From the time he was old enough to sit on a tractor Landon Mires never wanted to do anything but farm. He hopes his son, Krew, now 5, has the same opportunity. It might be in the DNA. Landon’s father, Travis, also never considered a career other than farming land that has been in the family since 1923.
“I’d like for Krew to have the opportunity to raise his family on the farm,” Landon said on an early April Lynn County, Texas, morning that brought breezes and occasional scudding clouds carrying just a tease of rain possibilities for later in the day.
The DNA goes back several generations. “This has been our family farm for more than 90 years,” Travis says, “from the time when the boll weevil ran my grandparents out of Bonham, Texas. My mother, who is 82, still lives in the old home place.”
Travis has farmed on his own for 36 years, “none as bad as the last four,” he says. Landon’s first year to farm on his own couldn’t have come at a worse time than in 2011, a record year for drought and heat and crop failure.
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“I’m in it for the long haul,” says Landon, 31. “This year we at least have good soil moisture to get started.” He’s farmed for 10 years but picked 2011 to go out on his own.
Kay Mires, wife to Travis and mother and young grandmother, also grew up on a farm near Plains, Texas, and says drought is part of the occupation. “I knew what I was in for,” she laughs. “What was I thinking?”
Landon says his wife Megan “was blindsided. She’s from Illinois,” he says, and might not have understood everything that comes with farming in West Texas. But he, Travis and Kay all agree that she’s an integral part of the family operation. They go so far as to say she’s the boss.
“She writes the checks,” Kay says. She also helps raise three children, Krew and his two sisters, Jaityn, 7, and Lawtyn, 19 months.
All three are getting a start on farm enterprises. Krew is raising chickens. Jaityn rides barrel horses and will show the family's show calves when she turns 9. “She won her first saddle at age 5 as a member of the Borden County Youth Horse Club,” Megan says. Lawtyn, Megan adds with a chuckle, is already helping with the livestock, “taming the show calves.”
“This is a family deal,” Kay adds. “We are blessed.”
Hoping for rain
They are hoping for a few blessings of rain as they plan for 2015. Cotton remains the most dependable crop on the farm, although they like to stay in a good rotation to spread risks and to provide residue to improve soil, reduce erosion and plant into a no-till system.
Cotton acreage will be down a bit, on a percentage basis, this year. “Last year we were 100 percent cotton, by accident,” Travis explains. “That’s not where we want to be. We want to get back to milo and sunflowers.”
Plans are to plant 65 percent of their acreage in cotton and the other 35 percent in other crops. Sunflower acreage will not be where they want it because contracts have not been available.
“A lot of sunflower acreage is going to California,” Travis says. “We have a contract for about 500 acres of oilseed, which doesn’t bring as much as confectionery seed.”
They like milo because of the residue it provides for the subsequent cotton crop, and the price has been fairly good. “Some milo fell down last year, and we got some pretty good grazing out of it.”
Landon says milo residue also means less sand fighting during the frequent wind storms.
With cotton prices as low as they have been for the last several seasons they have to get yields up, 1.5 to 2 bales on dryland cotton. Last year was tough. “It was a perfect storm,” Travis says. “We made a lot of 200-pound dryland cotton, too much to qualify for insurance but too little to pay many bills.”
Genetics have helped raise the yield benchmark. “New varieties are unbelievable,” Travis says. Yield and quality are significantly better than was the case just 10 years ago. “Back when we were growing HS 20 cotton we thought we were doing okay but the quality was bad. Until about 15 years ago, we didn’t know that the loan went higher than 50 cents. We got 45 cents on cotton we put in the loan. But varieties were not what they are now.”
Landon says his grandfather and great-grandfather would “not have believed how much cotton seed costs.”
“My dad made a living on half-bale cotton,” Travis says. “But he was appalled about how much we paid for seed,” Landon adds.
Focus on Quality
The higher grades, however, could be the difference in a glutted market. “We are trying to cut every corner we can,” Travis says, “but we have to focus on producing quality. I think we will see a demand for high-quality cotton. China will need good quality lint to mix with the stockpile they have. We have to produce quality cotton on less money.”
They expect other challenges this year, especially with weed control. “It’s a double-edged sword with resistant weeds showing up,” Landon said. “We know we have to control them. We also know it’s going to be expensive. A lot of herbicides will work on pigweed but we will have to spend a lot of money on them.”
The possibility of stepping back to conventional seed has crossed their minds but they don’t want to give up the yield and the quality they get from those varieties. “And we don’t think enough conventional seed would be available.”
They are considering backing off no-till planting a bit, with regrets. “We planted 1,000 acres no-till last year,” Travis says. “We’re thinking now about what we will do with that. We’ve planted no-till cotton for three years.”
“We’re hearing about a lot of farmers plowing up land that’s been in no-till,” Landon says.
“With everything in cotton last year, we have no cover crop,” Travis says. “We will try to get our yellow herbicides and preplant materials down right.”
Resistant weeds have not been a big issue for them so far. “We’ve not had a lot,” Travis says, “but they are here.”
“We sprayed one dryland field last year for careless weeds and still had 50 percent of them left,” Landon says. They hired hoe hands at $20 an hour to chop the weeds, take them out of the field and burn them. “We hope to see fewer weeds this year because of that. We’re also going back to banding Caparol. We did that in no-till cotton last year and got pretty good control.”
They like the no-till. “That’s one reason we want to get back to milo,” Travis says. “It makes good stubble and we get a lot of residue.”
Cotton is main crop
They like the milo and sunflowers for rotation and to offer market options, but cotton remains their go-to crop. They also have a commercial cattle operation.
“We can do better with cotton here than we can with any other crop,” Travis says. “This is not wheat country and is really not milo country. Those crops can’t wait on a late rain and do what cotton can do. We’re sticking with cotton.”
It’s been a good option, through ups and downs in the market, good weather and bad, over multiple generations. It’s a big reason why the Mires family has continued to raise families near O’Donnell, Texas, which, like many small West Texas towns, faces challenges to maintain populations and services.
“Not one kid from my graduating class is still here,” Landon says. They leave for nearby Lubbock or other places where they have options other than farming.
Landon hopes his children have the option to farm when they are ready. He talks about Krew catching his first fish out of a stock tank. Megan talks about the girl’s experience with the livestock. That’s the way they hope to continue.
As if on cue, as the interview wound down, Krew took off in pursuit of an astonished hen. In less time than it takes to type it out, he came around the house with the chicken safely tucked away in his arms. “This is Stripes,” he said, a grin lighting up his freckled face.
That doesn’t happen much in town.