine cotton and its New Product Evaluator (NPE) program to test new varieties under desert conditions. The program is a collaboration between Deltapine and cotton growers across the U.S. Cotton Belt.

Related:30th High Cotton class recognized

About 10 years ago Rovey pushed one of those full-season DP varieties with some extra water to yield over seven bales per acre in one plot.

Insect control

The advent of Bt cotton and technologies like ThryvOn have helped cotton farmers control insects. Coupled with useful advice from Land Grant entomologists, including Peter Ellsworth from the University of Arizona, Rovey can control whitefly and lygus much easier because of an understanding of how beneficial insects work. That wasn’t always the case.

“Before Bt cotton we were spraying every four or five days for the Pink Bollworm,” he said. “Sometimes we’d have to spray every three days. We were killing everything, including the beneficial insects.”

Concerted efforts across the Cotton Belt eradicated the Pink Bollworm, but other insects like lygus and white flies can still be troublesome.

Rovey says the new ThryvOn technology by Bayer Crop Science helps too. The Bollgard 3 ThryvOn cotton with XtendFlex technology is touted as the cotton industry’s first biotech trait to give built-in protection against various insect species. Between this and the beneficial insects common to his area, Rovey has greatly reduced his need for insecticide treatments. Last season was a pleasantly easy year for lygus control in his area, he said. Various reports suggest lygus pressure was light across Arizona.

When he does treat his cotton, the proximity of homes and schools in the region has forced Rovey to use ground rigs and work around school hours.

“We try to use a minimum amount of chemicals because they’re expensive,” he said. “We’re also faced with air quality and dust control issues, so we have to be careful.”

Rovey said timing his insecticide treatments at nights and weekends near schools is part of his management strategies.


Cotton is just one of the crops Rovey grows. His cotton is planted on 38-inch rows. Land and water availability continue to limit his cotton acreage.

Flying R does custom harvesting in the region for other cotton farmers.

“We pick for everybody around here,” he said. “I think last year we did over 2,000 acres, and that’s the only way you can afford these machines.”

Cotton is typically planted by May, with harvest activities continuing into December. Rovey may strip till cotton behind alfalfa or a wheat crop. An average season for Rovey will see 3-4 bale yields of Upland cotton.

“We’ll easily make three bales,” he said.

Despite Upland prices languishing under $1 per pound, Rovey has managed to take advantage of high whole cottonseed prices to the dairies.

“On a three-bale crop that’s a good amount of money,” he said of whole cottonseed.

Rovey likes to look at the larger picture of cotton returns. To him it’s not merely about the price paid for his baled cotton, but also the whole cottonseed and crop insurance.

“So, when you factor all those in, and you get a little bit of payments on the price and the insurance programs, it helps,” he continued. “I see a lot of people get all out of cotton and go all into alfalfa, and that’s the only thing they have.”

Alfalfa has been a lucrative crop for Rovey as well, particularly in the winter months when winter travelers, commonly referred to as “snowbirds,” travel south and bring their horses with them to south-central Arizona.

“Right now, the snowbirds are starting to show up,” he said while talking with Farm Press last October. “A lot of people coming out of Wyoming or other parts of the U.S. bring their horses down. We’ve already started shipping hay to them.


Water in the West is critical to irrigated agriculture. It’s a necessity that isn’t taken lightly.

Rovey’s irrigation water comes from districts that pump from underground. The surface water supplies coming into the area through the Central Arizona Project now goes entirely to the cities as drought regulations eliminated those deliveries to farms in the state.

Flood and furrow irrigation is all he can do because of the slope of his land. Water quality issues prevent the use of subsurface drip, he said.

To best manage his irrigation supplies, Rovey will strip till his cotton behind other crops, or do no-till practices to slow the movement of water across the fields.

Read more about:

High Cotton

About the Author(s)

Todd Fitchette

Associate Editor, Western Farm Press

Todd Fitchette, associate editor with Western Farm Press, spent much of his journalism career covering agriculture in California and the western United States. Aside from reporting about issues related to farm production, environmental regulations and legislative matters, he has extensive experience covering the dairy industry, western water issues and politics. His journalistic experience includes local daily and weekly newspapers, where he was recognized early in his career as an award-winning news photographer.

Fitchette is US Army veteran and a graduate of California State University, Chico. 

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