SLATON, Texas — Every typical year around this time, it’s tough to miss the sea of yellow surrounding the Slaton Highway.
These sunflowers draw thousands from all over the state to stop, pull over and snap a photo — people from families to college graduates to bridal parties.
“I love sunflowers … It’s hard to be depressed when you pass by a sunflower field in full bloom. Boom! It just almost overwhelms the eyes and the mind, and people forget about their depression and go ‘wow! Look at that!” said Dale Kitchens, who farms 9,000 acres and has planted sunflowers for decades.
These sunflowers along Highway 84 have become a South Plains staple, but this year, there’s not a sunflower in sight. Instead, this year, cotton is king.
“We have a lot of money in this crop, so we had to let price determine what we planted,” Kitchens said.
Kitchens has been planting the sunflowers for the last 25 to 30 years, and this year is the first time in a long time he said he hasn’t planted them.
The reason? This year has been “a comeback” for the cotton cash crop after major setbacks by record droughts and the pandemic.
Kitchens added that sunflowers, while appealing to passersby, are often used as what’s called a “catch crop” — a crop planted on fields where previous crops have failed.
Kitchens hopes the ringing of the cash register from all the cotton might help ease people’s disappointment.
“It will mean several billion dollars of fresh money pumped into the West Texas economy,” Kitchens said.
But he also offered a promise to the sunflower fans:
“They’ll be back,” Kitchens said, laughing.