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Consistent yield in variable soils

In 2004, summer rains were timely, temperatures pleasant and plant bug pressure light for cotton producers Morris “Brother” Murphey and his brother, Alex, who farm near Tippo, Miss. They averaged over 2.5 bales per acre in 2004, one of their best years ever.

This season, they have their fingers crossed for another good growing season, but Mother Nature is showing her usual spring fussiness.

On a cool morning in late May, pickup trucks rolling by the Murphey shop kicked up thick clouds of dust. The brothers weren't worried about the lack of rainfall. “But it would be nice to see a shower,” said Brother, nicknamed by his siblings, all older.

The Murpheys farm about 360 acres of cotton and 1,100 acres of soybeans on soil types from sandy loam to gumbo. “One end of some fields will be sandy loam, and the other end will be gumbo,” Brother said.

The Murpheys took over the farming operation from their father after he retired 11 years ago. Most of the land is owned, but some is rented from their father. They have one full-time hand.

Weather variability and lack of irrigation are annual challenges for the Murpheys' cotton production program. But they try to compensate by minimizing plant stress and keeping close eyes on plant growth.

After harvest they cut stalks and do any fall tillage necessary for ruts. “We no-till most of it. We've used the same beds for seven or eight years now. In the spring, we apply a burndown, spread urea and potash, re-hip, knock it down and plant,” Brother said.

Last year's cotton varieties were DP 555 BG/RR, ST 4892 BR and BCG 28R. The latter, from Beltwide Cotton Genetics, was a refuge cotton “that yielded as well as everything else. We're using it again this year, along with ST 4892 BR and ST 5599 BR,” Brother said.

Planting with an eight-row John Deere 7100 usually begins around April 15, weather permitting. All of their cotton acreage receives an in-furrow treatment of (corn-cob) Temik. “The corn cob granules don't seem to cake-up as badly,” Brother said.

This year, cool weather had slowed cotton by late May, but the warm afternoons “have made it perk up,” Alex said.

They usually make two broadcast applications of Roundup on their Roundup Ready cotton. “We usually spray up under the cotton once more with Roundup, using flood tips, and then we apply Direx and Roundup at layby,” Alex said. “That program has worked well for us.”

The Murpheys point out they've had trouble controlling horseweed with glyphosate this season, and think they may be dealing with a resistant biotype. “We're going to try to chop them out before they get too bad. A dead blow from a piece of cold steel will get them.”

They planned another application of nitrogen (N-Sol) in June, using a knife rig.

Major insect pests are thrips and plant bugs, but bug pressure has been light the last couple of years. They use Bidrin and Orthene for thrips, and Centric for plant bugs.

“We used to have a bad boll weevil program,” Brother added. “The eradication program just about has made a believer out of me. I didn't think it was going to work at first, to be honest. We had been fighting them forever.”

The Murpheys start applying Pix or Mepex to control plant growth around squaring. “We had to stay on top of it with all the rain last year,” Brother said. “We usually put out 8 to 10 ounces per application. The DP 555 (BG/RR) got a little rank on us, but the weather kept us from getting it into the plants as soon as we should have.”

They will apply Chaperone on all their cotton acreage, right before bloom, piggybacked with a bug spray. When asked how the product worked in 2004, Alex said, “We plan on using it again. We had a dang good crop last year.”

The product enhances protein synthesis and transport to cotton fruiting structures. According to the Murpheys' consultant Joe Townsend, who has researched Chaperone four years, “It translates into more bolls. In one study, we increased mortality on worms because we moved the Bt protein into the fruit.”

At defoliation, they apply Dropp, Def and Prep in two applications. They shoot for a once-over picking, but usually scrap some acres, Alex said. “After we knock the first leaves off, we can't wait to go in and pick a little cotton, and we may end up scrapping that.”

They run a John Deere 9960 four-row cotton picker, a boll buggy and a module builder. The Murpheys gin at Tippo Gin Co., a community-owned gin which processes around 5,000 bales annually.

Yields have been outstanding for dryland cotton. “We had a 6-acre block that ginned out 16 bales (2.7 bales an acre),” Brother said. “All our varieties did really well last year.”

The Murpheys believe excellent cotton yield and quality over the last few years are due in part to boll weevil eradication and Bt cotton. But Mother Nature has played the biggest role for the dryland cotton producers, providing a good supply of moisture and moderate temperatures. “We've been getting timely rains pretty regularly,” Alex said. “But when we have those bad years, it can be pretty rough without irrigation.”

Townsend has worked as consultant for the Murpheys for four years, enough to know why the brothers remain profitable. “They owe their success to their own hard work. They do just about all the work themselves and manicure every row.”


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