Gill Rogers believes the time may have come for 15-inch cotton. In May, with the push of a button, GPS technology took a John Deere tractor and planter set for 15 inches on a straight line across 220 acres and with it any question of whether or not the next 16 rows would line up with the previous pass.

Watching the tractor move down the row on auto-pilot was an educational experience, he says. In simple terms, the technology amounts to pulling a chalk line across the field and following it.

The practical side of the Hartsville, S.C., farmer, however, keeps thinking back to the dry conditions at planting and the possible benefit of having rows closer together. The first rain came more than two weeks after planting the 15-inch cotton. He planted at a depth of about 0.75 inch.

He's planted DP 555 BG/RR, DP 444 BG/RR, DP 449 BG/RR and DP 424 BGII/RR at a seeding population of 52,000 and 70,000 seed per acre. He shot for an in-row spacing of 6 inches and 8 inches.

“It's going to be a late crop,” says Rogers, who farms with his brother, John. “This year will be a good year to test 15-inch cotton because it will be late. With more plants, you have a better shot at more yield when you have a late year.” Maximizing early-season sunlight is one of the benefits of 15-inch cotton.

Rogers is cooperating in a joint project of Monsanto Company, John Deere Company and Delta and Pine Land Company, demonstrating the advantages and challenges of 15-inch cotton to farmers. DP&L is providing the seeds; Monsanto, the Roundup; and John Deere, the equipment.

In addition, the practice is featured in demonstrations in Texas, Mississippi and North Carolina. Fifteen-inch cotton will also be featured at the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo this year.

Farmers can follow the progress of the crop and Rogers' opinions on the practice at www.15inchcotton.com.

At harvest, a John Deere PRO-12 Vari-Row Cotton Picker will spindle-pick the cotton, also using GPS technology.

This is the second year Rogers has worked with the John Deere technology to take guesswork out of narrow-row cotton. Last year, the challenge was rain.

Rogers Brothers Farms first experimented with narrow-row cotton about six years ago, working with Delta and Pine Land Company. He believes the advances in seed, planting and harvesting technology have come together to give the practice the potential to add to the bottom line.

“We've felt there was potential for narrow-row cotton,” Rogers says, “especially with Roundup and Bt cotton. Fifteen-inch cotton is just another step. It would be a perfect fit for people who have erosion problems in their fields.”

In May, a John Deere 8400 tractor, outfitted with an AutoTrac RTK system, pulled a 16-row 1730 planter. “You still have to have somebody in the tractor, but after you set an A-B line, the tractor knows where to drive,” says Jarred Karni, a crop systems specialist with John Deere. “At the end of the row, all the driver has to do is grab the steering wheel, make the turn and the system guides him back into the next path.”

“With this technology, you don't have to worry about a guess row,” adds Andy Pace, also a John Deere crop systems specialist.

“It's still too early to tell” what the true benefit will be, Rogers says. “The real proof is what comes out of the gin.”