Cotton varieties with transgenic traits allow west Texas farmers to produce good yields while improving soil structure.

Barry Evans, Kress, Texas, cotton and grain sorghum producer, said herbicide-resistant cotton allows him to maintain residue on the soil to protect fields from the blowing winds that can destroy seedling cotton and ruin fields.

“We farm at an elevation of 3,600 feet,” Evans said during a panel discussion on transgenics at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans. “We can have pretty harsh conditions in this semi-arid region,” he said. “But with technology we can be productive.”

Wind, water and weeds, he said, provide his biggest production challenges. He said the persistent winds, combined with widespread use of the “one-way plow, created the environment that resulted in the Dust Bowl, an environmental disaster.”

He said plowing surface residue under the soil left fields bare and vulnerable to wind erosion. “A plow that left residue on the soil surface was a great invention. Surface residue is important in this area.”

He said herbicide-resistant cotton “allows us to leave even more residue on the ground. Some years we get so dry that we can’t grow enough cover and have to run tillage equipment to create clods to prevent blowing.” He said when rain falls, however, the residue helps hold it in the field. “Surface residue increases water infiltration and prevents breakdown of soil structure from the impact of raindrops.”

He said water storage is deeper in no-till fields.

The theory has been alive for more than 40 years, Evans said. “Research at Bushland, Texas, in 1969 showed the value of residue. Today, that data is still valid. Technology and research have caught up with each other and now (herbicide resistant) traits allow us to maintain surface residue.”

Evans said farmers need to be aware of the potential for weed resistance to develop in weed management systems that rely on a non-selective herbicide. “We’re not seeing resistance yet but we have weed that are harder to kill with just glyphosate. We add residual herbicide to reduce the risk.”

He said tumbleweeds, marestail and thistle cause problems. “Thistles are arid plants and are hard to kill.”

He said technology moves quickly. “We are seeing just the tip of the iceberg regarding what transgenics can do. They hold the future of farming and feeding and clothing the world.”

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com