Where's the Pima? That was just one of the questions a group of Texas and Oklahoma cotton farmers had as they jumped headlong this summer into highly diversified California and Arizona agriculture few had seen before.

The producers were part of the 2001 Producer Information Exchange (PIE) program sponsored by FMC Corp. and the National Cotton Council.

Each year producers from four areas of the Cotton Belt exchange visits to get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities their peers face.

St. Lawrence, Texas, cotton producer Randy Braden was especially interested in the pheromone ropes used in Arizona in a pink bollworm confusion program.

“We have pinkies in our area and Bt upland cotton, but when we visited Arizona that was the first time I had seen the ropes,” said Braden, who farms 1,000 acres of drip irrigated and 1,000 acres of dryland cotton in Glasscock County, Texas.

“We would like to try Pima in our areas, but without some way to control pink bollworm it would not work well. The longer season Pima gets hit by pink bollworm”said Braden.

“We rotate cotton with wheat because we have root rot. It's all dryland, but there is some supplemental irrigation coming in.”

The complexity of irrigated Western farming was an eye-opener for Altus, Okla., cotton producer Mike Bonewitz.

“We irrigate all of our cotton in Jackson County, Okla. It's gravity-fed irrigation, but it is not the kind of irrigation we have seen here in the West. It is much more complex in the West.”

Bonewitz now farms 1,700 acres, but is expanding his operation into nearby Tillman County, Okla. “It is some of the best farmland in the nation, and there is water on it now.”

Interest in drip

“I want to look at drip irrigation, but it is costing producers in Jackson County $1,100 to install. That is pretty steep.

“There were producers on the PIE tour from south Texas who say they can install drip for $500 to $600 per acre. “When I get back home, I'm going to plan a drip there to see how they do it,” said the young Oklahoma farmer.

Drip irrigation and Pima was also of interested to young south Texas producer Toby Robertson, who with his dad, Troy, and brother Tommy, farm 6,000 acres in the Robstown area.

“We rotate cotton with wheat because we have root rot,” he said. “It's all dryland, but there is some supplemental irrigation coming in. It's small — only about 10,000 acres of the 300,000 areas in the area where we farm is irrigated.”

However, Robertson would like to explore drip irrigation to diversify. “We need more alternatives like they have here in California and Arizona, and drip might do that.”

It was Robertson's first trip to California and he was impressed by the diversity. However, he said listening to Western producers talk about the struggles they have getting enough water is depressing.

Wants to use water

“We have pretty good water in our area — we should be thankful. I would like to use it for supplemental irrigation,” said Robertson.

The Southwest producers were from rural areas, and the first stop on their tour was Phoenix and the Salt River Valley where farming areas are being consumed by urban sprawl.

“It was unbelievable how developments are taking out farm land. With prices like $40,000 per acre or more, I don't blame producers for selling out,” said Bonewitz.

The cost of farming in the West was another surprise for many of these producers. “We put enough in to make a bale to maybe two and a half bales,” said the young Oklahoma producers. “You put a lot more in it here to get three or four bales.”

hcline@primediabusiness.com