Louisiana cotton producers Barry and Dan Turner have been no-tilling cotton and corn for quite some time, but last fall they were reminded of what they were missing in conventional tillage.
The Turners made an equipment change — from 8, 40-inch rows to 12, 38-inch rows — “that made us have to tear it all out. We subsoiled at a 45-degree angle. We disked that and rowed up,” Dan said. “We also tore the rear end out of two tractors and burned a lot of diesel fuel.”
The experience made the brothers, who also are crop consultants, even stronger advocates of no-till cotton and corn production. They recently discussed how no-till compares with other tillage practices and provided some tips on no-till during a Monsanto Center of Excellence Field Day on their farm in Mer Rouge.
Four seasons ago, the brothers set up large field plots on their farm comparing various tillage and residual herbicide systems. Tillage practices were no-till, a stale-bed system where cotton ground was rowed up in the fall and conventional tillage. They also looked at residual herbicides at planting versus no residual at planting.
Dan is quick to point out that farmers who do conventional tillage can still produce good yields. “I'm not knocking them. I'm saying that there is a cheaper, better way.”
Three years of data showed that on the Turner farm, the cost of the no-till system averaged $20 to $25 less than the conventional-tillage system. “That gap will probably get even wider with the price of diesel going up,” Dan said.
The tests also showed better yields for no-till. “A lot of people say when they no-till, they're going to give up some yield. That's not so. The more tillage we did the lower our yields were,” the producer said.
Conversely, “Over the last three years, our yields were much higher where we didn't till and where we didn't use residual herbicides at planting. I'll never go back to a system where I have to use those residual herbicides ever again.”
The tests also indicated a change in soil structure across three years of no-tilling. “At the 6-inch level in the no-till plots, our pH and organic matter is going up,” Dan said. “This will translate into money in our pocket. Cotton will be able to withstand 3-inch rains. That's going to pay off.”
Dan pointed out that Texas A&M studies may indicate increased Rhizoctonia pressure in no-till plots. “That could cost us some money. It could make us plant later or make us have to put out a soil fungicide when we plant.”
Another advantage to reduced tillage is that the Turners don't need a lot of horsepower to pull implements. “A smaller tractor burns less diesel and is much cheaper to purchase on the front end,” Dan said. “We don't need the bigger tractors in these no-till systems. We need a tractor big enough to pull a planter.”
The Turners rotate their cotton, all Roundup Ready varieties, 1/1 with corn, which has helped yields in both crops, according to Barry.
“With the price of cotton being where it is, we've got to make maximum yields,” he said. “The corn/cotton rotation will give us the highest yields. Corn does better behind cotton than it does corn and cotton does better behind corn than it does cotton.”
On this year's cotton crop, which appears to have excellent yield potential, the Turners made two 26 ounce applications of Roundup Ultramax over-the-top of cotton, then made an early layby of 26 ounces of Roundup plus Direx. The latter application is the only residual applied in the system, but according to the Turners, a residual is needed in Roundup Ready cotton when irrigating or after rainfall.
The Turners will use a broadcast hooded sprayer on their over-the-top applications of Roundup, if there's a sensitive crop nearby. “But we would rather use the broadcast sprayer when we can,” Barry said. “We can spray 500-600 acres a day with it,” Barry said.
The Turners incurred little, if any drift damage to corn, which in many fields is right across turnrows from cotton. The Turners credit the use of Greenleaf Turbojet and Teejet air-induction nozzles, “that cut way down on the fine mist,” Barry said.
Insect pressure hasn't been especially heavy in Louisiana this season, but pests have consistently reached spray thresholds. For insect control so far this season, the Turners applied Temik 15G in-furrow, Ammo at planting, a blanket application of Bidrin and Bidrin applied along the edges next to corn. They've also made applications of Centric, Lorsban and Provado. To slow down the fast-growing plant, the Turners applied 20 ounces of mepiquat chloride.