“I went into harvest hoping for a year like 2012. I had no idea it would be like this and it’s hard to even believe it now. You just keep counting over and over, and asking: ‘Did the fields really produce at this yield?’ I couldn’t see doing better than the 2.8 in 2012; maybe matching it, but not passing it.”

For Graydon, who puts tremendous daily toil into the Mattson cotton fields, the yields were a windfall. “I think this might be a once in a lifetime yield on cotton for us. I knew it was a pretty good crop when we began defoliating, but until we started picking and ginning, I didn’t know how great it actually was turning out. It’s very difficult to look at a cotton field and know what is out there. We had fields that looked like they wouldn’t be productive, fields that looked like they might be in trouble, but they picked at around 3 bales.”

Sitting in the Mattson farm office after a harvest that averaged 3.5 bales per acre, Scott and crop consultant Rob Lewis are still in a state of near-disbelief as they break down the season and attribute the heavy yields to a host of factors, but weather in particular. Scott didn’t see his crops heat-stressed even a single time during a gentle summer of mild temperatures: “The difference between this year and last year was out of our hands, and we were blessed with our weather.”

 

For photos of Mattson's crew, see Mattson Farms hits banner cotton yields

 

Weather is an easy answer, but how Mattson Farms dealt with opportune weather is far more complicated. And luck was certainly at play, but hard work and preparation go a long way toward fostering luck and good fortune. “Everything lined up and fell into place: Fertility, irrigation, rotation, weather, insect control, and even luck have resulted in a huge crop,” says Lewis. “Mattson Farms made 2.8 bales per acre in 2012 and I bet if you had asked Scott in the spring, ‘Would you take 2.8 bales again in 2013?’ he would have taken it to the bank. But now it’s 3.5 and it’s absolutely unbelievable.”

Crop rotation after corn and peanuts has paid consistent cotton dividends and the numbers tell a tale: The highest yielding fields — 3.5-plus bales — were in corn or peanuts in 2012, but areas that weren’t rotated and were in cotton in successive years averaged just over 3 bales. In addition to the rotation cycle, Mattson Farms is on a strict fertility program with potash and phosphate; fertility levels are sampled every three years. “My dad [Harry Flowers] was using the fertility program before I even started 10 years ago. Our fertility levels are solid and we don’t skimp.”

 

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Despite the late planting of the 2013 cotton crop, there was very little shed and the fields weren’t hit by the typical chain of heat, stress and maybe a big rain. Fruit didn’t blanket the ground and the bolls were thick; it was uniform cotton with no skips.