BAYLOR COUNTY'S dryland cotton will be a disaster, says county Extension Agent Mark Dorsey. And that's 90 percent of the 3,000-acre crop.

"I'll be surprised if we harvest 10 to 15 percent of our cotton," Dorsey said during a break in field day activities recently at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at Munday.

Cotton is not the only Baylor County or Rolling Plains enterprise suffering from a prolonged drought that has stretched into three growing seasons.

"Our county depends on wheat and cattle," Dorsey said. "Abut 95 percent of our ag receipts come from stocker operations. With a dry fall, we're hurting."

He says many of the larger farm operations can't wait for rain to start planting wheat for forage.

"We have from 50,000 to 60,000 acres already planted dry," he said. "This is the second year in a row we've had to plant in the dust, and we're worried that we'll get just enough rain to germinate the wheat but not enough to sustain it."

DORSEY SAID farmers have time. "We can wait until November to plant winter grazing," he said, "but it will come on late. We were into March last year before the wheat came on."

But he recalled that some wheat planted as late as December made forage. Some farmers put some of that up for hay."

He said some cattlemen already have livestock on hand and are feeding them minimal amounts just to keep them going until they can get forage up.

Where water and irrigation systems are available, Dorsey said irrigating wheat up could be an advantage. "None of the wheat is irrigated because wells are beginning to stress and water levels are dropping."

Stock tanks also have dried up. "A number of farmers are taking advantage of dry conditions to clean out their tanks," he said. "We've had a lot of requests - have done 350 so far and have another 185 on a waiting list."

Dorsey said Baylor County has been dryer this year than in 1999.

Farmers are surviving on hunting leases, custom harvesting and other off-farm opportunities, he said.

"We've had more and more farmers look at bird and deer leases as sources of income."

Back-to-back disasters threaten more than the area's farmers. Dried up crops and dried up farm incomes reach deep into rural communities and small towns.

"We've lost two businesses from Main Street in the past few months," Dorsey said. "We've seen a lot of building contractors going out of the area to find work."