There are plenty of problems cotton producers face from April through October — drought, hurricanes, hot and cold weather and high fuel and fertilizer costs, not to mention off-season worries, like whether or not a viable farm program will be in place the following year.
A bright spot for Gene Ogden, a cotton producer from Delhi, La., is that his cotton has been performing very well despite what Mother Nature has thrown at it. Call it genetics, technology, good farming, or a combination of all of the above, lint yields have been consistently superior and quality more than acceptable.
After harvest, Ogden, who farms with his son, Randy, his brother, Douglas, and Douglas' son, Neal, will prepare ground in the fall, rehipping over the old rows and leaving the bed untouched until planting. This stale seedbed approach means the Ogdens “will be planting in the spring instead of preparing land.”
Nitrogen is the biggest fertility cost for the Ogdens. “Our ground doesn't call for a lot of lime, phosphate or potash,” Ogden said. “That helps.”
The Ogdens, who farmed about 3,100 acres of cotton and 500 acres of soybeans in 2005, put out 110 to 120 units of nitrogen preplant and come back with a foliar application. The timing and rate of the foliar application is usually determined by their consultant, Bryant Williams.
In mid-March, they burndown with Touchdown, which takes out the henbit and usual winter grasses. “The ground is pretty clean at that point,” Ogden says. At planting, they'll burndown again behind the planter, again going with Touchdown.
They plant DP 555 BG/RR, DP 449 BG/RR, and ST 5599 BR, all treated with Cruiser and Dynasty. They will usually make a foliar application of dimethoate for thrips shortly after emergence.
For a in-season weed control program, Ogden goes with two over-the-top applications of Touchdown primarily for morningglory and signalgrass, “which seems like it is getting harder and harder to control. On the last over-the-top application, we went with Sequence, which worked real well on the grass. We'll come back and spot spray with Envoke for morningglory.”
That's followed by two underneath shots of Touchdown applied with hooded sprayers, and a layby of Direx and MSMA or Touchdown.
The weather played havoc with the Ogdens cotton all season in 2005. “We planted about half our cotton in April, but it got dry and we had to quit. When we did get a rain, it turned cold. We finally got back to planting and got all but 400 acres planted before it got dry again. We had to wait until the last day of May to get back in the field. We planted the rest of it dry and got a rain that night. That cotton got another 1.5 inches of rain the whole year,” Ogden said.
The Ogdens, who are about 75 percent irrigated, “really put the water to the crop” in 2005.
Spider mites, which were controlled with Lorsban and Monitor, were a problem during the dry weather, said Ogden. “It's not a pest we expect to have on a regular basis. But in 2005, we made three sprays for about $10 an acre, which really cut into our pocketbooks. We also sprayed for plant bugs five or six times.”
They defoliated with Dropp and Prep and picked one time, a practice started 18 years ago. “We found that the labor, time and running the machinery for a second picking just weren't worth it.”
The Ogdens harvest with three Case IH harvesters, two 2555s and a 2055, all four-row, usually finishing up in three to four weeks. That was not the case in 2005, however, as increased hurricane activity in the Gulf brought windy, wet weather to the lower Mid-South.
“We had cotton ready to defoliate when the first hurricane came through. Then we were about a third picked when the second one came through. We had 8 inches of rain and probably knocked out about 200 pounds an acre. But we were able to get back into the fields quickly. It was so dry that the ground really soaked up the moisture.”
The 2005 cotton crop, despite the poor weather and high fuel costs at harvest, “produced some of the best quality we have ever had,” Ogden said. “We were really surprised with that. We got over the loan on most all of it. We did have a problem with low uniformity. It may have been the dry, hot weather during the season.”
The Ogdens, who usually average around 1,000 pounds of lint per acre, “were surprised with the 449 BG/RR. It made real good cotton. The DP 555 BG/RR hung on through all the dry weather and did really well, especially in the dryland areas outside the pivots. We had some fields that just had a couple of inches of rain on it the whole year and made 900 pounds. It really surprised us.”
When asked his perspective for the coming year, Ogden was quick to mention the uncertainty of the farm bill and energy costs as his top concerns. “The cost of fuel, fertilizer, parts and equipment keep going up, and if we don't have a farm bill to give us a good price, I don't know what we're going to do.”
And all this is coming at a time when many cotton producers like the Ogdens have turned the corner on getting the most out of their cotton production programs. Despite hurricanes, drought and cold weather all occurring in one season, “we wound up with some good cotton. We have a lot better varieties than we've ever had to work with before.”