Louisiana farmer Hank Rabb was getting ready to switch on the irrigation pumps when a reporter and a nice, steady rain arrived on his farm at the same time one morning. “I’m going to have to put you on the payroll,” Rabb said later, as puddles of water began to appear between rows of corn, cotton and soybeans.

In mid-June, Rabb’s crops were early, looking good – some soybeans had already lapped the middles – and have been relatively free of problems so far. With a few more timely rains, 2012 could be good year for Rabb and other Louisiana producers.

Rabb farms about 2,400 acres of cotton, 800 acres of soybeans, 1,500 acres of corn and a little over 300 acres of wheat around Waterproof, La. Rabb was recently named Louisiana Farmer of the Year, a program started in 1998 as a partnership with the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Network, Louisiana Farm Bureau and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry as a way to honor Louisiana’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.

He is a fourth generation farmer who understands the benefits of rotation, good fertility and timely management. While he produces a multitude of grain or oilseed crops for their good yields and better prices, cotton still has his heart. “I have a soft spot for it.”

Rabb has a hands-on approach to farming; he wants to know what’s going on in his fields at all times. The course of a season could turn quickly on a crop condition or disease. For Rabb, intense management is standard operating procedure.

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To prepare his ground for cotton after corn, Rabb cuts corn stalks, subsoils with Unverferth inline subsoiler and beds up as soon after harvest as possible. The next spring, he’ll burndown, using a combination of herbicides that keep resistance management in mind, including Valor and Direx. “You want different layers of herbicides,” he says. “Use something different every time you go out there to get different modes of action.”

Rabb will start planting cotton from April 5 to April 10 with two John Deere XP planters and may use Ammo behind the planter for cutworms. At planting, “another herbicide may go down after the planter. “The idea is to keep it clean all the time.”

Cotton varieties include ST 5288 B2F and DP 1137 B2RF. He also plants some LibertyLink varieties, “just to try something different. I’m interested in seeing how the LibertyLink varieties are going to yield. The technology has to prove itself, and I hope it does. It’s going to give you another option in weed control.”

The Deltapine variety was planted on Rabb’s heavier ground, “and I’ve had a lot of luck with it.”

This season, all Rabb’s cotton received a treatment for thrips early on, “but it’s been a pretty light year so far. We just have scattered plant bug pressure right now (mid-June). We’ve been around one time on plant bugs, and now we’re just spot spraying for them.”

Controlling insects

Rabb doesn’t waste time after receiving a recommendation from his consultants, Steve Crawford for weeds and Roger Carter for insects, usually scheduling an application within minutes, or “as long as it takes to bring it from the retailer to me. We don’t play with that. We’re right on it. When a recommendation is dropped off, we’re on the phone. I like to get it done. I don’t want to wait a day.”

 While pigweeds haven’t ransacked the area to the extent that they have farther north in the Delta, Rabb is not taking any chances. When one does pop up, he takes a no-prisoners approach, not only hoeing the offenders from the field, from burning them on the turnrow. “I don’t want the seed in the field. I want them all out here in the turnrow.”

Rabb is about 35 percent to 38 percent irrigated and hopes to get to 50 percent by this fall.

Rabb harvests with two John Deere 9996s. He is hoping to trade them for a John Deere round bale picker. “It should help reduce labor and equipment requirements on the cotton operation, and should make the operation a little safer for labor.”

When he goes with the round bale picker, Rabb will reduce his cotton acres slightly so he doesn’t put too much stress on one picker. Soybeans will likely be the beneficiary of that shift.

After cotton harvest, he’ll cut cotton stalks, and subsoil every acre at a 45 degree angle, followed by a hipper. Then he’ll be ready for the next crop.

While cotton is definitely his favorite crop, it’s hard for Rabb to ignore the economic and yield benefits from keeping corn, soybeans and wheat a big part of his rotation.

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Rabb says wheat and double-cropped soybeans are proving very lucrative, with good prices and good yields. “It’s kind of hard to pass it up. Wheat’s already at $7.20 a bushel for next year.”

Rabb uses an advisor to help him construct a marketing plan based on forward contracting and options. This year, he locked a large percentage of his cotton in the high 80s, a level that at first was disappointing considering how high prices had been. But with the price weakness this summer “we wish we had booked more at that level.”

Rabb feels that cotton prices need to be much higher than 70 cents a pound to be profitable for producers, especially with the potential for a new farm bill “that’s probably not going to be too friendly to farmers.”

Rabb credits an intensely managed fertility program for consistently producing good cotton yields. “I really stay with it, take soil samples to make sure the cotton gets what it needs.”

Rabb had five full-time hands that will always remain as the nucleus of his workforce. “A lot of them have been with me for over 20 years,” said Rabb who gins with Producers Gin in Waterproof.

Despite higher prices for corn, wheat and soybeans, Rabb doesn’t like the idea of cutting his cotton acres too much. “I know a lot of farmers really jumped hard to grain. I’ve been able to keep a consistent yield with cotton, and with the prices we’ve had the last couple of years, I’ve done very well with it. I’ve got some good ground where I can still make some pretty good cotton.”