There is nothing like a West Texas dust storm to get cotton farmers excited in early spring. Just ask Barry Evans, who claims one of his production goals is to eliminate dust storms from his Kress, Texas, cotton and milo farm.

Evans recalls a day some 12 years ago when a Sunday afternoon breeze turned into a dust storm that threatened to take out his seedling cotton.

“I hitched up a rotary hoe and started going through the fields as fast as I could,” Evans said during an innovative grower panel focused on high production costs at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences recently in New Orleans.

“I lost a big part of that crop,” he said. “I decided then I had to do something different.”

Different meant a reduced tillage system. Evans said his goals are to capture all the moisture that falls on his fields, either from rainfall or irrigation; maximize irrigation efficiency; reduce erosion from wind and water; and “try to eliminate west Texas dust storms on my farm.”

He said water efficiency has become a prime consideration. “Just a few years ago, per acre water costs were about $4 or $5 per acre inch. Now it runs $9 per acre inch.”

He's using a LEPA (low energy precision application) system, which “is 97 percent to 98 percent efficient,” he said.

A grain sorghum and cotton rotation also helps conserve water and soil. “Cotton uses more water but also provides a better return. Grain sorghum adds organic matter and the residue helps hold the soil. With reduced tillage, we need a cover crop.”

Continuous cover means increased organic matter in the soil. “When we get rain the fields soak up water like a sponge.”

Evans said residue on the soil surface decreases evaporation. “Residue also keeps dirt from blowing.

That cover keeps soil temperatures lower, too, a benefit later in the season but sometimes a detriment at planting time. “We plant in late April or early May and germination may be a challenge.”

Reduced tillage also saves labor and fuel. “We're reducing tractor hours. That was not such a big deal a few years ago, but it makes a big difference now with high energy costs.”