In 2011, when the worst drought in Texas history took place, Mike Alexander, who farms a lot of dryland cotton, did not harvest any cotton from his farm near Colorado City, Texas. Such are the vagaries of dryland farming. In 2010, a year of exceptional rainfall, Alexander and his neighbors had top cotton yields.
This year, Alexander estimates the 5,000 acres of dryland cotton he farms with his wife, Melinda, and his son, Justin, will yield up to 200 pounds of cotton lint per acre.
"That's not a lot," he said, "but it is a lot better than last year."
Alexander, who also serves as president of the Rolling Plains Cotton Growers in Abilene, has 55 acres of pivot-irrigated cotton. He estimates it will yield three bales per acre—approximately 1,500 pounds of lint cotton per acre.
Alexander well remembers both 2010 and 2011 crop years.
"We received a good rain in July, 2010. We had plenty of winter moisture to plant the crop. So we really made good cotton. All we experienced in 2011 was extreme temperatures and no rainfall," he said.
He had good rain during the spring of 2012, but early in the growing season heat and dry weather returned. A little more rain and slightly cooler temperatures helped to salvage the crop, so Alexander will be able to harvest most of his acreage this year.
He planted most of his land this year with FiberMax 9170 B2F, a variety suited to growing conditions in West Central Texas.
While cotton is Alexander's principal crop, he also grows winter wheat and grain sorghum. Justin runs stocker calves on winter wheat when the season is right, he said.
"Nearly all of the farming we do is on rented land," he said. "We farm in Mitchell and Nolan Counties. Agriculture in this area is set up for cotton farming. We have hot summers and usually have enough rainfall spaced out over the growing season to make a little money with cotton. Several cotton gins located throughout the area help cotton farmers process their crop without having to haul it too far."
Alexander gins his cotton at the Central Rolling Plains Cooperative Gin at Roscoe and the Producers Cooperative Gin at Colorado City.
Alexander lives in Colorado City but grew up on a farm near Roscoe, where his brother, Kim, farms and is the school superintendent.
A third generation farmer, Alexander started growing cotton when he graduated from high school. A graduate of McMurry College at Abilene, he has been growing cotton for 40 years.
Along with his responsibilities with the Rolling Plains Cotton Growers, Alexander also serves on the executive committee of the National Cotton Council executive committee. He is a member of the American Cotton Producers, part of the NCC.