He’s also taking and wait-and-see approach on early inputs. “My pre-plant inputs such as fertilizer will be minimal until I get a crop established and see how hot and dry we are by June. We will use strip till on all the cotton acres and maybe some of the peanuts. I am still seeing better yields from my peanuts by conventional tillage, but after 70 mile-per-hour winds last Sunday I may be willing to take a reduction in yield rather than stir the sand up.”

He says dryland production is “a wait and see game.”  

Despite the overall poor production year in 2011, he made some good peanuts. “On a positive note, I did have a circle of peanuts that made just less than 4,500 pounds and graded 75 to 78. Most years I would be disappointed, but that was one of the best fields around; most circles were not harvested.”

Bearden says farmers in West Texas learned a hard truth about irrigation last summer. “We proved last year that irrigation is supplemental. We can’t grow a crop just on irrigation. We have to have some help to make it work.”

As Strickland, Bearden and Vaughan refine their production plans, they continue to hope for winter moisture to fill the soil profile. They’ve had some precipitation but not enough. Vaughan says his area has had “more precipitation in the last 60 days than it received all last growing season.” That’s about 4 inches, so far. He says the soil in strip-till operations so far have been “plowing nicely.”

“We have not received enough moisture to build much of a profile,” Strickland says. “We did receive rains in the fall that really helped get our wheat going, but we haven't seen any measurable precipitation in about six weeks. Heavy winds have taken a toll on what moisture we did have.”

Bearden says several snowfalls helped partly recharge the soil profile but high winds took a lot of that. “It had gotten wet enough to start breaking land,” he says, before the winds hit.

Bearden also says crop insurance was a lifesaver last year. “The work we’ve done the last 15 years with crop insurance was important,” he says. “It helped us survive.”

Vaughan agrees. “No doubt the resiliency of the U.S. producer is the major factor in his determination that ‘it will be better next year,’” he says. “However, we have to admit that Federal crop insurance, a very successful public/private partnership, has a lot to do with the ability of producers to be able to be back next year.”