A panel of cotton producers agrees that skip-row cotton can help reduce down-the-row input costs. But there can be additional savings based on how planting and harvesting equipment is configured.
“We are searching for any way we can to reduce the cost of production without reducing our gross income, “said Robert McLendon, a Leary, Ga., cotton producer.
“There is interest in skip-row because most of the cost of production we have now is on a row basis with the use of Bollgard and Roundup Ready technology.” Growers can reduce down-the-row inputs in skip-row because they plant fewer feet of row per acre with the practice. And hopefully, cotton plants next to the skip will compensate by growing larger and producing more fruit.
The panel discussed the pros and cons of the practice during the 2002 Beltwide Cotton Conference in Atlanta.
When Clarkedale, Ark., cotton producer Allen Helms Jr. went to skip-row cotton in 2001, he went all the way, converting 7,500 acres. He had no cotton in conventional row spacing this year.
“We felt like we could make more money on the skip in cotton than we could if we had more acres in grain,” Helms said. “And we wouldn't have to buy a lot of new equipment. On one operation, we converted four-row pickers to skip-row at a cost of about $10,000 each. We went from covering four rows with each pass to four rows and two skips.”
Helms, who irrigates about 75 percent of his land, did reduce his down-the-row costs, “but I wasn't able to band some insecticides that I thought I could. Another cost is the boll weevil eradication fee. That assessment is based on the land acres.”
Helms increased his seedling rate in skip-row cotton by 10 to 15 percent. “Looking back, that might have been too much. I was concerned that skippy, skip-row cotton might present a greater problem than skippy, solid cotton. I used hardly any Pix on the skip-row because I wanted to encourage the plants to grow into the skips.”
Jimmy Hargett, Bells, Tenn., noted, “If you're on 30-inch rows and you go to skip-row, you're going to save a third on a lot of the inputs.
“You can also plant faster, depending on what kind of rig you have. We have a 12-row planter, and we're getting over 45 feet per pass,” Hargett said.
Hargett figures he's getting a 5 to 10 percent more yield per acre with a skip-row configuration. “But I'd have been tickled to get the same. I think it's a way we can raise cheaper cotton.”
Jerry Hoelscher, Midland, Texas, has put his 40-inch, 2-1 skip-row cotton under drip irrigation. The area typically receives less than 3 inches of rain during the growing season.
Hoelscher's yields are 850 to 1,100 pounds with the system. “I'm also able to mine 33 percent more nutrients from skip row.”
In the fall, Hoelscher runs a stalk chopper through the field. In the spring, he'll plant with a John Deere MaxEmerge planter with trash wheels. He also has a cultivator with a guidance system, a spray bar and a front-wheel assist tractor. “That's not a lot of investment and we don't make a lot of trips across the field.”
Larry McClendon, Marianna, Ark., planted about 1,000 acres of skip-row in 2001. “Our motivation was simply to cut costs. All of my highly productive, dryland acres are in solid cotton. We're putting the skip-row cotton on areas where we had never had strong production.
“We haven't had a lot of problems,” McClendon said of skip-row. “I farm with 12-row equipment, so changing over was simple. We didn't buy any special equipment or make any special changes.”
McClendon no-tilled his skip-row cotton, but “I did cultivate one field that followed soybeans because I ended up with some Roundup Ready soybeans in the field, which was Roundup Ready cotton.”
McClendon noted that his skip-row configuration did not yield as well as his solid cotton, “but it is on lesser soils in a little different environment. The positive side is that it did yield better than those fields did in years past. We had a reduction in down-the-row inputs to the tune of $40 to $50 per acre. We're going to try it one more year.”
“On the very best soils, you may take an 8-percent yield reduction in skip-row versus solid cotton,” said David Parvin, a Mississippi State University economist. “But cost savings are going to more than offset that. On some of mixed ground, you may actually increase yield with skip-row. On the heavy soils where we shouldn't be planting cotton but sometimes do, there's no advantage at all.”
“It worked better for us where soils were extremely heavy with a high pH,” said Helms. “I wouldn't have expected that. Weather could have been a factor. I'm not real sure.”
Don Shurley, a University of Georgia economist, conducted six replicated skip-row tests at five locations and at press-time had completed economic analyses on four of them.
“Based on one year of study, we found out that the savings are potentially more than just down-the-row costs. You can save on anything you can put down the row — inputs like seed, tech fees, starter fertilizer.”
In addition, “when you widen the planter out, every time you go through the field, you're covering more ground with your trip up and down. So a lot depends on how you work your machinery to handle that skip pattern.”
Shurley's research indicated that with 38-inch, 4X1 skip-row, with a 50-inch skip, “we had savings of 7 percent. If it's a 2X1 full skip, we save a third. On a 2X1 with a 50-inch skip, we saved roughly 14 percent. On a 4X1, full-skip, we saved 20 percent.”
Shurley pointed out that the most consistent pattern was a 2X1, 50-inch skip-row pattern. “That gave us comparable or better yields and comparable or better net returns of the tests that we looked at.”
“We learned that we have a lot to learn,” said Robert McLendon. “One unknown is how much Pix to put out. We're going to have to put some Pix on skip-row cotton in irrigated cotton in south Georgia. But skip-row saved me 10 to 11 percent in costs, and I made about the same amount of cotton.”