Abundant moisture makes this planting season different from most in west Texas.

“We're in better shape on moisture than we've been in a long time,” says Dan Taylor, Ropesville, Texas farmer and ginner. “The last time it was this good was 10 years ago or more.”

But low commodity prices combined with high prices for nitrogen and fuel dampen the enthusiasm of most west Texas farmers.

“Nearly everything we use is fuel-related somehow, either transportation of the product or something. The input price increase is huge. It worries us,” Taylor says.

Farmers in his area southwest of Lubbock will likely continue to rely on cotton as their primary crop, however, said Taylor, one of a group of Texas growers and ginners who recently toured Cotton Incorporated's Cary, N.C. World Headquarters.

“We're limited by rainfall and irrigation. We're locked into cotton. I think the northern High Plains will increase cotton acres due to a decrease in corn acreage because of high fuel costs and the fact that corn requires so much more irrigation than cotton,” he says.

“But in my area, crop acreage won't fluctuate much.”

Don't think the west Texas drought is broken, however. “We've been in a severe drought for three years,” he says. “But over the last six months when the weatherman forecasts a chance of rain, there really is a chance it'll rain. That's different.”

“We had good moisture last year into June,” Taylor says. “Then it never did rain after that, and we had extremely high temperatures through July and August, so we had a real sorry crop. And I can remember some wetter than normal years that had some bad crops because they stayed wet. Overall, though, I'd sure rather have moisture than drought.”

Bobby McNabb, also of Ropesville, says it'll be a season of doing less on his farm. He may plant less cotton than usual, and he'll definitely do less land preparation, apply less fertilizer, and use less irrigation water.

“I'm trying to curb input costs as much as I can without cutting my own throat,” je says. “It's a game of survival now. So we're going to do what we've done in the past — we're just going to do less of it.”

He's concerned that reducing irrigation may hurt yields, but that's the reality of farming this year, he says.

“We've been doing LEPA irrigation for four or five years and are as efficient as we can get without going to drip irrigation. Now we'll just do less of it, use fewer inches of water. We've adopted every technology for efficiency that we could. Sure, I'm concerned about cutting crop yields.

“But in this economic situation, we have to maximize profits and minimize losses,” McNabb says.

Last fall's dry weather combined with a rainy winter may put more cotton in fields this year around Weinert, Texas, says Kenneth Sanders.

“So we're going to do what we've done in the past — we're just going to do less of it.”

“It was too dry until mid-October to plant wheat, so a lot of wheat didn't get planted. I think quite a bit of that acreage will go into cotton,” he says.

This winter's steady rainfall pattern pleased him. “I'm glad to get it,” he says. “Last year I didn't harvest any dryland cotton or wheat, and irrigated yields in my area were down. A lot of wells went dry. We had extreme heat that started in May and ran way up into October”

Sanders thinks most farmers in the area will be able to at least plant a crop this year. “I hate to say it, but without the government disaster program and that extra government check, we wouldn't have gotten through,” he says.

Even with the winter rains, the Texas drought continues, Sanders says.

“We're wet for farming. But as far as towns that are dependent on lakes for water, they're still low. There hasn't been enough rain to replenish the lakes. This is a three or four year drought for us, and the towns are still on water rationing.”

e-mail: charles_johnson@intertec.com