No-till cotton producer Danny Qualls sees some changes in weed control coming. No, he's not pulling the disk out of mothballs just yet, but a few new products are definitely coming into his weed control program.
Qualls is referring to chemicals he'll need to control resistant horseweed, which has infested northeast Arkansas with a vengeance this spring.
“I read about resistant horseweed three years ago and thought to myself, ‘wouldn't it be terrible to wake up and have a weed in your field that you couldn't kill?’ Well, we have it, right here. It is a major problem right now. It's not coming. It's here.”
The Lake City, Ark., producer, who farms 1,350 acres of cotton and 150 acres of soybeans, said, “If we are going to continue to no-till, we're going to have to come up with a new weed control program. I don't think we can go back to tilling the soil and working it because of lack of labor. If I decided to go back to tilling, I would have to add two more laborers.”
And besides, “the horseweed is going to go to seed, so tillage may not necessarily clean the ground up. I've heard of some people who tilled who still had scattered horseweed.”
Qualls has several options for control of horseweed in his production program. After harvest, he knocks down any rutted ground with a field cultivator and re-beds those spots. He'll sow a cover crop on sandier soil and put out phosphate and potash in the spring with 10 pounds of sulfur and a pound of boron.
In February or March, he'll decide on a burndown option. “We'll come in with 2,4-D and maybe Valor, 45 days prior to planting, or Clarity at 21 days. The burndown takes care of resistant horseweed, chickweed, henbit and primrose. We'll spike it with a little Roundup.”
Qualls will watch fields and if things start greening up again, he'll clean up with Roundup or Gramoxone. “We were impressed with the Gramoxone. We put out a quart of it and we don't have any horseweed on those fields.”
He'll wait for a decent seven-day forecast to plant, running two, 12-row planters with 3-bushel hoppers in early May. Varieties are ST 5242 BR, ST 5599 BR for nematodes, and DP 444 BG/RR, which “yielded 1,500 pounds or better on every farm. I also planted ST 4575 BR because it's the only cotton Stoneville plans to offer in the Flex varieties, so I had to try it one year to see what kind of yields we could expect.”
ST 5599 BR demands a little more management during some seasons, noted Qualls. “If it gets a little moisture, you have to farm it like you're mad at it all the time. We're mad at it now. We have some with close to 40 ounces of Pix on already (late July).
“We're also picking up some weaker dirt with that variety.”
Qualls went with a seed treatment of Cruiser/Dynasty, which helped speed up planting. “We fill up in the morning, plant until we run out in the afternoon, then we don't have to fill up again. I didn't have any seedling disease problems this year, but nobody else did either because of the dry weather.”
Qualls is also experimenting with lower seeding rates for cotton. “Seed has gotten so expensive, so we're trying to trim down to where we're safe. We've gone from 44,000 plants per acre to 40,000 plants to 36,000 plants. We want to know how far we can go and still establish a stand of cotton.”
Qualls' stand of cotton “is pretty thick” at 36,000 plants. When asked if he'll take it down further next year, Qualls was hesitant. “There is no substitute for a stand of cotton, and there is nothing more miserable than a skippy stand. I want consistency.”
Immediately after emergence, Qualls will get out his first shot of Roundup over-the-top. As quickly as possible after 10 days or two nodes of development “we come back with Roundup over-the-top again. Because of morningglories, we have to spray cotton twice unless there is a residual down.”
This year, horseweed continued to emerge on several fields during the growing season. “We tried some Envoke. I can still see the horseweed under the cotton, but it's the same height it was the day I sprayed it. Sequence (Touchdown and Dual) also shows a lot of promise. That should be figured into our program, on the second over-the-top application.
“This year, it didn't matter what we had underneath the cotton, we got thrips. So it's a rule of thumb to add Bidrin or Orthene with the over-the-top Roundup application.”
That is usually followed by additional Roundup applications under the hood. Ideally, insecticide and Pix applications are timed with the Roundup spray, applied through a tip over the row. His consultants, Eddie and Danny Dunigan, keep him abreast of insect pressure, which has been fairly light this year.
All of Qualls' cotton ground that isn't irrigated with one center pivot, is irrigated down the furrow. Everything is precision-leveled. He also foliar feeds the crop, “which seems to put a little weight to the boll.”
For defoliation, he usually goes with a light application Def/Prep to knock out the top, followed by a heavier dose in a week to 10 days for the bottom crop. “We keep watering until Aug. 20 to Sept. 1 so we are staying green longer. If you want quality at the gin, you'd better think about a two-step defoliation program.”
Qualls sticks with a one-time pick, noting the cost of six-row cotton pickers and what it takes to maintain and repair them. “I may be giving up a few pounds, but I'm making money when I shred those stalks behind the picker. Our rule of thumb is that if we leave it, we'll pick it again.”
Qualls is part owner of Black Oak Gin Co. and keeps up with gin turnout of cotton processed there. It's been spectacular as of late. “Used to, if you got a 33 percent turnout on cotton, that was great. But we've had some 40 to 42 percent turnout. That will make you a lot of cotton.”
When asked what he will do differently next year for control of resistant horseweed, Qualls said, “I'd like to put out a quart of 2,4-D in February with 2 ounces of Valor and a pint of Roundup. I'll probably put it in my budget that three days after the planter leaves the field, I'll apply Ignite on every acre with 15 gallons of water, maybe spiked with 32 percent nitrogen to heat it up.”
While that's an expensive program, “you have to have a plan. With horseweed, I can already see that it's a serious problem. If we don't apply Valor, it rains and we don't get the Ignite out, we're in big trouble.
“I know we're talking about additional costs, but we're at a point that if we're going to continue to no-till, we don't worry about the costs. We have to just fire away, and clean it up.”