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Conservative tack best approach for 2008 crop production

John Perryman will resist the temptation to push yields this year, in spite of some of the best cotton and grain prices he's ever seen.

He has good reason. With high fertilizer prices, for instance, a conservative approach to crop fertility makes sense. “And weather here is too unpredictable,” says Perryman, who grows cotton, corn, wheat and grain sorghum near Lorena, Texas.

He'll set good yield goals, his typical management strategy.

He's optimistic about 2008. “Prospects seem better with $10 wheat and $5 corn. If we make a crop, we'll be okay. And right now, wheat looks good.”

Central Texas has received more rain than some parts of the Southwest, and with adequate fertility wheat in mid-March was growing well and had a healthy green color.

“With some of the first wheat harvested in the country we may be able to take advantage of early markets,” Perryman says. “But I probably forward contracted too much. I booked early (before prices topped double digits), but I locked in a profit.”

He says last year at the same time wheat prices were about $4 a bushel. And the crop did not turn out well. He harvested only 100 of the 400 acres he planted. “By the time conditions dried out enough to combine wheat most of it was flat on the ground,” he says. “We had to turn to harvesting corn and milo.”

He has his corn crop planted and most was up the week before Easter. “I'm not making any production changes this year. Most years if we get some extra rain we'll add some extra fertilizer and get extra yield.” This year, with fertilizer prices higher than he's ever seen, he's hesitant to spend the money “to make a top yield, but will produce for an average crop. I try to make 100 bushels of corn per acre, but am satisfied with 90,” he says. Last year he made 83. “I also made 4,300 pounds of milo per acre,” he says.

His bale-and-half cotton yield was good for dryland production.

Perryman says consistent rotation helps all his crops. Milo fits well with the other crops, especially with uncertain weather. “Corn needs rain in late May and into June. If we miss one rain yields go down. Milo will wait for moisture, but corn needs rain when it needs it.”

He says two years back his corn made only 30 bushels per acre. Milo made 70 to 80. “We got rain late that made the milo.”

Following last year's good cotton crop and with better prices, he'll add a few more acres this year. “We're hampered with root rot on some fields and we never plant cotton on those. We can leave them out of cotton for 30 years and root rot still will show up.”

He likes to follow cotton with grain sorghum. “Milo scavenges nitrogen from the previous crop very well,” he says. He likes to keep corn out of the same field for one or two years. “He doesn't have corn rootworm problems because of rotation,” says Mark Nemec, Perryman's crop consultant.

“I also use all Roundup Ready cotton, so putting milo in the mix gets something between Roundup Ready crops. That helps with weed resistance management.”

He has not run into resistance yet but is aware of the potential. “I was afraid I was seeing a resistant water hemp problem last year. But a second shot of Roundup, at the higher rate, got it.”

Earliness is another advantage to managing weeds, Nemec says. “We don't want to let weeds get big while we wait for others to emerge.”

Perryman uses all stacked gene cotton with DPL 143, along with some FiberMax and Croplan varieties.

“I planted a two-and-one skip last year,” he says. “I'll do that again this year. I have a friend who grew some almost six-foot high cotton. He had to rent a picker to harvest it.”

He says Roundup Ready Flex varieties “make skip-row cotton easier. We can treat weeds in the skip rows. I traded my hooded sprayer and was not sad to see it go.”

He says skip row also reduces seed costs and other inputs. “I don't apply any fertilizer before I plant and will add some at planting and then sidedress.”

He says a test plot last year was solid planted in the middle of skip-row cotton. “The solid cotton at harvest time was all white on top but made nothing underneath.” The skip-row was loaded all the way up.

He says last year's crop was relatively inexpensive to grow. I needed two applications of Pix and two shots of foliar fertilizer because of rain. We got a lot of rain in May and June.

“Typically, I don't use a plant growth regulator. I don't over-fertilize cotton.”

Nemec says one of his consistent recommendations is for his cotton farmers to set an early crop, put on fruit early and limit vegetative growth. In most cases, they don't apply a growth regulator and may hamper management if they do.

“Cotton plants don't have to be lush to make a good yield,” he says. “Over-fertilizing cotton can hurt more than applying too little. We get too much plant growth and then we have to add more Pix and then we have to add more foliar fertilizer to make fruit.”

Perryman says in some cases growth regulator applications can limit yield. “If we apply it and then conditions turn dry we can get hurt.”

Perryman also got by with light insect infestations last year. He and Nemec believe late planting may have helped.

Thrips and fleahoppers are usually the worst pests, Nemec says. “Some years we have serious fleahoppers and some years we don't. Fleahoppers survive in pastures and if those pastures get dry, fleahoppers move into cotton.”

“Last year, we never had a big egg lay,” Perryman says.

“Our crop was a little later than usual,” Nemec says. “We missed the egg lay and didn't have to spray.”

Perryman says he planted cotton as late as early May in 2007.

He tried reduced tillage for several years, but has reverted back to more traditional cropping practices. He says weed problems convinced him to switch. “When my son started farming with me, we went back to more conventional tillage,” he says. He's found tillage allows him to use a less expensive fertilizer source, anhydrous ammonia. “But we use more diesel.”

Perryman and other farmers in Central Texas have benefited from ample rainfall this winter and early spring. Nemec says most of the wheat in the area looks very good. “Most of the corn is in and coming up.”

He anticipates a few more acres in cotton this year as farmers take advantage of recent price increases.

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