Cotton production, says Gaines County, Texas, farmer Wesley Butchee, is like a three-legged stool: “You have to have all three legs for a stool to work. And you can’t short-change a cotton crop. There are so many things you have to do to make cotton. We have to have a certain amount of seed, fuel and fertilizer.”

Even following a year as disheartening as 2011, Butchee doesn’t believe in skimping on the essentials.

But he’s tweaking a few things to improve efficiency.

He will take advantage of left-over fertilizer from last year’s failed dryland acreage. “Irrigated cotton used up all the fertilizer,” he says. “But dryland cotton didn’t make so we did not fertilize dryland acreage this year.”

He’s cut back on irrigated acreage, too. “This year I want to make certain I don’t stretch water resources too far. Last year let us know that irrigation is only supplemental.” He’s re-nozzled some systems to increase efficiency a bit. “But I’ve been using a low energy precision application (LEPA) system for years. I use bubblers, set about 18 inches off the ground. I’ve tried drag hoses before but they are no more efficient than the bubblers.”

He’s had to irrigate less this spring to get the crop up than he did last year. “We have some underground moisture, but if we go down 2 feet, it gets dry. We’re planting shallow. The seed has some moisture under it, and we irrigate with an inch to get it up.”

Butchee says some of his fields received 3 inches of rain in April and May. “And it fell slowly.” That moisture soaked into the soil. In other areas, rain fell fast and hard and more ran off the fields.

He typically plants as much minimum-till cotton as he can but had to cut back this year. “When it was time to plant wheat we had no moisture,” he says. “We didn’t want to irrigate a cover crop and then go to the expense of killing it.

“From harvest last fall until April we had no rain at all,” he says. “And we went for more than 12 months with no rain. We have to have faith to continue; otherwise, we just worry.”

And there’s plenty he could worry over.