“The bright spot, though, was that it was one of the best years I’ve had for the calves. They gained well — averaging 2.1 pounds a day through the winter — and prices were good, so that proved a lifesaver financially.”

Long term, Mark says, his average for cotton behind cattle is 950 pounds per acre and for conventional, about 760 pounds to 780 pounds.

This year, he planted Stoneville 5288B2F, a Roundup Ready Flex/Bollgard II variety, on land behind cattle. “It’s a medium maturity, tough, versatile variety that sets a high level of fruiting nodes and has outstanding yield potential,” he says. For conventional fields, he planted Stoneville 5458B2RF, a new Roundup Ready Flex/Bollgard II variety that also offers rootknot nematode tolerance.

The cotton was planted May 6 and by early July was blooming well and setting bolls.

“Since we’re the only cotton farmers around, we don’t have many pest problems — unless you count deer, which mowed down 40 acres of cotton last year,” Mark says. “The Bollgard technology takes care of any worms, and we may spray a couple of times during the season for plant bugs.”

He applies potash and phosphate in the fall when planting ryegrass, and 120 units of nitrogen during the winter. “In most years, we’ll apply 1,000 pounds of lime in the spring behind the cattle, based on soil tests. Then, we’ll put down 55 units of nitrogen ahead of the planter. I figure the manure from the calves is equivalent to about 40 units of nitrogen.”

They’ve been operating with one four-row John Deere 9965 picker, but recently bought a used John Deere 9960 four-row machine to increase harvesting capability. “We hope to be done by the end of September or early October. I like to have the ryegrass planted by the middle of October.”

Mark says he learned a valuable lesson early on — that baling the ryegrass for hay is a no-no for the cotton that follows.

“I baled the hay, planted cotton, and everything was fine until early August, when the cotton started showing a potash deficiency and a lot of it defoliated. When you take that much hay off the field, I found, it also takes off a lot of potash. I haven’t made that mistake again.”

Mark says they have another 500 acres to 600 acres that could be fenced for the cotton-behind-calves program. “Our soil is basically a sandy clay, and we’ve found the hill land that drains well does better for ryegrass-cotton than bottom land.”

In addition to the improved cotton yields following ryegrass/calves, he says ryegrass also grows better behind cotton. “The only thing I have to be careful of is that some cotton materials have a residual effect on ryegrass.”

While a lot of their land in the rolling hills isn’t suited to cotton, it does make good pasture land, Mark says. About 500 acres is devoted to ryegrass for winter grazing for 1,000 calves, figuring two calves per acre.

“I’ll start buying 325-pound calves in late September/early October and sell them in May, when they’re 600 pounds to 675 pounds. They did really well this past winter, averaging 722 pounds at sale.

“They’re mostly Angus, Brangus, and Charolais crosses — a little bit of everything. When they go to the feedlots, the breed doesn’t matter that much. I mostly look for animals that are uniform in height and weight, and am not that concerned about color.”