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As they’ve done for the better part of seven decades, Roby and Billy Watson continue to battle pests, weeds and weather to earn a living from grain production.
The Watson brothers, Roby and Billy, with sons James and Billy Michael in back.
Lot of changes
They’ve come a long way from the farm they grew up on. “Daddy raised cotton on about 120 acres of land,” Roby said. “We quit cotton in 1965. It was selling for about 28 cents a pound.”
They also recall spraying sulfur on cotton to kill boll weevils, a pest that no longer threatens the little bit of cotton remaining in Northeast Texas.
Corn and wheat replaced cotton and they and James plant about 3,000 acres, typically in a fifty-fifty rotation.
“We’re getting back to that rotation this year,” Billy said. “We usually rotate fields every other year but we went to an all-wheat system when wheat prices went up and we had dry summers.”
“Corn rotation is an advantage,” say Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist Jim Swart. Herbicide resistant ryegrass, an increasingly difficult control problem across Northeast Texas, is worse on mono-cropped wheat.
“All our wheat is planted behind corn this year,” Billy said. “We don’t have much trouble with resistant ryegrass.”
“We want to rotate every acre,” said James, who represents the fourth generation of the Watson family to farm this land. “We don’t have as much wheat this year as usual as we get back to corn.”
“Our corn is up and looks good,” Roby added. “We think planting slower is a big advantage in getting a good, uniform stand.” Nearby neighbor Ronnie Lumpkins planted the corn. “He said 4 miles per hour is ideal,” Roby said. “We do have a better stand.”
Wheat also looks good and they anticipate yields pushing 80 bushels per acre, if they get it harvested. “It all looks good but a lot can happen yet,” Billy said. He noted that they did take out hail insurance this year, just in case.
The early May rain was probably adequate to finish the wheat crop and assure the corn gets a good start. “I’d like to get the wheat out and then get a rain for the corn,” Billy said.
“We’ll probably start cutting wheat the first of June,” Roby said. “It would have to be early-planted wheat to be ready to cut before then.”
“Some has just started heading,” James added. Farmers in this area plant mostly soft red winter wheat.
They said freeze injury has been minimal.
It’s been a good growing season for wheat. “I planted everything just before Thanksgiving,” James said. “Soil was pretty wet when we planted it. The fields were beginning to get dry before that early May rain.”
“We were beginning to see a few small cracks in the soil,” Roby added.
Before that rain they figure the area was running about 8 inches short of normal rainfall. The deficit is now just about cut in half.