Higher crop prices, increased production costs and rapidly-shifting weather conditions are just a few of the factors farmers must consider when choosing what crops to grow next season. While prices paid to producers for the crops they grow have increased, prices for seed, fertilizer and fuel have increased at an equal pace.

Weather always plays an important role in crop production, probably the most important factor for dryland farming. Irrigation water supply is dwindling everywhere due to continuing drought and diminishing aquifers, while water demands are increasing, not only for agricultural production, but also for human consumption.

In order to survive, producers must choose crops capable of utilizing every drop of moisture while producing top yields of high-quality products earning the highest price available at harvest.

At no time has there been greater competition between different crops seeking the favor of the producer's checkbook. What to plant each season—winter wheat, grain sorghum, corn, soybeans, canola, cotton and many other choices—present producers with difficult choices.

Dr. Randy Boman, Oklahoma State University research director and cotton Extension program leader at the OSU Research and Extension Center south of Altus, is trying to make cotton an even more viable choice for Oklahoma producers.

Boman has been working with area cotton producers who provide land, equipment and labor to plant cotton that he and his team use for research. Along with the producers, Boman works with selected area cotton gin managers to obtain important data after cotton has been harvested.

"It is our intention to find which cotton varieties give the highest yields in the field as well as the best fiber quality possible," Boman said. "We are working to help producers choose cotton when they are deciding which crop will make them the most money. What to grow, that is which crop will make them the most money at harvest, has made crop selection highly competitive, especially in light of the run-up in grain and soybean prices."

Boman is obtaining yield and fiber data from cotton planted in several fields across western Oklahoma. One of the cooperators, Merlin Schantz, who lives near Hydro, has grown cotton for 40 years, quit farming cotton when pressure from boll weevils made growing the crop an expensive proposition.

"After the boll weevil eradication program proved successful, I started growing cotton again," Schantz said. This year, he planted cotton under six pivot irrigation systems and also grew some dryland cotton.