If Marvin Gream had his way, the plant bug would have its own statue, similar to the boll weevil monument in Enterprise, Ala. — in which a woman holds an oversized replica of the pest over her head. The statue recognized the weevil's destructive prowess and how it prompted growers to diversify their crop mix and regain profitability.

“It was a force this year,” the Portageville, Mo., cotton producer said of the plant bug. “You have to stay on top of them. If you miss a spraying, you've lost yield.”

Some fields were sprayed seven times for the pests, according to Gream's consultant, Tim Roberts, Tennark Consulting. “We went with Trimax early, then switched to Leverage and finished up with Karate, Bidrin and Baythroid.”

Still, Gream would rather deal with plant bugs than the pest that it replaced, the boll weevil, which now appears to be a statistic of the boll weevil eradication program. “Weevils have disappeared from the operation,” said Gream, who grows 900 acres of cotton. “It's not a threat to us anymore.”

The money Gream spent for plant bug control paid off with a top crop which developed during a spectacular September, resulting in an average yield of just over 1,300 pounds.

Gream begins his minimum-till approach in the fall after cutting stalks. He puts out potash and phosphate, hips the ground, then runs a ripper/hipper to rip out the top of the bed and re-hip.

On most ground, about a week to 10 days before planting, he lightly runs a do-all over beds and knifes in preplant nitrogen, between 20 and 30 pounds of actual nitrogen. He'll hip back up.

“When we're ready to plant (usually around April 15), we do-all lightly again to establish a bed, then plant.”

Varieties include DP 444 BG/RR, ST 4973R, ST 4892 BR, ST 5599 BR, ST 5242 and a Bollgard II variety, ST 4646B2R.

Cotoran and Caparol go down at planting; a pyrethroid is applied behind the planter for worms. The herbicide mix “gets some of the weeds that glyphosate is weak on. It also takes care of a lot of weeds if it rains and we can't get back in the field.”

Gream sticks with the herbicide plan each year even if he doesn't see his major weed problem — morningglories — in the field during the previous season. “If you don't, they'll come back. I don't know where the seeds come from, but they tend to come back.”

Escapes during the season are usually controlled with Staple. Gream made one over-the-top application of Roundup WeatherMax, on May 21, piggybacked with a material for plant bugs. On June 16, he post-directed Roundup WeatherMax and applied a plant bug material, boron and Mepex plant growth regulator over-the-top.

That was the last herbicide application for Gream for most of the farm. On some, he laid by with Roundup and Direx.

Plant bugs were a tough pest in 2004, Gream said, “but we did what our scouts said. Sometimes, I think we sprayed too much, but when we make the yields like we did in 2004, it's kind of hard to question them.”

Gream defoliated with Folex and Super Boll, followed by a second application a week later on Sept. 20 with Cotton Quick and Super Boll. He completed harvest by Oct. 8, a week before a series of fronts moved through the area.

“We finished our cotton that Friday and had picked 137 acres for a neighbor. We were going to pull in on him the next morning, but it was showering and finally dried off about 3 p.m. that afternoon. He ran a little while that day and ran on Sunday. We don't work on Sundays.”

The rains started again on Monday and Gream didn't get back into his neighbor's field for a week and a half. “After that, it took us almost a month to get his 270 acres out of the field.”

Gream's crop graded out high thanks to the timely harvest. “Fifty percent of our crop went in the loan at a little over 57 cents. We ended up with a 55.7-cent average.

“We were very fortunate. The Good Lord was watching over us and the picker (a single Case CPX 610, six-row) did a good job. We have a Boll Buggy and three module builders, and we kept everything going.”

Average yields came in at around 1,337 pounds an acre. The top variety, ST 4892 BR, picked over 1,500 pounds an acre. But it fooled him at first.

“We cash rent one of our farms, and usually if it's going to make good, I'll take video of it for my landlord, who is now in a nursing home. The 4892 didn't look good enough to video, but on an 81-acre field, we picked 1,509 pounds. We picked it one time and cut the stalks.”

The Bollgard II variety, ST 4646 B2R, came in about 100 pounds under the top-yielding variety, according to Gream. “We didn't have the worm pressure this year. Under heavy worm pressure, I don't think there would have been that much difference. But it didn't pick as well off the row as I would have liked. It kind of hung in the boll.”

Turnout was good on all varieties, according to Gream, ranging from a low of 35.7 to a high of 39.1.

The choice of DP 444 BG/RR helped Gream start harvest a little sooner than normal. Yields could have been a lot better had Gream been able to scrap it. “There was 180 pounds to 200 pounds out there on the 444. We could have gotten close to 1,400 pounds from the variety if we had scrapped it.”

The success of the cotton crop last year will result in about 200 acres being pulled out of corn in 2005, “because of the down corn market and fertilizer prices. Right now, I think we can make more money with cotton than we can with corn.”

Gream attributes a lot of the high yields of 2004 to his scouts, Billy Beegle, Tim Roberts and Jason Roberts. “As soon as we harvest, they want to know where we're going to plant cotton next year and they start taking soil samples. They are with us the whole year, from the time we start planting until we get it out of the field. We've made good yields with them for the last eight or nine years.”


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com