As the Schoepf family gears up for planting this year, the dryness that spans over their acres is a reminder of how tough it is to farm in West Texas.
“It doesn't matter how good the market is if you don't have a crop to sale,” said Mark Schoepf, a farmer near Lorenzo, Tex. “I mean that's our main focus right now. We need moisture to where we can have a crop to sale.”
While the dryness is cutting into outlooks, farming with little moisture is something these farmers face every year.
“Mother Nature is what calls the shots,” said Joe Hurst, general manager of Hurst Farm Supply.
The lack of moisture gives farmers a lack of options for crops to plant. That's why one crop has become a staple.
“Cotton is what we do out here,” said Scheopf.
Cotton is vital to not only West Texas growers, but also local input and equipment providers.
“Cotton is about the only crop we can grow,” said Hurst. “We've tried a lot of other crops, but we just can't get the production out of it that we need.”
From equipment to infrastructure, it's an area that thrives on cotton. Machinery Pete says moisture is what drives equipment interest in this area.
“The most searched month for used cotton equipment at machinerypete.com was in October. “I found it interesting the folks at Hurst said that was the last good rain they had,” he said.
For Hurst, it's a particular piece of equipment that's been in high demand for multiple years: the John Deere CS690 cotton/stripper baler.
“If we get a trade in, we have customers in line wanting for one, so we'll take those names, we'll put them in a hat, we’ll draw them out and we'll call the customer to purchase the machine,” said Randy Sparks, corporate sales manager, Hurst Farm Supply.
He says it's both new and used CS690 cotton strippers that exploded in popularity with demand outpacing supply.
“We probably traded for 30 this year, said Sparks. “They never made it to the lot for they got sold.”
While it’s not a machine that fits every cotton farmer’s operation it’s a machine that the schoepfs couldn't wait to get their hands on.
“We got our first one in 2014, and it's been it's been a game changer for us,” said Mark.
“We got in the raffle to be able to buy this machine and when we hit it, I didn't know whether to be happy or terrified to be honest,” said Mark’s son Josh Schoepf.
Since 2014, the Schoepfs say the cotton stripper - that also bales the cotton - is now a gamechanger for them.
“Efficiency on this machine is unbelievable compared to what we were doing,” said Mark.
Mark says that efficiency allows their family farm to harvest more, with less labor.
“If humidity is low, this machine is running and harvesting around the clock,” said Mark. “I've seen the boys run 48 hours before.”
It’s labor that’s become scarce in the area. Harvesting cotton before required labor they simply couldn't find. It's also added efficiency through technology that's an attractive feature for farmers like Mark.
“I really think - and have always thought - that these area farmers that we have right here are the most progressive farmers that there are,” said Hurst. “They are alwys looking at the change in technology and different varieties.”
Mark says technology in this area is no longer a want, but a need.
“All this technology that's come along has helped beeen very beneficial to us achieving better goals, and that's the bottomline is make more cotton,” he said.
As mark's dad reflects on year's past, he says it's that technology that's come a long way.
“I started out throwing cotton in a trailer behind me,” said Marvin Schoepf
“Today we're harvesting more in an hour, than they could do in a day,” added Mark.
From technology in the combines, to the added features on planters, it's drawing strong intersest today.
“Planters are very strong,” said Sparks. “We went through a glut in 14 to 15 where we had way too many planters huge glut. Finally got those cleaned out and they're starting to come back. but we've tried to manage that inventory better than we did before.”
Hurst Farm Suppy says inventory is healthier all across the board for the company.
2017 was a great year for Hurst, it was one of our best years we've ever had,” said Sparks.
Machinery Pete says it's that inventory story that’s playing out across the country.
“The trends that we see here in Texas kind of mirror the whole country, actually, where folks are looking for that maybe three to five year old really nice tractor - maybe still a little warranty, low hours, one owner,” said Machinery Pete. “It doesn't matter if that's in Texas, Minnesota or Kansas, that's what people want and that's where we're seeing the strong dollars.”
He says as more farmers can't hold out any longer to upgrade, it's adding to the flip in used equipment.
“Normally, as we go through the end of March and April, prices tend to get a little weaker as we get closer to planting season,” he said. “This year, 2018, we've actually seen the flip and, there's just really strong demand for the really good quality stuff, kind of whatever it is wherever it is.”
For Hurst, it's quality equipment that doesn't sit on these lots very long.
“Coming into this year, we were projecting probably a 20 percent turn down, for 2018, but it's only been about 10 percent off,”” said Hurst. “We feel llike that's definitely a good success story right there.”
“We're not heavy on anything and is got me nervous or scared,” said Sparks. “I think we're in pretty good shape all across the board.”
As the Schoepfs hit the field this year, it's not just planting this year's crop that's on their mind.
”I know Dad says he's tired of growing, but me and my brother, we farm together, I’d like to see us grow,” said Josh.
It's planting that future, and harvesting another year's work, they hope will continue to be the foundation for generations.