by Jim Steadman, Cotton Grower Magazine; Used by permission
Joe D. White has been farming in the Davidson, OK, area for roughly 45 years. Cotton, peanuts, corn, wheat, cattle – all are part of the family farm operation he manages with his son Austin. The land – and the way they manage it – is multi-generational. He’ll tell you that good years and bad years are just part of farming in that area along the Red River. But even the good years didn’t quite prepare him for a whopping 5.4 bale per acre cotton yield in 2021.
Ask him how it happened, and he’ll tell you it was a bit of luck and a lot of blessing.
“We were blessed,” says White. “We don’t do much different than we do every year, but I guess we happened to be in the right spot at the right time. All I can tell you for sure is we planted it and took care of it, and the water just happened to be right.
“We made 2,558 pounds per acre in that field,” he adds. “We had quite a bit of 3-bale and 4-bale cotton on our irrigated acres, while our dryland cotton was between ¾ and 2 bales per acre. In all, it’s probably as good a crop as we’ve ever had on average.”
The variety of choice for that record field was NexGen 4936 B3XF.
White describes their farming operation as not too big and not too little – just a good sized farm by Oklahoma standards.
The Whites farm together, but each manages his own acres and crops – much like White did when he started farming with his father in the late 1970s. Together, they share equipment, labor, and expertise. Between the two of them, they have eight irrigation circles. Roughly ¾ of their total cotton acres are dryland. Two full-time farm hands and a full-time cowboy to help tend the cattle make up the rest of the farm team, with everyone pitching in to do a little bit of everything when and where needed.
“I’ve been growing cotton for as long as I could drive a tractor,” recalls White. “Oklahoma is growing more cotton now because the profitability of wheat hasn’t been that good over the past few years. Dryland acres have picked up.”
That’s not to say that cotton farming in southwest Oklahoma is easy.
“Around here, yields are so inconsistent that you can’t depend on anything,” says White. “You may harvest a bumper crop one year and not harvest anything the next. You really have to play the averages.”
Weed control is another factor influencing cotton acres, and it’s getting tough enough to make White consider backing off cotton acres a bit this year.
“We’ve always had pigweed, but now we’re getting grasses that we can’t control,” he says. “Grasses used to not be a problem, but they’re beginning to be. We’re probably going to add a little more corn to our mix this year. We need to get to where we’re rotating crops a little bit better, and corn will help us get back to that.
“My dad always said we just farm by the seat of our pants,” he laughs. “And that’s probably true. There’s no set pattern of what we do from year to year. The markets kind of determine what we do. You have to be able to adjust and change your plan.”
“For example, right now we’re just super dry,” he adds. “We have to plan that way too. We can’t do the same thing every year because every year’s a little bit different.”
Shane Osborne, Southwest Sales/Agronomist for Americot who works closely with the Whites, thinks they’re probably being a bit too modest.
“Their success is a function of taking an educated approach to everything they do,” says Osborne. “While a lot of farmers just do what their fathers and grandfathers taught them, the Whites are always focused on finding helpful information and education. I would say their talent is putting words into action. If they learn a new principle that helps them be more efficient or effective, it is instantly adopted and executed with great timing.”
The Whites have discovered the advantages that new farming technologies can provide for their operation. Austin, an Oklahoma State graduate who has been back on the farm full time for about five years, has driven some of that technology growth.
“The biggest thing I really enjoy is the ability to control your irrigation from your phone,” says White. “It’s not 100%, but what we have sure is nice. So is the GPS and RTK on the tractors. I used to figure I’d never use something like that, but now I can say I can’t live without it.”
Like many farm operations, the Whites struggle with labor concerns, knowing that they’re fortunate to have a good team in place. When it comes to harvest, they do reach out for additional help.
“We have a round bale stripper and run it as hard as we can on dryland acres and do as much as we can with it,” White says. “On irrigated acres, we have a picker crew come up from south Texas. They’ve been helping us for years. We even picked some of the dryland acres this year just to get through with harvest in a timely manner.”
Now, back to that 5.4 bales per acre yield. White will tell you he likes to support people and companies that are U.S. owned and operated. Doing so, he believes, is helpful for everyone. It’s one of the reasons he leans heavily on NexGen varieties.
“They are 100% American owned,” he says. “They have good varieties, and they work well. Like all other seed companies, they do have varieties that don’t particularly fit what we do, but they also have a lot of varieties I do like.”
In other words, the varieties, and the Whites both work hard.
“It seems like we work all the time, and that’s pretty much by choice,” notes White. “We like what we’re doing. I do look forward to slowing down, but I don’t look forward to quitting. We’re still growing and doing new things. Really and truly, if you’re not growing at least a little bit, you’re kind of backing up.”
And what about expectations for that prized cotton field in 2022?
“I told someone that yield may have been the worst thing that happened to us,” he laughs. “We can’t think that’s normal. But it does put a smile on your face. And in this business, you need a good time every now and then. It helps.”