As the 2001 growing season came to a close, Sam Atwell had a logistics problem with ultra-narrow-row cotton. The production system had produced more cotton on more acres than anticipated and extra stripper harvesters were needed to get the crop out of the field.
That's the kind of problem Atwell, a sales representative for BASF and an advisor to UNR cotton producers, doesn't mind having. But he's quick to point out that UNR cotton is not outgrowing the capacity to produce it.
“It's continuing to grow at a safe, comfortable pace. Growers who are expanding UNR cotton like what they see.”
This includes increases in yield — sometimes double when UNR replaces wide-row cotton on marginal ground and as good or better fiber quality. On the other hand, growers can consistently count on 5 percent more trash per bale with UNR.
Atwell added that UNR cotton “will also result in a 5-percent slowdown at the gin,” primarily to deal with the extra trash. On a 20-bale gin, that's one bale an hour. And we should expect 5 percent lower gin turnout with UNR.”
Despite the trash, Atwell believes that UNR cotton may provide better fiber quality for growers, although there are no studies to back up the observation. “Boll positions on UNR cotton are almost always first-position bolls close to the stalk. The bolls closer to the main stem are better fed and are more uniform.
“If we grow UNR cotton properly, we'll have one limb with two bolls on it and that's it. Every boll is a first-position boll and all are close to the same age.”
Another problem, one that may have unnecessarily discouraged many growers from further developing UNR cotton, is that the new stripper headers have a design flaw in the air flow system, which complicates harvesting.
“You have to have air on that machine to pull that cotton through,” said Atwell. “When it's fixed, a poor-performing machine running at 1.5 miles per hour will run at 4 miles per hour in 2-bale cotton. It's not a major deal, but it involves changing some piping on the header.”
Atwell says that growers in the market for a new harvesting machine “should consider dedicating some of their acreage to UNR cotton.
“UNR and no-till really complement each other,” Atwell said. “It's much easier to no-till UNR than it is anything in wide row. In wide row, you have to deal with hooded sprayers and labor and you're not cultivating between the rows, so you worry about how to keep the weeds out.”
Atwell added that increased yield is the biggest benefit of UNR cotton. “UNR cotton can turn 400-pound ground into 800-pound ground. And marginal ground yields on UNR cotton have been the same as or better than wide-row cotton on good soils.”
Atwell suggests following these 10 steps to properly produce UNR cotton. Your program may be different, but the idea is to produce a crop that is short, slender, clean and dry.
Burndown prior to planting. Atwell suggests Roundup UltraMax and Clarity early and Gramoxone Extra at planting time.
Plant on 7.5- to 10-inch rows at 150,000 seeds per acre — roughly 30 pounds. “We're looking for 120,000 plants to survive. Use whatever planter does a good job. We also use a Roundup Ready/Bt variety. I don't use a pre-emerge or put aldicarb (Temik) down.”
At the cotyledon stage, check for thrips. “Generally we have them. We make a thrips application along with a Roundup treatment.”
At the fifth-leaf stage, “we make another thrips treatment and our final over-the-top Roundup application. At that point, our crop is clean going into canopy closure.”
Atwell does not suggest tram lines in the cotton to help guide application vehicles. “What I've found is that weeds will grow up in them. If you plant cotton in there instead, it will stay smashed down, but it keeps the weeds out too.”
Atwell suggests a plant bug treatment when appropriate, based on scouting, piggybacked with a Pix treatment. Make a second, and last, Pix application later in the season to keep plants short. Atwell noted that the shortness of the plant isn't quite as important as once thought. “We are finding that if you are planted thick, you can harvest taller cotton.”
In mid-August, start looking for weeds that come out the top of the canopy. “When you have them, let the weeds get 6 inches to a foot above the cotton canopy, then make a labeled application of Roundup.”
One label that covers the application is the cracked boll requirement, noted Atwell. “And at that time, we are usually close to that. It comes two weeks after the cotton has bloomed out the top. At that point, we're usually all through with the cotton, so there's no danger with the Roundup treatment and the boll shed problem.
“The salvage label also covers a Roundup application, but the grower is on his own in regard to potential for crop damage.”
The bottom line is that weeds, especially vines, can cause a disaster at harvest in UNR cotton, noted Atwell.
Make a light defoliation treatment at 65 to 75 percent open bolls, “just enough to set it up to take the desiccation treatment,” Atwell said. “We don't want to over-defoliate. We don't want to spend a lot of time and money on it. Generally, it's the same treatment you might make in wide-row cotton, but you can back off rates a little. You can probably get by spending $9,” said Atwell, who usually goes with 4 to 6 ounces of Def or Folex with 1.5 pints of Prep.
Wait a week, then desiccate with paraquat. Sodium chlorate can be added to the mix. “If you're close to frost, you can defoliate, then let the frost desiccate the crop.”
Harvest. Make sure your stripper has the correct air flow design. Remember, too, that UNR cotton is generally 18 days earlier than wide-row cotton planted on the same day.
Plant a cover crop.