Clarksdale, Miss., farmers Tripp Hayes and his father, Stan, are preparing for a late and expensive cotton crop this season. The planting season was, in a word, “terrible,” Tripp says. “We had well over 2,000 acres of cotton planted and up when thunderstorms came through. Then behind that, we had wind and cold weather for four or five days. It's green now, but it still looks bad in places.”
They know full well what a slow start means. “You're going to have to protect it longer,” Tripp says. “The further you get into cooler temperature, the more expensive defoliation is going to be. Heaven forbid we head into harvest with bad weather.”
“We have four different ages of cotton,” Stan added, “and there was some suffering that went along with some of that. We replanted a 60-acre field, and then did some spot replanting. We have some that's a little thin, but my experience has been that some of that old cotton with thinner stands can make more than late cotton.”
There's not a lot that the Tripp and Stan can do to regain the lost time. “I'm going to try to make timely Pix applications,” Tripp said. “We might look at hitting it a little harder with Pix, putting out 6 ounces on a band instead of 4 ounces. But we have a long way to go before we start worrying about the Pix. It needs to start growing before we worry about stopping it.”
Tripp and Stan produce about 3,000 acres of cotton. About one-third is irrigated. Soil type runs from sandy loam to buckshot.
After cutting stalks in the fall, they run a Paratill without busters “across as much cotton land as we can,” Tripp said. “We did 80 percent of our acres that way, and I'm going to try to do all of it that way next year.”
The action of the Paratill “also gives somewhat of a raised bed. In late February, we put out glyphosate at the lowest rate we can. I started out with a pint of Touchdown this year and wound up having to go to three pints because of wet weather. We also put out Prowl with it as insurance.”
Closer to planting, Hayes runs hippers while putting out 90 units to 100 units of anhydrous ammonia. Then, he drags off and plants. During the season, he flies on 100 pounds of ammonium sulfate.
The bulk of cotton acreage is planted in Stoneville's ST 4892 BR, raised for seed production. Hayes planted two conventional varieties for seed this year, ST 457 and GC 271. “We hope both are going to have high fiber qualities and yield well, too.”
In-furrow treatments include Quadris under all cotton. Temik is added “where we think we may have a problem with nematodes.”
On conventional cotton, Hayes puts out Dual, Zorial and Caparol behind the planter. During the season “we cultivate and post-direct spray as needed.”
On Roundup Ready/Bollgard cotton, “we try not to cultivate. We are having to cultivate some now because the cotton has taken such a beating from the sand. But we spray at least once overhead with Roundup, which we have to do to rogue it for seed production.”
Hayes then goes underneath Roundup Ready cotton with a broadcast application of Touchdown using a converted cultivator. “We use very-low-pressure tips designed to reduce drift. Plus, if our cotton is big enough, there's not going to be a lot of wind blowing down under there.”
At layby “we use either Karmex or Caparol. For the most part, if the field is clean and the canopy is closed, Karmex is going to get it. We use Caparol a lot because it doesn't stay in the soil.”
At defoliation “we usually end up hitting everything twice. If conditions are just right, we can get by with just one application. Our standard program is Dropp and Prep. As temperatures and conditions deteriorate, we might raise the rates and add some Def.”
Like many other Mid-South cotton producers, Hayes had some quality problems in 2001, “especially micronaire.”
The most consistent insect pests for Hayes the last several years have been plant bugs. “But the most significant financial problems are budworms in conventional cotton. In 1999, we had a lot of conventional cotton under irrigation and budworms hammered us. I decided I would not put conventional cotton under irrigation.
“At the same time, I want to rotate the conventional cotton with the Roundup Ready cotton as much as possible to delay (glyphosate) resistance.”
Tripp and Stan have concentrated on adding irrigation capacity after recent dry seasons. “But we're afraid of land-forming and cutting topsoil on good cotton land. My ultimate fear is to turn 900- to 1,000-pound non-irrigated land into 800-pound irrigated land $500 an acre later.”
Most of Hayes' irrigation is with center pivots. “The difference between the pivots and the non-irrigated is not that great, but they are very old pivots and don't put out a lot of water.”
Tripp and Stan have moved to a reduced-till approach on their cotton. “If I had the nerve, I would go 100 percent no-till over the entire farm with a planter, a picker and a boom,” said Tripp. “Reducing equipment expense is what is so attractive about no-till. Today's equipment is comparable to spaceships at this point.”
“Since reducing tillage, we don't have as many tractors as we used to have,” Tripp said. “When I started farming 10 years ago, we had 12 tractors, and 10 were in the field at all times. We run four most of the time now.”
The next step for increasing efficiency may be to go with wider equipment, according to Tripp. “We're still 8-row. But within the next year or two, we hope to go to 12-row equipment, and we'll reduce equipment costs quite a bit more.”
But first, Tripp and Stan have to get through what is shaping up to be a very difficult season.
The elder Hayes recalls that in 1954 “everybody had a beautiful stand of cotton. We had a killing frost and practically everybody planted over. We had a neighbor who didn't plant over. It was a little ragged, but finally one day it took off. He was through picking before we started and made a very good crop.”
“What matters is how you finish,” Tripp adds. “That's what I keep telling myself.”