What is in this article?:
• Ronnie Lee has been named the 2010 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner for the Southeast region.
• Ronnie Lee Farms, at Bronwood in southwest Georgia, grows 3,500 to 4,200 acres of cotton, 900 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat, and has a cow-calf operation. It also includes McCleskey Cotton Company, a ginning and warehousing operation, and RCL Flying Service, an agricultural aerial spraying business. In addition, the operation does custom harvesting.
• Ronnie Lee is quick to point out that it’s truly a family operation — son Ron operates the gin and markets the crop, son Neil runs the day-to-day farming operation, and son Chandler also works in the farming enterprise.
Nutrient management system
“We’ve implemented a nutrient management fertility program, using GPS grid sampling on 100 percent of our fields,” Ronnie says. “We use GPS prescription maps for phosphorus and potassium applications. We side-dress nitrogen according to soil recommendations for target yields and apply liquid chelates if minor elements are needed. We use GPS in both ground and aerial applications, which has made fertility more uniform throughout the farm, not to mention greatly reducing waste and increasing efficiency.”
Irrigation has played a large role in the success of Lee Farms; approximately 75 percent of the land is now watered by center pivots. The systems are maintained, upgraded and expanded on a yearly basis and use low-pressure nozzles, end gun controls and water meters that monitor use.
Ronnie also took a first look last year at subsurface drip irrigation on an 18-acre field. “We’ll definitely be adding more drip irrigation this year. It allows us to water smaller fields, there’s no evaporation with drip, and we believe we’ll see a yield increase with it. The biggest disadvantage we see is the danger of tearing up the drip tape. The only reason we can use this system now is because of the accuracy of GPS.”
His drip irrigation trial is one of four in the state, funded by the NRCS, the Georgia Cotton Commission and the National Peanut Research Laboratory.
“We’ve got dryland cotton on either side of the drip field, and we think the drip cotton is at least twice as good as the dryland,” Ronnie says. “I’ve seen drip irrigation in other parts of the country, and I’m pretty excited about it.
“It’s expensive, especially in the first year when you lay the tape, but it’s hard to put a definite number on how much it costs to irrigate any field, whether you’re using drip or center pivot. There are a lot of factors that must be considered. If you install it yourself, and you already have a water source, drip probably would be in the $500 to $600 per acre range.”
Irrigation was a necessity on his farm last year, he says. “We had the best start to the year I’ve ever seen — we got the crop planted early, got an excellent stand, and had good rainfall and a good season until July. About July 4, we received a good rain and then the heat set in.
“There were dryland fields in this area that had yields of zero to 250 pounds per acre — the dryland crop was terrible. Irrigated cotton also was hurt by the intense heat. Where we had plenty of water, we saw the kind of yields we were looking for: 1,300 to 1,400 pounds per acre. But where we had marginal water, even in irrigated fields, we got what would be considered a good dryland yield. It was a very expensive crop on the irrigated side.”
At the beginning of the year, Ronnie says, he thought he might be ginning about 90,000 bales, but the toll from the heat and drought dropped that to closer to 60,000 bales.
Looking at challenges facing Southeastern cotton producers, he says glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed would have to be near the top of the list. “Our pigweed problems here are absolutely awful.”
To combat resistance, he has implemented a system using a high-residue subsoiler and a mulch finisher. He also uses residual herbicides at burndown, planting, postemergence, and at lay-by.
Lee Farms also is enrolled in Syngenta’s Agri-Edge recordkeeping program, which documents chemical application, timing and cost for each field. Another herbicide program, Resistance Fighter, is used to develop prescriptions on individual fields for resistant management practices. The remaining pigweeds are then pulled to insure that no seeds are added to the soil.