Oklahoma cotton farmers were less than enthusiastic about the 2022 season as they contemplated planting into a drought that was beginning to remind many of 2011.
Much of the winter wheat crop had already been terminated or promised scant yields, at best.
But weather in the Southwest can change in a hurry. So can expectations.
“My attitude has changed drastically since the first of May,” says Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, farmer Brad Schaufele. “We got some rain and relief from 100-degree heat.”
He had not planted any cotton as of June 2. “As soon as the ground dries up, we will get rolling,” he says. “We had about 2 inches of rain yesterday and have been getting decent rain since the first of May. Up to that time, we had received only 2.5 inches of rain in the previous six months.”
“We had been so dry I did not take delivery on cottonseed until this last week,” says Eddie Diffendafffer, who farms dryland cotton in Washita County. “I thought if it rained late, I might want to switch to an earlier maturing variety.
“I’m in good shape now if I can plant in the next 10 days. My dad always said if he had had only one day to plant, he would choose June 10.”
Oklahoma State University Extension Cotton Specialist Seth Byrd says about 40% of the state’s anticipated 500,000 to 520,000 acres had been planted by June 2.
“We don’t know yet how the cotton that was planted but yet to emerge prior to these latest rain events will fare,” Byrd says. “The systems that moved through at the very end of May and the start of June brought a lot more rain to many areas compared to the system that came through the week of May 22.”
Rain and hail
He says a lot of areas received heavy rain. “Some received 4 to 6 inches between May 30 and June 1 over a 24-hour period, so challenges are likely for some of those acres.”
He adds that hail events could have damaged emerged cotton in some areas.
Gin Manager Jeannie Hileman, Western Planters Gin, Hobart, says her coverage area and the area around Altus, had “heavy rains the last few days. We had gotten 3 to 4 inches and then another 4 inches last night (June1). Some growers around Altus were having trouble planting with the drought. They have finally gotten some rain. Some areas report as much as 6 inches.”
She agrees with Byrd that cotton already in the ground might not do well with that much rain. “But it has been dry all season. We’ve had nothing but a couple of light rains, maybe 2 inches in some locations, until the last few days.”
Enough time to plant
She says wet soils will keep farmers out of the field for several days. “But we have some time. Most farmers in my area don’t start planting until the first of June. June 20 is the insurance cutoff date.
“Most of the cotton in my area has not been planted,” she adds. In the area around Altus, the irrigated acreage, had been planted. I’m not sure how the rain affected it. I’m not sure what shape it’s in.”
Hileman says weather, as usual, remains the biggest challenge for Oklahoma cotton farmers. “We have time, but we need the soil to dry out and get back to planting.”
Byrd says most of the state’s irrigated acreage was planted prior to the rain received the week of May 22. “Some dryland had started to go in, mostly in the northern areas of the state, so if my guesses are right, I’d say we were probably around 40% planted with very little planting activity occurring in the last 10 days or so.”
Based on various reports and conversations, Byrd says emergence in areas that were planted earlier in May and had good moisture has been “decent, but those were few and far between. The cooler and wet weather we’ve had since has led to some seedling disease concerns, although I haven’t heard of any disasters yet.”
He says what remains to be planted of the 500,000-to-520,000-acre projection is primarily dryland. “Those acres definitely benefitted from the rain, but we’ve also lost some time due to wet field conditions.
“When planters are able to get back in the field, I’m betting they’ll be rolling as fast as they can. We typically see a lot of dryland cotton go in between the very end of May and the first 2 weeks of June. I’ve talked to several growers who had not begun planting as of June 2. They will likely be out of the field for several more days.”
Rain is worth a little lost time. “We’re not going to complain about finally getting some significant moisture,” Byrd says. “But we could see a time crunch to get it all planted. More weather events that delay planting that could affect acreage if it gets too late on the calendar.”
Diffendaffer says he has time.
“I have planted earlier some years and later some years. Sometimes it makes and sometimes not. But over the years, the first week of June has seemed better for us most of the time in our dryland area."
He anticipates planting about the same acreage as last year. “I may plant some behind destroyed wheat. I’ll get all the other cotton in first, then I might put in a little more if things look okay.”
“I’m a bit stubborn,” Schaufele says. “I have my rotation set, so I’ll stick to what I have been doing.”
“Oklahoma acreage will be up,” Hileman says.
“The market is still good. We’re excited about that, but it’s volatile, like fuel prices. It’s hard for growers to know when to pull the trigger on contracts. When I started, we could look at the fundamentals and decide when to market. Now, it’s so volatile fundamentals are hard to assess.”
Costs are ‘way up’
She says production expense will be a big factor. “It is crazy. Seed is up a little, not a lot, but fertilizer and chemicals are way up. Farmers need the market to stay strong to have a chance to make a profit.”
“Expenses? Oh, my goodness, yes,” Diffendaffer says “I’ve already put a lot in this crop already. Chemical and fertilizer prices are out the roof and seed is not any cheaper either.”
He agrees that marketing dryland cotton in a volatile market is difficult. “I’m still watching. It is tough to market dryland cotton. I have thought about hedging some.”
“Inputs are scary, fertilizer and herbicide costs are scary,” Schaufele says. “I’ve never seen costs this high. Fertilizer is close to triple in the last year-and-a-half. Roundup is about triple, too.”
Diffendaffer grows wheat and cotton and runs cattle. “I will start selling some cows,” he says. Drought has prevented adequate forage. “This rain will put that off a little bit.”
He says potential wheat yield is a question mark. “Our combine crew came in last night, but it started raining shortly after they got unloaded. I’ve already destroyed one-third of the crop. I tried to use some for grazing. I think I’ll cut 20 bushels per acre or less on the rest.”
Schaufele plants cotton, wheat, and milo.
“I will probably harvest most of the wheat, but It’s not too good. Weeds are coming on strong with recent rain, too.”
He planted milo in mid-May. “This rain will help it. I was waiting on rain; that’s the reason I planted milo late.”
For most of the spring, Oklahoma and High Plains cotton farmers waited on rain to plant. Many were recalling the drought and heat of 2011, a year that most remember as the worst ever.
Now, they wait for fields to dry enough to plant and hope the market remains strong enough to offset the high production costs.
“We need the market to stay up with these inputs,” Schaufele says.
Growers would also like a year with good yields to coincide with a good market, a rare occurrence, most agree. Maybe this year.