A 15-inch, 2x2 skip-row pattern topped net returns in two out of three locations in a study conducted by Mississippi State University researchers in 2003-2005.

The objective of the study was to provide estimates of costs and returns for eight row patterns: 15-, 30-, 38- and 60-inch row solid cotton, 15-inch rows with a 2x1 skip row (two rows of cotton with a 30-inch skip), 15-inch rows with a 2x2 skip row (two rows with a 45-inch skip) 30-inch rows with a 2x1 skip (two rows with a 60-inch skip), and 38-inch rows with a 2x1 skip (two rows with a 76-inch skip).

Hypothetical farms were created in Falkner, Verona and Clarksdale. Farm size for each treatment was based on how many acres harvesters could pick under each configuration, with 200 hours of operation as the maximum.

Crop budgets were developed using practices and equipment typical for each location. Revenues for each system were calculated using lint yields and quality from ginned samples collected from each location and ginned on a scale model gin with equipment equivalent to a full-scale commercial gin.

Hill farms were harvested with two, four-row pickers. The Delta farm was harvested with three six-row pickers except the 15 inch 2 X 2 skip, which used four Pro 12 VRS row units on a six-row chassis.

One reason for the higher net returns for the 15-inch, 2x2 skip-row configuration was harvesting efficiency. For example, the 2x2 skip-row harvester picked a 33 percent wider swath with only four row units compared to the six-row picker harvesting 15-inch solid cotton.

According to the researchers, the beneficial impact of spreading out a system’s annualized machinery ownership cost over more acres in treatments having skip rows was the most important factor in the net return values. Even though the yields were lower in the skip-row treatments compared to the solid treatments, declines in revenue were not enough to offset gains in cost savings for the current prices for lint and seed.

According to Normie Buehring, a Mississippi State University agronomist based in Verona, Miss., “it all boils down to harvesting efficiency. With a six-row machine and 15-inch solid cotton, you would harvest 12 rows, or 15 feet. If you spread out to harvest six 38-inch rows, you’re going to cover 19 feet. Eight drills in a 15-inch, 2X2 skip pattern would be 20 feet. That’s a big player in the study. The more you can harvest, the more you can farm.”

While the 15-inch solid configuration was the highest yielding treatment, “basically, every time you go through the field, you’re operating only at 75 percent efficiency compared to 15-inch, 2x2 skip, where we could spread those row units out and harvest a 20-foot swath.”

Another important factor is that skip-row planting patterns result in per-acre cost savings by reducing some “down the row” inputs such as seed, technology fees, and some nitrogen fertilizer versus its solid counterpart.

Actual yields from each area were used in the study. Due to the wet soil conditions in 2003, planting at Verona and Falkner was delayed until late May. In 2004 and 2005, cotton was planted in late April at Verona and early May at Falkner. The Clarksdale location was planted in late April of 2004 and 2005. The study includes three years of data for Falkner and Verona and two years of data for Clarksdale.

Three patterns had 15-inch rows and thus required the use of the John Deere Pro-12 VRS picking units. However, the 15-inch rows with skips required some modifications because the marketed picker is not designed to accommodate skipped rows.

Therefore, researchers assumed that the picker could be converted to accommodate one or two skipped rows at an extra cost. The other five patterns had more conventional row spacing and skips; John Deere PRO-16 picking units were assumed for these patterns.

The economic advantages of the skip-row patterns and the wide row pattern (60-inch solid) were evident on a 2,444 acre cotton farm in Verona. A 15-inch 2x2 pattern resulted in the highest net return of almost $209,000. This treatment also had the highest net above operating cost per acre among the eight treatments. In fact, after deducting per-acre machinery ownership cost, it still maintained the highest per-acre net return.

The 15-inch solid pattern resulted in the lowest net return in Verona. This planting pattern had the smallest farm size and also had the highest operating cost and ownership cost per acre. Even though it had the highest yield, it had the lowest net return.

Again, the skip-row patterns and the wide row pattern (60-inch solid) resulted in the greatest net benefits on the second hypothetical farm in Falkner. The 2,444-acre farm with a 15-inch 2x2 pattern resulted in the highest net return of over $350,000. This treatment had the second-highest net above operating cost per acre among the eight treatments. After deducting per-acre ownership cost, it had the highest per-acre net return.

Consistent with Verona, the 15-inch solid pattern resulted in the lowest net return. This planting pattern resulted in the highest per-acre operating cost and ownership cost. It produced the highest yield, but was more expensive to produce.

In Clarksdale, the 4,124-acre farm using 30-inch, 2x1 skip and 15-inch, 2x1 skip patterns resulted in net returns of about $445,000. The 38-inch solid pattern was slightly below this at $434,000, but had the highest per-acre net return. The 15-inch, 2x2 treatment came in fourth.

The two smallest farms (15-inch solid and 30-inch solid) also had the lowest net returns. The 15-inch solid treatment outperformed three other treatments based on per-acre return above operating cost. But when ownership cost is included, it fell to seventh place.

According to the research, 15-inch solid cotton achieved the highest yield at each location, and averaged 1,142 pounds, across all locations. That was followed by 15-inch, 2x1 skip, which averaged 1,095 pounds across all locations and 15-inch, 2x2 skip, which averaged 1,053 pounds across all locations. A 38-inch skip-row configuration came in last place in all three locations, and averaged 924 pounds across all locations.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com