When cotton planting season finally arrived for DeWayne, Adam and Seth Chappell this spring, it was somewhat of a welcome distraction from the brown, muddy turmoil that had disrupted their personal lives.
Floodwater from this spring’s record high water had driven Seth from his home into a small trailer and DeWayne and his wife from their home into a farm office. While Adam’s home was spared from flooding, he was stranded at the farm for seven days while floodwaters receded from surrounding highways.
The Chappells, who farm about 3,900 acres of cotton, 1,100 acres of soybeans and 1,200 acres of milo around Cotton Plant, Ark., in Woodruff County, spent much of April trying to get their lives back in order. But when it came time to plant cotton, they had to put ruined homes and displaced lives behind them for the moment.
“You had to forget about all that,” Adam said. “We just got in here and started going to work. It was time to plant cotton. We planted 3,900 acres of cotton in two weeks.”
“It was pretty hectic,” DeWayne said. “We had to fight the flood, we lost our homes, then we came over here and started planting cotton. But it was good to get started. It got our minds off our homes.”
The 2011 season started like any other. The previous fall, the Chappells either cut stalks after harvest or ran a One-Trip-Plow with subsoiling shanks. The One Trip Plow “lays the stalks down, cuts the roots, beds up over them and subsoils all in one pass,” Adam said.
The beds lay mellow until January, when the Chappells burned down with Roundup, dicamba, FirstShot and Direx, a program targeting glyphosate-resistant pigweeds.
“We try to put some Reflex on our worst (glyphosate-resistant pigweed) spots after we recondition the beds again in March,” Adam said.
In April, the flooding scrambled what little order there was during a typical spring planting period. “When we lost our home, the National Guard had moved into the area and blocked a lot of the county roads. Every time we took a tractor down the road, we got stopped and had to get an okay to proceed,” DeWayne said. “One of them asked us why we wanted to plant a cotton crop since we were probably going to lose it anyway. I told them I would be bankrupt either way, so I had to take a chance.”
When the opportunity finally came on May 3, the Chappells moved quickly, planting their entire cotton crop in 14, fast-paced days.
The Chappells plant with two, 12-row John Deere 1720 XP planters and put out Direx behind the planter. Varieties this season include DP 0912B2RF, DP 0935B2RF, AM 1550B2RF, ST 5458B2RF, ST 4145LLB2, PHY 375WRF, PHY367 WRF and we’re trying some AM 1511B2RF, “which is looking real good,” Adam said. “We know that the Deltapine varieties perform well here. But we have some places where we have to have that Ignite option. We’ve got about 250 acres of the AM 1550B2RF. It looks good, too.”
Adam said resistant pigweed has made choice of weed control technology more important than ever. “If a technology can keep the fields clean and yield well, we’ll go with it.” Seed is treated with Avicta Complete Pak, or Aeris plus Trilex, or Acceleron, depending on the cotton brand.
After cotton comes up, Roundup and Dual is applied at 1- to 2-leaf. At 12-13 inches, the Chappells post-direct MSMA and Caparol, or Ignite and Caparol. “If we have to come through again with another post-direct, we will, but hopefully that will hold us until layby, where we use Valor and either Roundup, Ignite or MSMA,” Adam said.
The Chappells make variable-rate applications of fertilizer based on 2.5-acre grids, sampled every four years.
Urea is applied broadcast over the field at a rate of 40 units per acre, along with variable-rate phosphate. The rest of the urea, 70 units, goes out after matchhead square with variable-rate potash. Lime is also variably-applied. Adam noted, “If P or K is calling for zero, we always add 20 units, just as a maintenance dose.”
The Chappell’s consultant, Clay Despain, helps out on insect and plant growth regulator recommendations. “Insects were not a big problem for us in 2011. We sprayed for plant bugs two times,” Adam said. “We also had to spray for some worms on WideStrike cotton.
“We’ve applied a bunch of plant growth regulator, probably 40 ounces to 50 ounces on everything. Today’s varieties grow a lot, even with a tremendous boll load. We didn’t have a lot of cotton grow tall this year.”
The hot, summer meant frequent irrigation for the Chappells, who use both center pivots and furrow systems.
The Chappells also learned another important lesson about pigweed control – don’t get in too much of a hurry. “Last year, we didn’t run our irrigation plows in the middles, and our crop suffered because some of the water didn’t go all the way out,” Adam said. “This year, we decided we were going to plow the middles and put out our residual chemicals out behind it. But we had to order some parts on one of our sprayers, we lost a couple of days spraying and had a gap of about 800 acres. That’s all it took. We should have stopped our plowing.
“Just opening those middles up and breaking that barrier, and not having something down right behind it, we got a shower in there and pigweeds came up. We’re going to retool this winter and have spray rigs for every tractor, so we won’t have that gap.”
The Chappells will apply defoliant at 40 percent open bolls and with good development in the upper bolls. “We try to go a little earlier on our DP 0912B2RF because we have run into high micronaire with it,” Adam said.
The Chappells pick with three 6-row, John Deere 9996s and gin with Farmers Gin Co-op.
On a recent day in August, the Chappells sat around a kitchen in the farm office, which was still serving as DeWayne’s temporary home (Seth was still living in a trailer as well). Two racks of clothes on hangers were in the middle of the large room, which was cramped with supplies and items salvaged from flooded homes. A bed sat in one corner.
While the family still has a lot to work to do getting their lives back in order, the Chappells were optimistic about their cotton prospects. “The cotton crop seems to be loaded up,” Adam said. “We’re real happy with it.”
That makes the pain of rebuilding after the Great Flood of 2011 a little easier.