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Jerry Rovey is 2024 Western High Cotton Award winner

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Growing cotton in the desert is challenging. But, intense summer heat, occasional insect infestations and urban encroachment are nothing new for Jerry Rovey, who has farmed west of Phoenix for over 60 years.

Rovey continues farming cotton in a region that, perhaps sooner than later, will close a chapter on farming in Arizona as cities like Buckeye, Tolleson and Goodyear continue to merge in a seamless urban landscape surrounding Phoenix. 

Once just a small farming community some 30 miles west of downtown Phoenix, Rovey has seen his region grow rapidly. In 2017-18 and again in 2021, Buckeye, Ariz. was America’s fastest-growing city.

This year, Farm Press honored Rovey for his commitment to Arizona cotton and his longstanding acumen of sustainable farming practices with its annual High Cotton Award. 

Rovey is a lifelong cotton industry leader in Arizona, where most recently he served as board chairman for the Arizona Cotton Growers Association.

Rovey owns Flying R Farms in Buckeye, Ariz. with his wife Dianna and their sons Dean and Todd.

Arizona cotton

Rovey grows Upland varieties along the Gila River, alongside alfalfa, wheat and silage corn. 

Since 2008, Rovey has partnered with Deltapine cotton and its New Product Evaluator (NPE) program to test new varieties under desert conditions. The program is a collaboration between Deltapine and cotton growers across the U.S. Cotton Belt.

About 10 years ago, Rovey pushed one of those full-season DP varieties with some extra water to yield over seven bales per acre in one plot.

Insect control

The advent of Bt cotton and technologies like ThryvOn have helped cotton farmers control insects. 

Coupled with useful advice from Land Grant entomologists, including Peter Ellsworth from the University of Arizona, Rovey can control whitefly and lygus much easier because of an understanding of how beneficial insects work. But this wasn’t always the case.

“Before Bt cotton, we were spraying every four or five days for pink bollworm,” Rovey said. “Sometimes we’d have to spray every three days. We were killing everything, including the beneficial insects.”

Concerted efforts across the Cotton Belt eradicated the pink bollworm, but other insects like lygus and white flies can still be troublesome.

Rovey says the new ThryvOn technology by Bayer Crop Science helps too. The Bollgard Three ThryvOn cotton with XtendFlex technology is touted as the cotton industry’s first biotech trait to give built-in protection against various insect species. 

Between this and the beneficial insects common to his area, Rovey has greatly reduced his need for insecticide treatments. 

Last season was a pleasantly easy year for lygus control in his area, he said. Various reports suggest lygus pressure was light across Arizona.

When he does treat his cotton, the proximity of homes and schools in the region has forced Rovey to use ground rigs and work around school hours.

“We try to use a minimum amount of chemicals because they’re expensive,” he said. “We’re also faced with air quality and dust control issues, so we have to be careful.”

Rovey said timing his insecticide treatments at nights and weekends near schools is one part of his management strategy.


Cotton is just one of the crops Rovey grows. His cotton is planted on 38-inch rows. Land and water availability continue to limit his cotton acreage.

Flying R also does custom harvesting in the region for other cotton farmers.

“We pick for everybody around here,” he said. “I think last year we did over 2,000 acres, which is the only way we can afford these machines.”

Cotton is typically planted by May, with harvest activities continuing into December. Rovey may strip till cotton behind alfalfa or a wheat crop. An average season for Rovey will see three to four bale yields of Upland cotton.

Despite Upland prices languishing under a dollar  per pound, Rovey has managed to take advantage of high whole cottonseed prices to the dairies.

“On a three-bale crop this is a good amount of money,” he said of whole cottonseed.

Rovey likes to look at the larger picture of cotton returns. To him, it’s not merely about the price paid for his baled cotton, but also the whole cottonseed and crop insurance.

“So, when you factor all of those in, and you get a little bit of payments on the price and the insurance programs, it helps,” he continued. “I see a lot of people get out of cotton and go all in on alfalfa, and that’s the only thing they have.”

Alfalfa has been a lucrative crop for Rovey as well, particularly in the winter months when winter travelers, commonly referred to as “snowbirds,” travel south and bring their horses with them to south-central Arizona.

“Right now, the snowbirds are starting to show up,” he told Farm Press. “A lot of people coming out of Wyoming or other parts of the U.S. bring their horses down. We’ve already started shipping hay to them.”


Water in the West is critical to irrigated agriculture. It’s a necessity that isn’t taken lightly.

Rovey’s irrigation water comes from districts which pump from underground. The surface water supplies coming into the area through the Central Arizona Project now goes entirely to cities as drought regulations eliminated those deliveries to farms in the state.

Flood and furrow irrigation is all he can do because of the slope of his land. Water quality issues prevent the use of subsurface drip.

Todd Fitchette is an associate editor for Western Farm Press. This article was originally published in Farm Progress on Feb. 16.

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