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Texas producer compares '22 season to cage wrestling

A season plagued with drought, limited irrigation and inflation, producer Gary Jackson says he started "tapping out" in June but the hits just kept coming.

Shelley E. Huguley, Editor

November 18, 2022

14 Slides

"Have you ever seen cage wrestling?" Texas producer Gary Jackson posed as he began to describe the 2022 season. "If you've ever seen it, one of those 'ol boys is on top of the other beating him and he taps out because he's done. I started tapping out in June but that big 'ol boy just kept beating on me." 

Southwest producers, including Jackson who farms in Gaines County and Lea County, N.M., endured a season wrought with persisting drought and triple-digit temperatures and further complicated by inflation. No matter the commodity or the tillage practice or even the variety, nothing seemed to overcome the extreme conditions or the cost to produce this year's crop.  

"I'm an old guy. I've been out here a long time and I've never seen it like this," said Jackson, who's been farming for 42 years. "The supply place in Seminole keeps up with the heat units and starting in May, June, July, August, September -- the growing season -- they sent me records of the last 20 years and this year was the most heat units we'd ever had. Now, I don't know how far back those records go but this was the hottest growing season in the last 20 years. So, that pretty much sums it up. And then on top of that is this inflation. It's out of control." 

Gary and his wife Karen farm cotton, peanuts, rosemary, and a variety of chiles.  

See, Specialty crop producer says he couldn't operate without H-2A labor

"2011 was as bad as this year but we didn’t have the costs that we have with this one," Karen said. "That's what's killing us. When you're paying three, four times for everything you touch than you did and you're not making any more, it just doesn't work." 

Supply chain issues haven't helped either. "They have rigged everything you can think of to fix because we can't get parts," she adds. 

Even though fertilizer prices have increased from 200% to 300%, Gary said, except for cotton, he didn't cut rates. "If you plant peanuts, you're pretty much all in. I mean you're going to fertilize; you're going to water; you're going to do everything you can to make a crop. Now, cotton you can back off. You can push the snot out of cotton, but the peanuts and chiles, once you stick the seed in the ground, you're pretty much committed." 


The Jacksons have grown chiles for the last 25 years. "When we first started, they were handpicked by the bucket. Then we got one machine," Karen recalls. "I think we started with 30 acres. Not much at all." 

See, Peanut yields down due to drought, late season rain, cool weather 

Today, they run three chile harvesters over about 160 acres of varying chile pepper varieties with different end uses. One of the peppers is a sweet, red chile pepper, known as #59 by the private Arizona seed company for whom they grow them. Once harvested, the chiles are delivered to Riggs Chile in nearby Artesia. "They're basically a processor for another company," Gary said. "They will clean and dry them, and grind them. Then they will go to a spice plant." 

They also produce small, spicy chiles, which will be used for medicinal purposes. "It has zeaxanthin in it for macular degeneration. It's a naturally occurring compound." 


The Jacksons also grow rosemary for its oil. "We try to cut it when the oil's at its peak," Jackson said.  

Once harvested, the fragrant herb is dried, allowing the needles to be removed from the stalk easily. The needles are then sent to a Michigan plant where the oil is extracted from the needles and used as a natural food preserve. "It will wind up in something you eat," Gary assures.  


The Jacksons also grow irrigated cotton and peanuts. "I don't know that we should call it growing," Gary joked of the season. "How about planted. Can we use that term?" 

See, Equipment orders: 'Late. Real late.'

Of what cotton was planted, not all will be harvested as some fields had to be abandoned. "If we could have had a little more water," he said. "You just couldn't water it all." 

His peanuts fared better. "They're decent but obviously because of the year, they're hot and dry."  

Yields were off by about 30%. "They didn't make what they should have," he said of his runners. "We need 5,500 pounds to make it work. With our rotation and trying to fertilize adequately, we figure we need close to that 5,500 but it's not going to happen this year." 

Ironically, when Farm Press caught up with the Jacksons, they were digging and combining peanuts to beat a weekend rain event. "Everything is too green," he said of the dug peanuts awaiting the combine. "We'll get them out as quick as we can and put them on a dryer."  

No matter the commodity though, drought combined with the declining Ogallala Aquifer makes for challenging production conditions. Like many in the area, the Jackson's well depth has dropped dramatically.  

"It's night and day of what it used to be," Gary recalls. "It seems it really started dropping off after the 2011 drought. We've always been going down but when I look back, that's when it really started. And it just seems like it's getting worse. We're all going to have to learn to deal with what we've got." 

To help conserve water, the Jacksons run center pivots and last year installed drip irrigation in one of their chile fields. "We're just beginning to see if we can make that deal work," Gary said of the drip. "I really like it but on a year like this, really, nothing worked.  

"The 105-degree days and 82-degree nights day after day after day. It's one thing to have three or four days and have a break. Even if you don't get rain, even if you get some clouds, it cools it off, lets the plants recover. I don't know how many days in a row we had, but they couldn’t recover. So, it's like you got a tiny bit behind every day." 

While this year is not a good gauge for drip, Gary said their primary goal remains to conserve and make better use of the water they have. "Sometimes we'll plant in fallow ground. We'll have a grain crop and then plant in the summer. We try different things to see what we can make work."  

Within their cotton production, the Jacksons grow a lot of skip row cotton. "Even with skip row, you've got to have some help. This year it was just so dry, so hot, so early, we couldn't get it going. 

See, Trico Peanut: From diner napkin to farm-to-fork 

"Looking back, one thing that affected us is in the fall of '21, most people had a big crop and a late freeze, so that cotton kept sucking that moisture out, even in the fall. We were still making cotton, so we didn't kill the cotton, which is the right thing to do. I just think the '21 crop got everything out of the soil and we got zero help in the winter, so our table was empty when we started. We've got to conserve what water is left." 

Take a look at this photo gallery to catch a glimpse of chile and peanut harvest on Jackson Farms. Check back next week, to read more about the importance of H-2A labor on their diversified farm and improvements that would beneficial.  

See, Peanut farmers give insight into a weathered 2022 crop



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Chile Peppers

About the Author(s)

Shelley E. Huguley

Editor, Southwest Farm Press

Shelley Huguley has been involved in agriculture for the last 25 years. She began her career in agricultural communications at the Texas Forest Service West Texas Nursery in Lubbock, where she developed and produced the Windbreak Quarterly, a newspaper about windbreak trees and their benefit to wildlife, production agriculture and livestock operations. While with the Forest Service she also served as an information officer and team leader on fires during the 1998 fire season and later produced the Firebrands newsletter that was distributed quarterly throughout Texas to Volunteer Fire Departments. Her most personal involvement in agriculture also came in 1998, when she married the love of her life and cotton farmer Preston Huguley of Olton, Texas. As a farmwife, she knows first-hand the ups and downs of farming, the endless decisions made each season based on “if” it rains, “if” the drought continues, “if” the market holds. She is the bookkeeper for their family farming operation and cherishes moments on the farm such as taking harvest meals to the field or starting a sprinkler in the summer with the whole family lending a hand. Shelley has also freelanced for agricultural companies such as Olton CO-OP Gin, producing the newsletter Cotton Connections while also designing marketing materials to promote the gin. She has published articles in agricultural publications such as Southwest Farm Press while also volunteering her marketing and writing skills to non-profit organizations such as Refuge Services, an equine-assisted therapy group in Lubbock. She and her husband reside in Olton with their three children Breely, Brennon and HalleeKate.

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