Even Justin Gathright himself was a little surprised when he checked his records for when the farm started watering cotton this year. “June 4. Yeah, that’s pretty early, isn’t it? But there just wasn’t any moisture out there.”

Indeed Justin and his father, Dennis, who farm near Monette, Ark., watered early and often this growing season and still had not let up by late July. “Seems like the only time we’ve stopped this season was when we had to spray for bugs,” Justin said.

In the midst of a moderate to extreme drought in the region, the Gathrights are still preserving a nice-looking cotton crop, which at the time of this writing was loaded with bolls and quickly headed toward cutout.

The Gathrights farm about 3,400 acres of cotton and are 100 percent irrigated, using both center pivots and furrow irrigation. They farm between the St. Francis River and Mississippi County in Arkansas, and groundwater supplies are normally completely recharged each year.

After cutting cotton stalks in the fall, the Gathrights will subsoil as much acreage as the weather will allow, level some land, pull up beds and sow wheat in the middles. They have air seeders on a hipper and on a cultivator with buster sweeps that puts up beds.

They’ll make burndown applications using combinations of Clarity or 2,4-D in February, depending on the level of resistant horseweed. The cover crop on heavy ground is killed with Roundup.

Preplant fertilizer goes out sometime in March or early April, with the blend depending on the results of soil sampling. At planting, which started April 25 this year, they apply 5 pounds of Temik, for aphids, Stealth, a generic form of Prowl and a pyrethroid for cutworms.

“As for the Stealth, we like to put a residual in there because it helps us on pigweed germination,” Dennis said. We also want to slow any resistance to the Roundup Ready technology. Going with just Roundup, you can see what it’s got us.”

Half of the Gathright’s cotton is planted to ST 4554 B2RF, with the remainder in DP 117 B2RF, DP 445 BG/RR, ST 5599 BG/RR and in refuge variety, ST 4664 RF. “The new varieties today are awesome,” Justin added. “The quality is so much better today than it was 10 years ago. I put it all on the technology and genetics of the cotton. We do the same thing today we did back then to protect it.”

They planted ST 5599 BG/RR on dry, sandier ground and where there have a nematode problem. “It’s done really well for us,” Justin said of the variety. “We’re going to hate to leave it.”

That’s because the Gathrights will likely go all Roundup Ready Flex next year. “It’s the ease of the crop,” Justin said, when asked about the shift. “It’s more convenient and you can do it in less time, and with less labor.”

And with non-Flex cotton, the Gathrights had to take extra time to be careful about damaging rollout pipe when they run their hoods. “But our drivers have done a great job,” Dennis said. “The damage has been minimal.

When cotton emerges, the Gathrights will spray with Roundup and a product for thrips. They’ll aim for two over-the-top Roundup applications on non-Flex cotton, before cranking up the row hoods. After that, Roundup is applied under the hoods and insecticide or plant growth regulator is sprayed with a nozzle over the row.

Flex cotton will usually have four or five applications of Roundup, piggybacked with whatever their scouts, Eddie and Danny Dunigan, call for. By the third shot with the hoods or High Boys, they’ll start applying Pix, boron or an insecticide if needed.

Plant bugs have been their primary pests the last couple of years, according to the Gathrights, and this season they have sprayed the pests at least three or four times with Trimax.

“With all the grain coming in, it’s presented a little different insect problem,” Dennis said. “When corn starts drying down, we’re going to start getting flushes of plant bugs. I don’t know that we’re actually prepared or not. We are dreading it. But we did try to put Bollgard II/Flex varieties on our fields that adjoin corn fields to prevent a worm problem.”

Prior to the season, the Gathrights and neighboring farmers usually discuss where to place crops and technologies to minimize any adverse situations such as drift, according to Dennis. “This year, we tried to join up and have our Flex fields together. Everybody has done more talking this year than ever have.”

In July, the Gathrights make a couple of foliar applications of Trisert-K, with ground rigs. “It has potash and some micronutrients in it and is a slow release nitrogen product. It lessens the risk of getting some leaf burn,” Justin said.

But the big input this season has been water — lots of it. “We try to get on a schedule where we water from mid-week to the end of the week,” Justin said. “We get our bug report on Monday, get our spraying done in two or three days, then start watering again.” This also saves the weekend for a little family time, which can get short during the season.

At defoliation, the Gathrights will apply a small rate of Def and Prep, followed five days later by a full dose of Def and Prep. Depending on the weather, they may use some Dropp for regrowth.

The Gathrights and their six, full-time hands harvest with three John Deere, six-row pickers. They usually start by Sept. 20, but this year, it looks like harvest could start a week earlier, due to the earliness of the crop and its boll load. “We have to finish this crop out, Justin said, “but I believe it’s there.”

No doubt, it’s been an expensive one. “Every year, I say I can’t put more than X-amount in a crop,” Dennis said. “And every year, I bust it. And the cotton price hasn’t changed. It’s fluctuated very little.

But the Gathrights remain optimistic about their future. “I feel fortunate that our landlords are willing to give us the opportunity to take what they’ve worked for to acquire land, build a farm so we can make a living,” Dennis said. “And I’m tickled to death that I have a son who wanted to get into farming. You can count on one hand the number of farmers around here under 30. There are not very many. I’m sure a lot want to. But you have to find somebody to help you.”

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com