Farmers see cotton study come to life on field day

Randy Boman, an agronomist from Lubbock, checks the boll load in James Brown’s field north of Progress on Thursday during the cotton field day. (staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer

PROGRESS, Texas — The farmers and researchers who gathered north of Progress early Thursday morning know there is much more to “the fabric of our lives” than comfortable clothing.

A cotton field day was held at James Brown’s farm north of Progress (about eight miles west of Muleshoe) for the fifth year.

A cool breeze chilled the air as around 25 farmers and seed company representatives — all clad in jeans, collared shirts and baseball caps or cowboy hats — stood around three pickup trucks and listened intently to Randy Boman, associate professor and extension agronomist in cotton for Texas A & M University, discussing the year’s cotton crop.

The field behind Boman — full of rows upon rows of around two-feet-tall cotton plants — is the reason everyone was there.

At Boman’s request, Brown volunteered his farm five years ago to test new seeds of genetically modified cotton plants so farmers would be able to see results before they planted. Others have since volunteered land as well, and after examining the sample plants on Brown’s farm the group went to another farm near Lariat, Texas, to examine the samples there.

“We try to plant the varieties that my neighbors are interested in,” Brown said. “Whatever they’d like to see I’ll plant here.”

Brown said allowing the plants to be raised on his land has been a great benefit.

“I learn more than anyone,” he said.

But local farmers say they appreciate the plots as well.
Chris Bass, who raises cotton, corn, wheat and green sorghum at his Muleshoe farm, has attended the field day at Brown’s farm since it began five years ago.

“It keeps us informed on the newer varieties — what looks good, what doesn’t, what will help us make more money on the bottom line,” Bass said. “Ten years ago you would just plant any variety and hope it made. Now because of the technology you have so many choices.”

Keith Watson from Dumas, Texas, was attending the field day in this area for the first time, but he has been to other field days led by Boman, who organizes about 40 to 50 per year. He said many farmers in his area are switching from raising corn to raising cotton because the cost of watering corn is too high — up to $200 per acre for just irrigation fuel.

“It may not be an issue of whether they want to change to cotton, but whether to change or quit farming,” Watson said.
He said he really appreciates Boman’s help and information.

“Randy does a very good job and tells it like it is. He doesn’t hum-hall around. If it’s good he tells you it’s good. If it’s bad he tells you it’s bad.”

Boman explained that the cotton industry is experiencing changes. With many textile mills located outside the United States, farmers need to start raising cotton of good enough quality to export, he said.

Though the recent onset of cold weather has given the farmers a scare, this has been a good year so far for cotton.
Boman relayed an analogy that he attributed to another farmer: It’s like the bottom of the ninth. The best batter is up. The best pitcher is on the mound, and the hitter keeps fouling the ball off.

“We don’t know where this harvest is going to go yet,” said Boman, but he is optimistic.

“It’s a long time before we get this crop in the bag, but I believe we are in for a big harvest.”