After years with cotton in the crop mix on their Noxubee County, Miss., farms, Paul Good and son-in-law Dale Weaver dropped cotton in 2007 in favor of corn and soybeans, and since then have been adding center pivot systems and concentrating on practices to maximize yields of those crops.

Decades ago, before the bulk of the state’s production shifted to the Delta, Noxubee County was the No. 1 cotton county in Mississippi, and growers here still have some of the highest yields in the state.

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“But in recent years, for us, the potential returns have been better with corn and soybeans,” Paul says. “Even after we quit growing cotton, I kept our two pickers — just in case. But we reached a point that we had to make a choice whether to make a big investment to upgrade our cotton equipment, or to commit fully to corn and soybeans. So, we sold the pickers.

 “I still think cotton is a wonderful crop,” says Paul, who was honored in 1999 with Cotton Grower magazine’s Grower Achievement Award for excellence in cotton production. “But, it looks like for the foreseeable future, Mississippi is going to be primarily a corn and soybean state, and to produce those crops well, you’ve got to have water.

“It would be difficult to estimate how many pivots have been installed in this part of the state over the past few years. Most are fed from surface catchment ponds, some from catfish ponds that have been taken out of production. A few producers have drilled wells, but for most part, that’s prohibitively expensive. We’ve taken one of our catfish ponds out of production and are using that water for irrigation. Catfish is only a small part of our operation.

“Our ponds are 4 feet to 6 feet deep and contain about 50 acre feet of water. Our land is terraced, with ditches and grassed waterways, so all the rainfall and all the runoff from our fields are channeled into the irrigation ponds. This also has environmental benefits by preventing nutrient runoff and limiting erosion. The majority of the water we get from rainfall ever leaves our farms.”

They installed their first center pivot 2007 and, Paul says, “Yields have improved considerably on the irrigated land. These black prairie soils hold moisture well, and ours are exceptionally high in organic matter.”

They now have five sprinkler systems, Dale says, two that are almost half a mile long, the rest shorter. “With the Valley and Zimmatic systems, we can water a bit over 800 acres. Each of the systems can be monitored and controlled from my smart phone with FieldNet software. At any time, I can see what each system is doing, what the water pressure is, how much water is being applied, etc. I can change the rate or make other adjustments remotely.

“Before this technology, I’d be out checking on systems at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., sleeping until daylight, then out checking them again. I can also monitor our catfish ponds on my home computer and can get oxygen level readings by phone.” They shoot for production of 6,000 lbs. to 8,000 lbs. of fish per pond per year.