With over 5,700 acres of cotton to farm and manage, every season is a race against time and weather for Jonesboro, Ark., cotton producer Marty White. But transgenic cotton varieties and no-till do make it easier.
"We will no-till every acre that we possibly can. Some fields have redvines, and we may have to work some of the ground. If we rut ground during harvest, we’ll rebuild the beds and lightly knock down the bed in the spring and plant."
But anything more than that is counterproductive. "As many acres as we’re having to go over now, we’re having to do this as fast and with as few trips as we can. I have a work crew that has been with me a long time, and they are very conscientious, but that kind of labor is hard to find and diesel costs are high.
"I’m probably 30 to 40 percent through harvest today," White said, on a morning in early October. "That’s much earlier than I had been in years past with conventional tillage."
Making the right technology choice is also important, something that White is constantly evaluating.
For example, last year, most of one 320-acre field was planted in Paymaster PM 1218 BR with a few test rows of Stoneville’s ST 4793 R. The whole field picked right at 3 bales an acre and the ST 4793 R picked as good as the PM 1218 BR.
The performance of ST 4793 R opened White’s eyes. In 2001, he planted the variety on half the field, along with PM 1218 BR. "In the past, we’ve looked at a lot of the Roundup Ready-only varieties, and according to the university trials, they were way down in the pack. If the ST 4793 R will hold up as well as the PM 1218 BR, it could be a winner."
White explained that sometimes growers are forced to go to higher-yielding stacked varieties to get the combination of yield and the Roundup Ready trait, even though there may be some doubt about the usefulness of the Bt trait.
That may compromise a grower’s ability to experiment with the percentage of Bt cotton he plants on his farm, especially in the northern reaches of the Cotton Belt, where worm pressure isn’t as intense. "I’d like to have half my acreage in Bollgard and half in a non-Bollgard," White said.
Even though White would like to reduce his acreage of Bt cotton, he sure doesn’t want to understate its impact.
"The Bollgard is insurance. Times are tough. You don’t want to go $20 or $30 over budget on worm control. At least you know how much you’re going to spend with Bollgard."
For White, the percentage of Bt to non-Bt cotton is also a function of the cost of conventional insecticides and White’s spraying capability. "Most of the pyrethroids are down now (in price) to where you can spray several times and still not exceed the cost of the Bollgard."
And White’s equipment/labor force can get over about half his total acreage fairly easily. "When Eddie Cates (his consultant) says to spray, it’s sprayed within two days."
White says the Roundup Ready characteristic has several benefits for farmers. "We’re all having to get bigger and bigger, and the Roundup system just makes it easier. I have two Hi-Cycles, one’s a 90-foot boom, the other a 60-foot, and we can do a thousand-plus acres a day to clean it up."
Expansion also means picking up new land. "A lot of times, we don’t know the weed history on a field, but we know we can keep it clean with the Roundup system."
On the field planted to ST 4793 R and Paymaster 1218 BR, White’s fertility program consisted of mixed preplant fertilizer (0-20-70) at 100 pounds per acre and sidedressed N-32 percent solution at 100 units per acre.
White burned down on April 5 with Roundup and 2,4-D at burndown rates. At planting on May 3, White went with one-half pound of Zorial behind the presswheel and Address for plant bugs at a pound per acre. He planted 12 pounds of seed per acre.
He went with 20 ounces of Roundup over-the-top on June 15, and on some fields he went with a second over-the-top application. Problem weeds in the field — which used to be in rice — are pigweed, grasses, nutsedge and redvines. "Until the Roundup system, the nutsedge had been my hardest problem to control."
White applied Roundup and Direx under the hood 12 days later on June 27, and again on July 3 and July 20. "On some other fields, we only made one trip with the hood."
The producer made two, 8-ounce applications of Mepex on July 21 and Aug. 9.
This year, White sprayed the ST 4793R portion of the field, which also served as his refuge cotton, two times — once with Fury at a gallon to 36 acres on July 21 and again with Baythroid at a gallon to 60 acres on Aug. 9, for bollworms. He sprayed the PM 1218 BR part of the field once for bollworms.
"Our biggest insect problems are boll weevils close to Crowley’s Ridge. We started weevil eradication program this year, and that’s going to be a big benefit to us for a long time."
White went with a two-shot defoliation program — one-half pint of Def and one-third of a pint of Super Boll on Sept. 21, followed by another half-pint of Def and a quart of Super Boll on Sept. 29. "That finished it off."
White’s only concern is that early reports from the gin indicate high micronaire. "It seems like everything I harvested has been high mike, dryland and irrigated. The PM 1218 BR had around a 5.2 to 5.3 and the ST 4793R is 5.0 to 5.1. It’s still a high mike for the Stoneville variety."
Despite the problems with micronaire, PM 1218 BR is still the measure of cotton yield potential in the early 2000s, according to White. "You have to compare all varieties to it. In all the Arkansas trials, it’s been either number one or number two. It’s been a consistent yielder, and that’s what I want more than anything. That way I know what I’m going to make and can pay everybody back."
White also employed another technology, BXN cotton, to take care of a tough cocklebur field that had been planted in a Roundup Ready variety last year.
"The field had a lot of swags in it," White noted. "In 2000, it rained after we planted it, and in the holes we didn’t get a good stand. The Roundup worked great. It killed everything every time we sprayed it. But every time we got a shower or every time I ran the pivot, we got another flush of cockleburs and smartweeds. In my thin areas, they came up and got above my cotton. If I had had the BXN/Buctril system on it last year, I could have cleaned it up a lot faster."
White put BXN 47 on three new fields in 2001. "It looks to me like it may be my best cotton."