AUG. 3, 2006. The drive from Denton, Texas, to Olustee, Okla., takes about four hours, mostly through the Rolling Plains, an area where farmers plant significant acreage in dryland cotton.
Even from the highway, even at 75 miles per hour, even from a traveler without a degree in agronomy, crop prospects look awful. Closer inspection from the back roads one must drive to get to Olustee shows conditions no better and maybe worse. Drought and heat have taken a heavy toll on this cotton crop.
Cotton 3-inches tall, blooming out the top, wilting under the afternoon sun, holds little promise for any kind of yield.
Some fields show skips large enough to plant a vegetable patch in, if one wanted to risk vegetable seed in such conditions.
The few irrigated fields through this stretch of North Texas and Southwest Oklahoma, stand in stark contrast to the miserable dryland crop. Some fields were irrigated early in the season and developed healthy plants until water sources dried up and irrigation was abandoned. Plants are taller and have decent boll loads but show signs of afternoon wilt and shed fruit. Without rain, and soon, these will do little better than the fields never irrigated.
Some wheat fields remain from last fall’s planted acreage, but no combine ever made its way through them. A few scattered head of wheat on diminutive stalks indicate the severity of this drought. In more normal times, thousands of cattle would have grazed these wheat pastures through spring. Most farmers cut numbers severely this year because there was nothing to feed.
A few fields of milo have been harvested except for strips spaced about every hundred yards or so, likely left for insurance inspectors to judge the level of disaster.
The Red River, seen from the Highway 283 bridge, is a brown trickle.
Outside the car, the air is oppressive, dry and hot, pushing above 100-degrees for about the 20th time in the last 25 days. A few darkish clouds push across the slate-blue sky but no rain comes.