WEST TEXAS cotton farmers have got to be as flexible as a yoga master. What they plant in early spring may or may not be what they harvest in late summer or early fall.

A good number will combine grain sorghum, sunflowers or guar this year, following disastrous May, 2001, storms that destroyed as many as 1 million acres of cotton. Drought also prevented many from getting enough early growth to have any chance of making a dryland crop.

“The guar looks pretty good,” says Hockley County farmer Darrell Bingham of Meadow. “We zeroed out some cotton because of early drought,” he says.

“I came back with milo (on part of the lost cotton acreage),” says Gregg Myatt, another Hockley County farmer from near Arnett.

Myatt's neighbor Darrell Gresham had time to replant cotton on the 900 acres he lost to storm and drought. “I found a faster maturing variety,” he says.

B.J. Kennedy, Levelland, replanted 100 bags of cotton following May storms, which packed winds exceeding 90 miles per hour and hail that shredded young cotton plants like cabbage through a blender.

All four got a little help from the Monsanto Roundup Rewards program.

Farmers who lose a cotton crop within 60 days of planting and qualify for the Trait Crop Loss refund or Trait Replant program get refunds from Monsanto for the Bollgard® or Roundup Ready® seed and traits.

Farmers must plant the Monsanto technology crops, and Roundup brand herbicides are the only systemic, non-selective herbicides that may be used on Monsanto trait crops. Other qualifications also may apply.

Myatt says he recovered $7,000 from Monsanto this year. Gresham collected about $13,000, and Kennedy got $6,000.

Bingham says he recovered some $7 to $8 per bag for the cottonseed he lost.

“My loss would have been big without this program,” Myatt says. “And Darrell (Gresham) probably would have gone back to milo instead of replanting cotton without the protection.”

“It allowed us to stay in cotton this year,” Gresham says.

Farmers say the Roundup Rewards program reduces the risk of planting Roundup Ready and Bollgard cotton, especially on dryland acres.

“Otherwise, the technology fees would be too high for the risk,” Myatt says.

They like the technology.

“I don't have to go over the fields as many times with Roundup Ready cotton,” says Bingham, who's trying to farm as efficiently as possible. “I don't own much equipment and don't have a lot of land,” he says. “And all my acreage is dryland.”

He says Roundup Ready varieties have allowed him to clean up newly rented fields that had serious weed problems. “Still, it sometimes takes two or three years to get those foul acres in shape.”

“I have about 300 acres that would not produce cotton because of perennial weeds,” says Gresham. “With Roundup Ready varieties and Roundup herbicides, I can grow cotton from turn row to turn row.”

Myatt says improved weed control decreases costs and also improves land value. “Fields become more productive. We save a lot of diesel fuel with a Roundup Ready program. And I don't have to hire many hoe hands.”

Mark Foster, a Wilbur-Ellis dealer in Levelland, says the Replant and Trait Refund programs help their business. “With cotton prices down and insect pressures light, seed sales make up a big chunk of our business.”

He expects to see a new trend, more Bollgard cotton and less Roundup Ready, as farmers get fields cleaned up and look to other technology to improve production efficiency.

Kennedy has some Bollgard cotton this year. “It's been a light worm year, so far,” he says, “but I expect to spray less. The Monsanto program provides an incentive to use the technology. We just don't face as much risk.”

Paul Callaghan, Monsanto retail sales manager in Lubbock, says the program is good for growers and good for Monsanto.

It allows farmers to use this technology without risking their investment in the technology fees, he says. “And it's a good program for us to market Roundup brand herbicides.”

It's put a lot of money back into west Texas farmers' pockets this summer. “We've paid back almost $12 million,” Callaghan says. “We've seen a worse acreage loss in the area than in 1999.”

He says the devastating May storms took a heavy toll and “dryland cotton had no rain.” He says the program allows Monsanto to enter into a partnership with farmers. “We're a company that gives something back when farmers lose the crop early. “We don't guarantee high yields. Farmers are still at the mercy of late hail and other weather or pest problems. But within 60 days, farmers can be certain of a good stand.”

Callaghan says everyone in agriculture “has struggled this year. We've all been hit by weather and the economy.”

He says the Roundup Rewards program, which includes customer service and other advantages in addition to the Trait Refund programs, “rewards farmers for using Roundup.”

Qualifications for the program include:

  • Growers must have a Monsanto technology license number.

  • They must purchase new seed for the current growing season.

  • Roundup brand herbicides are the only non-selective, systemic herbicides that may be used on all Monsanto trait acreage.

He says the end result is that Monsanto benefits with steady Roundup sales, but he also points out that the company invests a lot of the return in research and development that ultimately goes back to help farm efficiency.

“We spend $1 million a day on research and development,” he says. “We think it's important to reinvest money back into the industry.”