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Soaked Southwest farmers view dry, diversified West

The rain gauge at the new Superior Almond Hulling Company near Interstate 5 and Highway 33 on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley has collected one inch of rain since January 1.

This is certainly a telling truth for the plight of valley farmers this season, who have seen surface water supplies cut dramatically.

However, for a group of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas farmers, it hardly looked like a drought during the week they spent looking at lush, irrigated agriculture in California and Arizona.

The 10 Southwest farmers were part of the annual National Cotton Council's Cotton Foundation Producer Information Exchange (P.I.E.) program. For 19 years, P.I.E. has fostered communications between cotton producers by sending farmers to outside cotton-producing areas to observe regional differences, and gain ideas about new ways to grow cotton back home.

The P.I.E. program is sponsored by Bayer CropScience.

The California crop mix was something to behold for the Southwest growers. In turn, the California hosts were shocked by the rain totals received by the Southwest growers.

Dereck Totton of Oxford, Kansas, had received more than 33 inches of rain on his southern Kansas farm since April 22.

Israel Salazar Jr. of Raymondville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, said a call home let him know 10 inches of rain had fallen while he was on the week-long tour of Western agriculture.

“Two weeks before I came out West we had six inches in one day. Six inches in two hours really,” he said.

“When it floods in East Texas, it is just about right for us in West Texas,” said San Angelo, Texas producer John Wilde. “We had our annual rainfall of 18 inches by the middle of July.”

For some, the heavy rains in the Southwest this summer flooded the cotton and ruined wheat fields. For others, like those in West Texas, the heavier than normal rain has been just right.

However, P.I.E. tours are not about weather, but about farmers sharing experiences.

Cotton Foundation President Clyde Sharp of Roll, Ariz., is a former P.I.E. participant and says it is an opportunity to do more than just see innovations. It provides lasting friendships, he said, and expands the networking of cotton farmers in a time when farmers need to stick together politically.

After observing minimum tillage during a tour in the Carolinas, Sharp was duly inspired to try it on his own farm in Western Arizona.

“Minimum till is developing slowly and surely out here in Arizona. I see more and more farmers incorporating it into their operations,” he said.

The Southwest growers saw a wide array of crops during their visits to the Bayer research farm, including almond and pistachio farms, and processing plants.

Like most P.I.E. participants who see California agriculture for the first time, it is the diversity of the crops grown in the Golden State that is the most impressive part of the trip. There are more than 300 crops grown in the San Joaquin Valley where the Southwest producers visited.

“We do not have anything like this in Texas. However, we are seeing a lot of pecans go in in West Texas,” noted Wilde, who was particularly interested in drip irrigation because he recently installed a system to irrigate his cotton.

Rick King of Slaton, Texas, National Cotton Council member service representative who accompanied the Southwest growers to the West, said the rotation for the four million acres of cotton in his region is “cotton, cotton, cotton.”

However, King said it could not look much better at this stage. “We get one more good rain in August and it will be a good year.”

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