Cotton plays crucial role in central Oklahoma farm

Cotton is an important rotation crop for Tommy McPherson and his father, Tommy Sr., who farm in the heavy soils of south central Oklahoma near Maysville and Pauls Valley.

A neighbor, Willard Fox, also has cotton in his crop rotation.

Cotton was an important crop in the rich bottomland farms, until boll weevil problems nearly wiped out cotton production. The Boll Weevil Eradication Program reversed that trend in the late 1990s.

“My dad and I have grown cotton around here for the last 30 years,” McPherson said. “We are among the last diehard cotton farmers in the area and had cotton even during the bad boll weevil problem years.”

During the severe drought of 2006, McPherson saved a portion of his dryland cotton. “We planted 425 acres dryland and 350 irrigated acres,” he said. “While we only saved 100 dryland acres, it yielded nearly a bale to the acre. Some irrigated fields yielded two bales per acre.”

Today's modern cotton varieties yield well if farmers get even a little rain, McPherson said. Some varieties also use less irrigation water than crops such as soybeans and corn, he said.

They use Roundup Ready and some stacked-gene varieties.

“The Roundup Ready cotton helps us fight weed problems, “ McPherson said. “Our growing season is longer, so weed pressures are higher around here. Cotton also works well for us in rotation with other crops to interrupt weed and disease problems caused by continuous cropping.”

Fox also suffered from the drought, but received rain on a 100-acre field. The extra rain saved the crop, giving him a yield of 423 pounds per acre.

These dryland cotton yields, occurring during a record drought, show how modern cotton varieties make good yields with a minimum of moisture, Fox said.

55-mile drive

Both farmers gin at the Bi-State Cotton Producers Cooperative gin at Minco, nearly 55 miles from the area where they farm. But modern cotton module technology simplifies the harvesting problems. They still prefer a modern cotton gin closer to home, McPherson said.

“Except for a few acres in Cleveland County, there isn't much cotton grown east of I-35,” McPherson said. “There aren't any modern cotton gins around here. The boll weevil saw to that. When (the boll weevil made it) unprofitable to grow cotton, nearly all of the cotton gins operating back then had to close.”

Farming is an important part of the economy around Maysville and Pauls Valley, McPherson said.

”Since this is a highly productive farming area with a lot of land suitable for growing cotton more farmers need to know about the advantages of growing cotton with their other crops.”

“If we can get more farmers in this area growing cotton again,” he said, “maybe we will be able to build a gin in this area.”

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