March 18, 2015
This past year, 348,000 acres of cotton was harvested in Alabama, but nothing indicates an increase in 2015.
“I don’t see anything pushing that up. In fact, I see it going down,” says Dale Monks, former Auburn University Extension cotton agronomist and recently named director of research operations for outlying units of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.
“The few acres we have in north Alabama will probably continue to go down some,” said Monks at the recent Cotton Pickin’ Roundtable in Shorter, Ala. “In central and south Alabama, cotton and peanuts go hand-in-hand, and cotton is too good to lose as a rotational crop. Unfortunately, cotton prices have not rebounded, and we don’t have much incentive.
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“Carryover is large, and there’s Chinese cotton hanging out there. So I think cotton acreage this year will be down just a little. Last year, we thought we’d have a larger corn crop, but the corn planting window got pushed back because of the weather. So you never know how it’ll turn out until you get through May and June.”
Weed resistance continues to be a huge issue for Alabama growers, says Monks. “If you’ve got something that you think is coming through, like Palmer amaranth pigweed or marestail, let us know about it. We need to know if it’s true resistance so you’ll know what you need to do to get rid of it.”
A lot can happen in five years, says Monks, especially in production agriculture.
“Five years ago, we were talking about which cotton variety would replace Deltapine 555 – that was the No. 1 topic of discussion. We stuck with some of the early Roundup Ready/Bt combinations for years, and now we’ve got several companies with good varieties. So now we can move around some with variety selection and still have good yield potential,” he says.
And the technology continues to change, he adds, including LibertyLink TwinLink, Enlist Duo, and Roundup Ready Xtend, with various forms of glyphosate, 2,4-D and dicamba resistance.
Advances in cotton production
“We’re all aware of what 2,4-D has done in the past. It sticks in the sprayer, it volatilizes, and it’ll kill a tomato plant. We now have a new formulation that hopefully will not volatilize as it has done in the past,” says Monks.
The new systems are the same as any other herbicide system, says Monks – producers need to be good stewards.
“Some of you may have technology that shuts off the sprayer as you come out of a field or as you go from section to section, and that’s tremendous technology. That will help us as stewards of our land and water,” he says.
Beginning this year, says Monks, variable-rate irrigation studies will be conducted at the E.V. Smith Research Center in central Alabama and the Tennessee Valley Research Center in north Alabama, with plans for expansion to other parts of the state.
“Those will be the first two systems that go in this year. We’re asking producers to come to us with ideas that maybe we missed because we’re not on your farm every day like you are.
Row spacing and population work was done years ago, so when we have the ability to irrigate one plot and not irrigate another one, and put different rates of nitrogen on.
As far as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), says Monks, the technology has gotten far ahead of the regulations.
“For $1,500, you can buy a nice quadcopter, with a little camera on it, and you can take good quality photos of your field. Some new regulations have been proposed for UAV’s, and it’ll probably be the end of this year or the first of next year before all of that is finalized. Even though the FAA has proposed the rules, it has to go through the administrative steps before it is passed into law,” he says.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officially announced its proposed rules for small commercial drones in mid-February. For the most part, the proposed rules are fairly straightforward and more lenient than expected.
The following proposed rules apply to drones weighing fewer than 55 pounds:
Here are the basics of the rules, which will apply to drones weighing fewer than 55 pounds: pilots will have to pass a knowledge test (but not a practical test) to get a newly developed drone operator license and will have to be vetted by the TSA. They will have to take a recurrent test every 24 months and be at least 17 years old. Pilots will only be allowed to fly during daytime hours and must be able to see the drone at all times (though they can also use a second operator as an observer). Once an operator has this license, it will apply to all small drones. The FAA will not require drone pilots to get a private or commercial pilot’s license, and operators will not have to pass a medical exam.
Commercial drones will only be allowed to fly under 500 feet and no faster than 100 miles per hour. Drones will have to be registered with the FAA. Flights over people are prohibited and visibility has to be over three miles. Drones can fly autonomously, but all of the other regulations (line of sight, maximum height, etc.) still apply and the pilot has to be able to take manual control at all times.
“For about $25,000 to $30,000, you can get a fixed-wing drone,” says Monks. “You can sit at your computer and decide where you want it to go. It can gather information from your fields that you don’t have to walk or drive out to get yourself.
“If you’ve got a 200-acre cotton field, and you’ve got spider mites, are they going to be consistently throughout the field, and will they probably be in spots throughout the field? With a quadcopter, you can fly over that 200 acres, let it run for a few minutes, and then you can see a red spot where spider mites are present. If you’ve got calves that got out, you can run them down without putting your feet on the ground and without riding through the field.”
Laws need to catch up with the technology, says Monks, and the technology itself will get cheaper, as it always does.
In the 1930s, says Monks, a technology came along, and the experiment stations helped to deliver it to the farm – hybrid corn.
“There might be some things we’re thinking about, and we don’t quite see how it fits, but it could become a normal part of everyday life. In the beginning, agricultural producers had a lot of trouble accepting hybrid corn. Then someone decided hybrid corn would give us more yields than open-pollinated corn. We still need to conduct a lot of research on some of these technological advances before we can use it commonly on the farm.”
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