“It is interesting that total input costs were fairly comparable to today’s input cost for dryland cotton production.  Fertilizer was and continues to be a major production cost.  However, in the 1920s, the majority of the input cost was in labor, and now it is in machinery and crop protection products and technology. The very quick adoption of the John Deere round bale module picker is a prime example of adoption of machinery to increase efficiency and decrease labor costs.” 

Morgan expressed surprise that pest management was not an issue. “I was surprised not to see any mention of the boll weevil.  The boll weevil had progressed through most of East Texas by the early 1900s and had a major impact on yields.”

Much has changed in cotton production since 1924. It’s been many years since farmers relied on horses or mules to work their acreage. It’s been a long time since seed cost as little as $2 a bushel, labor was 12 cents an hour, fertilizer cost was as low as $48 or cotton prices as low as 23 cents a pound.

But some common denominators remain. It still makes sense to control weeds as quickly as possible or they will, as a Texas AgriLife (a new moniker, too) weed science specialist says, “pick your pocket.” But cultivating 10 times is out of the question, though some farmers may be reverting to “cold steel” as a remedy for herbicide resistance weeds.

Many still use hoe hands, when they can find them and if they can afford them, to chop weeds.

Conservation still makes environmental and economic sense. Erosion prevention has added new tools—cover crops, reduced tillage, and sand fighting, for instance—but terracing still plays a role and assuring proper drainage is as important as ever.

Crop rotation may not be used as much as it should be, certainly not to the extent that John McFarlane alternated crops. Few Texas farms today are as diversified as McFarlane’s. But many cotton farmers are looking at better ways to use land—split pivots with half in cotton and half in a crop that uses less water or uses it at a different time.

Higher grain prices in recent years have offered better rotation options and technology, as Morgan says, has improved efficiency.

And farmers continue to learn from other farmers. The Farm Press High Cotton Award, for example, though not a yield contest, selects farmers who demonstrate high levels of stewardship and conservation standards to produce efficient and profitable cotton crops.

John McFarlane would have been a good candidate for the annual High Cotton Award.


Also of interest:

Rotation, variety selection, timeliness are critical for SW high cotton…

Family values on display at High Cotton presentation

High Plains will produce bulk of Texas cotton