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Cotton producer says: Keep insects off, furnish it food

If you want a top crop in cotton, keep insects off and furnish food. Black Oak, Ark., cotton producer Henry Finch will stick to this philosophy even when the going gets tough. During a typical year, he puts on plenty of fertilizer, irrigates before his crop starts to show stress and sticks to his guns on insect control.

For example, prior to the eradication program, Finch sprayed for boll weevils 10 weeks in a row for two straight years — in an area that was not supposed to have a lot of the pests.

Finch grows 2,300 acres of cotton and 400 acres of soybeans with his son, Jeff. They begin their high yield approach after they cut stalks in the fall.

“We run Paratills in the fall if we can,” Finch said. “We hip and run wheat in the middles to protect against blowing sand.”

Finch spreads close to 7 million pounds of gin trash on his sandier ground each year. The trash, which comes from three area gins, “is high in organic matter and fertilizer and builds the ground. It also helps minimize sand blowing. We've had areas that were nothing more than sand sloughs. One of those areas has the biggest cotton on the farm this year.”

Finch puts out a preplant 30-50-120 fertilizer blend, 70 units of sidedress nitrogen, and three to five applications of foliar feed. “I believe I add a quarter of a bale to the acre with foliar feed.”

He applies enough fertilizer to harvest three bales, though “we might never make that — 2.7 bales is the best we've done, on average.”

In the spring, the Finches run a do-all, kill the wheat and plant cotton with two 12-row John Deere vacuum planters, going for 3.5 seeds per foot. They can complete the job in six days.

They planted six varieties this spring, ST 4892 BR, ST 4793 R, ST 5599 BR, DP 444 BG/RR, FM 960 BR, FM 958 LL. They chose the Liberty Link cotton “because we've got some resistant horseweed, and Ignite will smoke everything.”

They applied Ridomil Gold in-furrow for disease control and applied a pyrethroid behind the planter for cutworms. On most acres, they used Temik at 5 pounds in-furrow.

On 30 percent of their acres they used Cruiser (seed treatment) instead of Temik. The seed treatment did not hold “as well as the Temik under thrips pressure,” Finch said. They sprayed all cotton (even Temik fields) with Bidrin.

“The big problem was wheat in surrounding fields. It dried down right at (cotton) emergence. The insects were there, and the pressure was heavy.”

Finch will use Sequence for either the first or second over-the-top glyphosate application. He likes the Dual in Sequence for its pre-emergence activity.

At the end of June, their cotton crop was “looking good, considering we hammered some of it with some bad chemical,” Finch said. “We put the chemical out on 1,000 acres, and it did fine. We put it on another 500 acres, and it did not mix properly.” The manufacturer addressed the problem to Finch's satisfaction.

The producers make another glyphosate application, then choose one of several options for layby. “We use either Sequence, Layby or Valor.”

Every acre is irrigated, using four center pivots and furrow irrigation. It's time to irrigate when the soil “stops sticking to your feet,” Finch says. “We're usually a week ahead of almost everybody else. We'll water every week if it doesn't rain.”

That keeps the Finches and their three full-time hands running hard during the season. “I found out a long time ago that anytime cotton stresses, I've lost yield.”

Trimax applications for plant bugs and aphids are usually under way by mid-June. “We've learned a lot about aphids the last six to eight years,” said Finch's consultant, Eddie Dunigan. “We used to wait until we saw them on plants and then take them out. Now when we start finding winged aphids in clusters, we start hammering them. If they ever get ahead of us, we can't catch up. They reproduce so fast.”

“In 1973, I had knee-high cotton drop every square and bloom because of aphids,” Finch said. “They haven't hurt me since then. I'm not going to wait on them.”

Spider mites can also be troublesome on Finch's lighter soils, according to Dunigan. “He sprays the first several rows with Zephyr at the first sign. It holds them.”

“We took care of a lot of our trouble spots by spraying cotton early — before the spider mites show up,” Finch said. “The quicker I can get in on a spider mite, the better off I am.”

Finch makes a light application of plant growth regulator early, then usually makes a second application of 6 ounces. “We wait until the cotton gets within 6 inches of lapping, and we go with a pint to a pint and half.”

For most varieties, Finch waits until 50 percent open before defoliating. “We go over everything twice — a half pint of defoliant to knock the leaves off, then a heavy load of boll opener and another half pint of a defoliant.”

They like to start picking by the first of September. “But last year, it was the first of October. We have a lot more early-maturing cotton this year. We hope to get a week's head start.”

Temperatures through most of this July were favorable for the Finches, and most crops in the area were 10 to 14 days ahead of last year.

They will harvest with two 9986, six-row pickers, two Boll Buggies and two module builders.

Finch believes seed companies are starting to provide the genetic material that matches his needs — high yields, long staple and good micronaire. “It looks like DP 444 BG/RR and ST 5599 BR are going to be big yielders and will have good grades.”

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