Producers weigh their options before planting season

Reported by: Rebecca Rivers
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Updated: 3/13/2013 8:43 am

Although no one quite knows their own business like the person that owns it, crop consultants can help producers see the big picture of how their operation fits in to the world market. Bryson Vadder is the Vice President for the High Plains Association of Crop Consultants, and said that with the on-going drought and shifting commodity markets, their work is cut out for them this season. But about 90 consultants from a tri-state area are gathering to learn as much as they can about all the choices farmers have this year.

"We've got consultants from eastern New Mexico, southwestern Oklahoma, the High Plains, and as far north as Dalhart and the northern Panhandle," Vadder said. "We get together once a year, we try to guess what we've got going on for the year and we try to anticipate what our needs and our farmers needs are going to be."

The South Plains has seen cotton reign as king for decades, but earlier this year higher grain prices had many producers talking about trying something new.

"These last two or three years with the water situation and the drought that we've been going through, you know it's hard to guess exactly," Vadder said. "We've got people talking about planting corn in areas that were not traditional corn areas. I think cotton is still going to be there. We've got a lot of crops that we deal with, and this is what this meeting is."

The big question that farmers are asking themselves is 'what crop do I plant'? But at this point, planting season is still a guessing game in many ways.

"The main thing is whether to stick with cotton or go with grain in predominantly cotton growing areas," Vadder said. "The concern I have with grain is obviously water because if you're talking corn, it takes a lot more water. Grain sorghum works, but the thing is the market is backing off on the grain markets. Cotton is actually pretty strong right now, so it's a gamble. Who knows. Grains, the bottom could fall out of it and cotton could go up."

But Vadder said that there's even more to the story that makes these decisions complicated. Changing from growing cotton to grains isn't just as simple as ordering different seed. It could mean big investments in terms of new equipment and labor.

"At least south of I-40, we've got the infrastructure for cotton. Most of the producers have cotton strippers, they're set up for cotton," Vadder said. "Farther north, they're all set up for corn and grain, so they're primarily grains. Well, if all of these guys down here plant grains, where are they going to get the harvesters to come in at the end of the year to do it, because the infrastructure is not here."

And Vadder's job as a crop consultant is helping producers make safe decisions that help them save money.

"If I was a producer, I'd probably be looking at a mixture of both," Vadder said. "Maybe plant a little more grain than I'm used to, but I don't think I would go 100% and move all my acres to grain. I think it would just be a good hedge to be diversified."

Of course if rainfall keeps showing up, everyone's job gets a little easier. Vadder said that it's always riskier to put all your eggs in one basket.

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