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2007 cotton crop overcomes slow start

Without new technology Tim Kitten and his farming partners could have been hurt with a delayed crop, storm damage and a season conducive to weed and grass problems.

But, as with many other West Texas farmers, plant, spray and harvest has become a common equation for making top cotton yields.

Roundup Ready Flex cotton varieties, growers say, simplify production and streamline weed control.

“I can't see how we would do it any other way now,” says Kitten, who farms with his father Roger and brothers Nicholas, Craig and Jeffrey in Lynn, Crosby and Lubbock Counties (east of Lubbock).

“We're using only Roundup for weed control,” Kitten said as he prepared to harvest one of his best crops ever late last fall.

“We've been using Roundup Ready varieties since early on,” he said. “Flex is even better. We don't use hooded sprayers any more.”

He said they do put a lot of hours, as many as 500, on two over-the-top spray rigs in season.

He and his brothers grow 6,500 acres of cotton — 4500 irrigated and 1700 in drip.

“We're 100 percent B2F cotton,” he said. “Without that technology this year we would have been hurt.”

West Texas had timely rain throughout the cotton growing season, giving cotton a steady source of moisture, but also providing weeds ample opportunity to grow. “Without Flex varieties, careless weed would have eaten our lunch,” Kitten said. “We sprayed Roundup every month.”

They use Bollgard technology, too. “With the Roundup Rewards program, the technology even makes sense on dryland acreage. The cost is justified.”

They treat some early-season pests. “We had to spray a little earlier than usual. We banded Trimex on about half our acreage for fleahopper control with early Pix applications.”

Boll weevils no longer threaten their crop. “We haven't seen a boll weevil in years,” he said. “I know we would not be making the yields we're making without the Boll Weevil Eradication Program.”

Kitten said growers have a lot of options with the technology traits they want. They're using FiberMax 1880 and 9063, Stoneville 4554, and AM 1532 B2RF.

Kitten said the 2007 crop was “the best we ever made.”

It didn't start out particularly promising. “It was cool early on and we got off to a terrible start north of Lubbock, but it recovered.”

They had to replant about 1,000 acres near Idalou that were damaged by spring storms. “We had 50 mile per hour winds five nights in a row,” he said.

“But we got timely rains, about an inch a week for three weeks when we really needed it. We knew the crop would be good as we neared harvest but we were averaging 150 pounds to 200 pounds better than we expected, based on boll counts.”

Kitten said a lot of their irrigated acreage was making 3.5 to 3.75 bales per acre. “We were picking no less than 2.25 bales per acre on dryland.”

He said the drip-irrigated cotton was “real good, about 3.5 bales per acre. And it got off to a bad start.”

Grades were also good. Kitten said average loan value on two-thirds of the crop averaged $.5760. Average staple was 36.1; average micronaire was 40.2. “And 98 percent of the bales are 11 or 21 color.”

Those timely summer rains also saved the Kittens money. “We watered about half as much as we did in 2006,” he said. “A lot of dryland acres just burned up in 2006.”

They used more Pix than usual, as much as 60 ounce per acre on some varieties. “We don't want cotton to get more than thigh high, so we usually start about pinhead square.”

Later-planted cotton needed less growth regulator. “It didn't make as much vegetative growth,” Kitten said.

He said composted cattle manure applied to cotton ground, from one to two-and-a-half tons per acre, makes a big difference in yield potential as well. Commercial fertilizer depends on the field.

“A lot of dryland acres produced zero last year (2006) so we applied no commercial fertilizer for 2007.” They also used no commercial fertilizer on fields with light irrigation capacity.

“We put some 32 through the drip system,” Kitten said.

Like most West Texas cotton farmers, the Kittens hoped all summer for an extended growing season to make up for a late start on much of their acreage. “We had 80 and 90 degree temperatures well into October,” he said. “Normally, we cut irrigation off much earlier. We had a good fall, no rains during harvest.”

He said the 2007 harvest season was a reversal of 2006. “Last year we had about 7 inches of rain in early September.”

That much water hampered harvest but helped the 2007 crop. “It went right into the soil profile,” Kitten said. “We got another 8 to 10 inches of rain before we planted. Our soil profile was about as wet as it could be at planting and we had good rains all season. It was cool early, but that didn't hurt us. Cotton caught up.”

He said even late planting, as late as June 13, did well — two bales per acre and $.5865 in the loan.

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