Central Texas drought hurts

Ed Carlson says the drought stifling much of central and south central Texas is devastating, forcing many cotton and grain farmers to zero out crops that showed a lot of promise early in the season.

But it’s not the worst he’s ever seen.

That would be the two-year stretch from 1956 through 1957. “I had a wife and a young child and made 5 bushels of corn per acre, 1,100 pounds of milo and one-fifth bale of cotton,” he says.

Carlson recalls that 1991 through 1992 were “terrible drought” years, too, but the worst time he ever had was the year his father died and at 17 he had to finish school and run the farm.

He figures he’ll survive this dry spell as well.

Carlson still works with his son Billy in a grain, cattle and cotton operation near Taylor, Texas. The grain operation includes 240,000 bushels of storage through which they buy and sell grain for nearby farms.

“We built the first storage facility in 1980 for our own use,” Billy says. “We had a chemical business before that and we expanded from there.”

He joined his father on the farm in 1973.

Ed works mostly with the grain facility and handles marketing. He says in the early days they worked with a handful of brokers. “We contacted several brokers to get grain prices,” Ed says. “We found one broker who would buy all our grain and we’ve been with that one now for 15 years.”

“We contracted about half our own crop early this year,” Billy says.

They pay for grain the first of September and then charge storage fees for holding it for customers.

Production in the area will be off this year. The Carlsons expect their yields to be down 10 to 15 bushels from their normal range of 80 to 100 bushels per acre. “But a lot of corn in our area has been zeroed out,” Ed says.

He says one grower lost 800 acres of corn to drought. “We started out with the most beautiful crop I’ve ever seen, but it turned dry and corn and cotton started to wilt. A lot of farmers are in even worse shape.”

Billy says their county was a little more fortunate than nearby counties. “We got a little rain.”

Cotton, which was ready to harvest in early August, was off considerably from normal, but still a mixed bag. “We’ll make from 200 pounds to one bale per acre,” Billy says. “But we have historically made good yields so we have good insurance to put a floor on cotton returns. We’ll come close to netting $300 an acre. We’re capable of making two-bale cotton, but we need the rain.”

Insurance helps ease the pain of reduced corn yields, too, Ed says.

The Carlsons farm about 3,200 acres, with the bulk of it in corn. “We’re down to just 500 acres of cotton,” Billy says. “We’re drifting away from cotton.”

He appreciates improvements in cotton technology that have occurred in the past decade, but says it’s also added to production costs. “Technology is great, but it’s expensive. And the price is down. Corn has been better the last few years. Corn prices have been up as high as $6 a bushel, but are back down to $3.75.”

They say corn needs to be $4 a bushel with a yield of 80 to 100 bushels per acre to justify current energy, fertilizer and equipment depreciation expenses.

They harvest their own grain, but hire custom operators to strip cotton. “We could do it,” Billy says, “but we’re busy with corn.”

The Carlson operation remains a family business. Ed’s wife of 59 years, Dorothy, remains active, and Billy’s sister Debbie takes care of the books.

“She keeps the place running,” Ed says.

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TAGS: Management
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