Cotton farmers in Texas got nearly complete control over weeds and pests through chemicals and genetically modified seeds that produces a toxin that kills cotton pests. They are able to turn groundwater into rain through pivots or apply it directly at the roots of the plants with drip irrigation. But nature still threatens their crops. Sandstorms burn the little leaves of young cotton, hail can kill it as well and a strong wind at harvest time can blow the fiber away.
The wind was blowing hard, picking up dust and turning the West Texas landscape into a mushy brown haze. Mike Henson stared out of the window of his truck. His gaze lingered long on the furrows in the newly plowed and planted fields, now barely visible. Mike sighed as he turned to note the exact location. Another field wiped out by the blowing sand. Another loss of labor, seed, irrigation, fuel and money. Mike’s employees had tried to save as many fields as possible running sand-fighters day and night, a type or rotary hoe for breaking up crusty soil, to bring up moisture from lower layers of soil. When the wind stops blowing they would go out to plant Milo instead, as it was too late in the season for cotton by now.
Mike Henson told me that it would be nice to own one or two little oil wells on his land, as even one pump might bring in more profit than farming thousands of acres of cotton. At least it would be a much more reliable revenue stream.
Cotton modules from the previous season lay in a yard next to a newly planted field. The heavy wind that often blows during the planting season in May and June is a constant menace for the farmers. It dries out the barren ground and blows away fertile top soil. Constant ploughing and the heavy use of fertilizers is degrading the soil structure and leaves it unprotected from wind and heavy rain, leading to erosion, which globally is up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation. New research by the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures suggest that a third of the worlds arable land has been lost due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years.