Proceed with caution.

That seems to be the thinking for many Southern Plains farmers as they prepare for the 2012 planting season, and as they think back on high investments and heavy losses from the 2011 crop that held high hopes this time last year.

“I see a little less optimism that I did this time last year,” says Rickey Bearden, Plains, Texas, cotton, grain and peanut farmer. “Farmers may not apply as many inputs early this year.”

“I’ll maintain flexibility until the first week in April,” says Dee Vaughan, who farms corn and cotton in Moore County, Texas. “We’ve done a little ‘double-booking’ of seed—cotton and corn—and will see what the moisture and the market situations are in April.”

He plans to increase cotton acreage to stretch water supplies.

“I guess you could say most are taking a cautious approach to crops this year,” says Rusty Strickland, who raises peanuts, cotton and small grain with his step-father, Tommy, near Quail, Texas. “We will take a more conservative approach to this year’s irrigated crop,” he says. “There will be a lot more half circles this time unless a farmer has tremendous water.”

All three say the devastating drought of 2011—as well as the prospect of another dry year if the La Nina phenomenon remains intact, as many meteorologists predict—encourages farmers to consider operational changes—even small ones—that could give them a better chance of making a profit.