Over the decades, Kelli Merritt – who farms the West Texas cotton acreage she grew up on -- has never seen the like of current drought conditions afflicting cropland and herds of cattle.

“We’ve had droughts before,” says Merritt, who also is President of CropMark Direct, which offers marketing services to cotton growers. However, “even when we’re in a drought, we can receive a rain at the right time and make a fair crop. So, I thought we still had a shot at making a crop (in 2011).

“That turned out not to be true and our dryland crop never had a chance.”

With one eye on a faltering crop and one on volatile cotton markets, Merritt recently spoke at the Southern Cotton Ginners Association in Little Rock. Shortly after the meeting, she talked with Delta Farm Press about market expectations, foreign production numbers and the worsening situation for Texas producers. Among her comments:

On wearing several hats…

“I grew up on a farm here in West Texas and went to college thinking I’d never be back but to visit. As life would have it, I wound up running the family farm over the last 10 years, or so.

“Before actually running the farm, I was doing the marketing and hedging of our crops. It was through that work that I became a commodity broker and started a consulting business. We help growers with proper placement of hedges and cash marketing strategies.

“It was through working in the marketing field the realization hit that I didn’t know very much about the mills and merchant end of the cotton business. As I traveled to the countries that spin cotton and visited mills, I felt there were some niche markets available that, if we developed relationships and did things properly, it would” be viable.

“After traveling worldwide to spinning countries, I knew that I wanted to know more about spinners and how that information could help farmers and ginners meet the needs of mills better.  I feel strongly that bridging the gap between farmers and mills can help farmers deliver a better product to the mills that spin their cotton. 

“Historically, there has been a real disconnect between the farms that grow the cotton and the mills that spin it…and the storyis the same on the retail end.Retailers don’t know much about how cotton is grown and farmers don’t know much about what retailers want in a cotton product.  Understanding more about the entire supply chain helps everybody in the chain.

“CropMark Direct has now been in business for three years. The 2011 crop will be our fourth crop to market.”

On the current growing season…

“I’ve never seen a year like this one. All spring, keeping an eye on weather patterns, forecasts said it would be exceptionally dry…

“The last rain we had here was in October of 2010 – three-quarters of an inch. That’s the last moisture of any sort we’ve had here. The entire South Plainsregion had good rains in July (of 2010)but it’s been very dry since that time.

“I farm 450 acres with drip-irrigation with my son-in-law, Lee Riggins. Earlier in the season, we thought ‘if we can just get that 450 acres up, there will be a rain somewhere to help it and we’ll be okay.’ In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t tried so hard to get the crop up.

“Typically, we average around three to 3.5 bales on the drip acreage. This year, we may make one bale, maybe 1.5 bales.”