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After four decades: North Texas cotton farmer still learning

Roger Allen, even after more than 40 years, is still learning about cotton.

“I made my first cotton crop in 1965,” says the Red River County, Texas, farmer, “but I learn something every year.”

He's picked up a load of technology in four decades and currently credits transgenic varieties, seed treatments and the Boll Weevil Eradication Program for improving production potential and efficiency.

Efficiency makes a big difference, especially for dryland farmers. “We don't irrigate any of our 1,180 acres of cotton,” Allen says. “We don't have capability to irrigate.”

Most years he averages around 700 pounds per acre but expects a little less this year. “We may make 500,” he says. “We got off to a pretty good start but it turned dry. We've had some rain, enough to keep the crop going.”

He says cotton plants are loaded fairly well. “Most plants have 3 to 4 bolls per limb.”

Allen used a plant growth regulator across his acreage. “I might not have needed it,” he says, “but when I had to decide, I didn't know whether it would rain or not.”

He applied 4 ounces per acre and added another 5 ounces on part of the crop after a rain.

“I think the growth regulator helped,” he says. “The crop is more uniform and will be easier to strip.”

He's seeing less boll weevil damage to this crop. “Eradication helps,” he says. “I'm not finding knotty bolls from weevil stings this year.”

Eradication efforts in this Northeast Texas area, classified as the Northern Blacklands Eradication Zone, began last fall with diapause treatments. “We didn't see as many weevils in traps this spring,” Allen says. “Dry weather this summer also should help take them out. (The Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation Inc.) sprayed every field until mid-July,” he says.

“When the drought finally breaks, cotton farmers in this area will make a top crop they haven't seen before because of weevil eradication,” says Jim Swart, Texas Extension integrated pest management specialist for the area.

Allen says other pests posed few problems this year. “I had a few more spider mites than usual. They like the hot weather. We had fewer aphids but we sprayed for them once and a few fields for spider mites. We also treated fleahoppers early.”

Cruiser, a seed treatment insecticide, helps with early insect pests and Bollgard cotton limits damage from worm pests.

“This is the third year for Cruiser,” Allen says. “It is convenient to use. I don't like handling (pesticides) for (traditional) treatments.”

He expects to see more cotton in the area as the eradication program reduces weevil numbers. “Several farmers are trying to rent good cotton land,” he says.

Allen plants all Bollgard cotton and 270 acres of Roundup Flex cotton. “The rest is Roundup Ready.”

He plants Deltapine 424 and 445 and Stoneville 4554.

He likes the flexibility he gets with Roundup Ready technology. “I don't use a pre-plant herbicide but I think I may have to start. I'm considering Prowl H20 next year. Flex helps and gives us better options for late-season weed control.”

Allen uses conventional tillage techniques but cultivates sparingly. “I did not cultivate this year,” he says, “and plowed only once last year. That saves moisture.”

In late July he was putting his defoliation plan together, anticipating a mid to late August application date.

“I'll apply Dropp first then Cyclone or Gramoxone. It's a fairly cheap program and takes care of regrowth. With just two applications, it's an efficient system,” he says.

He sometimes adds Prep to mature a top crop. “That might speed it up a day or two,” he says.

Allen is considering changing his fertilization program next year. “I want to put at-planting fertilizer under the row instead of beside it,” he says. “That gives the plants a little more nitrogen early.”

He usually plows in 100 pounds of a 4-11-11 analysis and side dresses with 450 pounds of 32 when the crop is about four weeks old.

“I get about 80 units of nitrogen on the cotton,” he says.

He's also counting residual nitrogen from a previous corn crop. “I have some cotton following corn that I cut for silage and we still have nitrogen left after that.”

Allen says dryland cotton farmers have to conserve all the moisture they can to give them the best chance of making decent yields. That's why he doesn't cultivate any more than necessary.

“I also pull up a small bed in the fall that helps hold moisture and gives me a little better start after planting.”

Cotton costs more to grow than it did back in 1965. Energy costs have escalated significantly. Seed costs are much higher but help improve efficiency with pest resistance and herbicide tolerance.

And Allen says if he gets a timely rain or two throughout the growing season he can still make a decent cotton crop. And he continues to learn how to do it a little better.

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