Drought limited Texas cotton yields IF HE'D only had a rain, Joe Jenkins would have made at least an average cotton crop, two bales or better, on his Matagorda County, Texas, farm.

The crop was off to a good start when we visited in May, but the rain stopped and Jenkins harvested only 520 pounds of lint per acre from his sandy soils and some 780 pounds per acre from "the black land."

"We usually average two-bales per acre," Jenkins says, so we were a little disappointed in this crop. We just ran out of moisture. One more rain would have made a big crop."

Jenkins irrigates none of his cotton or grain sorghum (maize) crops.

"The maize was hurt a little by the drought, too," he says. "We averaged just 5000 pounds on sandy land and 6400 to 6500 on heavier soils."

He was disappointed in the price for milo as well. "Loan deficiency payment was only about 80 cents," he says, but we went on and sold all of it."

Milo has been and will continue to be a crucial part of Jenkins' operation. "We have to maintain about a 50/50 split with maize and cotton to help control root rot," he says. "We may go a little higher on cotton some years, but we have to use that two-year rotation in land that's prone to root rot."

HE HAS tried corn in the past but says maize performs better under drought conditions. "We just make more gain with maize than we do with corn when it's dry. If we get back into a wetter weather pattern, we may look at corn again."

In addition to dry weather, Jenkins waged a long battle with boll weevils last summer. "We sprayed one field 13 times for weevils," he says. "We averaged four or five weevil sprays across the whole farm. With that much pressure, I'm certain we lost a lot of yield to the pests. And this was an expensive cotton crop to make."

Jenkins hopes his days of fighting weevils, and losing lint to them, soon will be over.

Last May he was hoping to gauge interest in establishing, or re-establishing, an active Boll Weevil Eradication Program zone in eight Coastal Bend counties. The area was included in the original eradication plan but farmers voted it out following discontent with program administration.

"We have a petition now for the Texas Department of Agriculture to hold a referendum in the eight counties," Jenkins says. "We're holding grower education meetings across the zone and getting signatures on the petition. We've been told by the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation that we may become active in the fall of 2002."

Jenkins is optimistic about the possibilities. "Some of the farmers who opposed the program before are now on the steering committee to reactivate it," he says. "Many were not opposed to the program' they just did not think it was run properly."

He says high weevil numbers last summer also convinced many that they need the program. "This was a real expensive crop. And the declaration of one Texas zone as functionally eradicated will help," Jenkins says.

Jenkins says prospects for the next crop look better than they did this time last year. "We were dry until October," he says, "But we've gotten eight or nine inches of rain since then, and we've gotten it one or two inches at a time, so it soaked in. Our subsoil moisture level is much better than it was this time last year. We'll go into the 2001planting season in much better shape."

He's also encouraged that he's just hit oil on his property. "We're pumping gas," he says. "This is the first well we've had on our property and we don't know yet how good it is, but it's encouraging."