South of Lawton on I-44 then west on the two-lane to Faxon and Chattanooga the difference a few inches of rainfall make becomes apparent. North of Lawton and Fort Sill, the right-of-way along the four-lane is covered with lush, green grass where highway mowing crews are busy trimming a summer's worth of foliage to a manageable level.
Cattle graze on green pasture and a new wheat crop emerges after receiving badly-needed rains.
Traveling south and west toward the rural community of Faxon, fields marked by grain drill rolls where winter wheat has been planted are still dusty and bare. In other fields, fractured cotton bolls cover the ground where a shredder has destroyed a drought-stunted crop after a crop insurance adjustor paid the producers a few cents per pound to partly reimburse him the dollars the crop cost him to plant.
Rainfall, not enough by any means, but enough to make a difference, fell north and east of Lawton. South and west, like some mean spirit dictated it, the clouds blew over, dropping only a small amount of moisture.
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Pockets of green remain in isolated places such as west of the Red River cotton gin, south of Frederick. Owned by the producers who make up the Tillman County Producers Cooperative, the gin has undergone an equipment makeover to get ready for the upcoming cotton harvest. People seeking seasonal work with the gin during cotton harvest stand in the office filling out job application forms.
Asked when the ginning season will begin, Lynn Scalf, gin manager, frowns and thinks for a minute before replying: "Well, we could receive some irrigated cotton as soon as next week. Producers have been applying chemicals to their cotton to be able to get their harvesters going more quickly."
For the dryland crop, Scalf says it may be two or more weeks before that part of the harvest begins. A drop in the cotton market—caused by a glut of cotton around the world and extreme drought conditions—convinced farmers to plant fewer acres. USDA estimates Oklahoma cotton farmers planted only 185,000 acres this year and only 170,000 acres are expected for harvest.