April 29, 2013
When Kris Verett headed off to college some ten years ago he had no plans to come back to the West Texas farm where he had grown up and worked since he was old enough to handle chores.
He thought engineering might be a possibility when he entered Texas A&M University but quickly decided on a curriculum in an ag-related field. He earned a double major—entomology and agronomy—but was still leaning toward working in industry rather than in the fields near Ralls, Texas.
He thought graduate school might help him focus a bit. “I was thinking about working as an industry sales rep or something,” he says. “I had worked on the farm all my life, full-time in the summers.”
Graduate school took him to Texas Tech, in Lubbock, just a short drive from the Crosby County family farm. So while he was working on a master’s degree in crop science, he started working on the farm again. “I discovered just how much I had missed it,” he says. About mid-way through his graduate work, he decided that farming was where he needed to be.
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Seems like a good decision. At 28, Verett achieved a milestone—one-ton cotton. He made that on one 40-acre and one 105-acre block last year and was recognized by FiberMax as a member of their One-ton Club during the recent Texas Gin Show in Lubbock.
He made those yields with FM 2989 and FM 9170.
Both blocks were planted on subsurface drip irrigation.
Management is key
Making consistently good yields, Verett says, requires good land, a good water source and excellent management.
“Water is our biggest limiting factor here,” he says. “We try to concentrate our water on our best land. If we get the land and water and a couple of timely rains, we can make good yields.”
Nutrient management is a factor, too. He alters fertility a bit with drip irrigation, adding a little more than with pivot irrigation. “With drip I apply some fertilizer pre-plant with yellow herbicides. I want to have some fertilizer available early to get the cotton started and before I start watering. It’s important to understand when cotton needs fertilizer.”
He prefers to have about 40 percent out early, usually a 50-30-0 analysis. “During the season, I’ll add some through the drip tape, just nitrogen. We generally don’t need any potassium.
“I like to have all my fertilizer down by first bloom. When cotton goes into boll set, I want it to have everything it needs. At peak bloom, it’s using a lot of water every day, setting fruit, and I want the fertilizer to be available.”
He measures out nitrogen through the system. “I don’t like to apply too much at once. We can lose nitrogen to deep percolation, so I’ll meter it out over three or four weeks.”
Planting depth and timing are also part of the high-yield equation. “We don’t want to plant too deep. We can get crusting. Last year, those two one-ton blocs were put in about perfect, and we had really good cool germination. I also like to plant early so we can use the full length of the growing season.”
He says high-performance seed needs management to perform up to its potential.
“We also need to have it cut out on time,” he says. “By Aug. 15, we should have the necessary 850 heat units. After that maturing the smallest bolls is unlikely. So we want to cut out by mid-August. I slow it down early. We can’t do it several days before we want cutout.”
He used a little Pix growth regulator last year. “I could have been a little more aggressive. I used 12 ounces and maybe 16 ounces would have been okay. I had some tall plants.”
He cuts back on water to begin preparation for cutout. “I’ll reduce water by half about two or three weeks before cutout and I pull it back slowly. I may shut it off completely for a day or two.”
He says an early freeze last year helped with harvest prep on one of his drip fields.
Varieties make a difference, he says. “A lot of good ones are available, so we research the ones we think might work.” He’ll plant FM 2484 and FM 9170 this year, along with some Phytogen 499 and NexGen 4012. “I will try some new ones to see how they work.”
He says technology, including improved varieties, “allows us to do what we do. I look forward to seeing water-efficient varieties. It will take continued use of the GMO technology to be successful in the future.”
Verett is pleased to be back on the farm and looks forward to building a career, but he’s also appreciative of the support he has from his father, Steve, and his Uncle Eddie. “They have been good support and very influential. They have a wealth of knowledge from farming for some 50 years.”
He worked with his Uncle Eddie a lot with day-to-day operations, “even when I first started driving a tractor. I once asked him how much I’d get paid and he said, ‘get paid, you ought to pay me for the education you’re getting.’”
Verett says he appreciates his college degrees but never assumes he knows everything on the farm. “There are a lot of things I can’t learn in a classroom. But my dad and uncle support me and appreciate the areas of strength I have developed from school. I am fortunate to be in the position I’m in.”
He looks to the future thinking about growth. “I’d like to take on some more acreage.” But expansion comes with challenges. “Labor is hard to find,” he says. “But we’re going to 16-row equipment so we can do more with fewer people.
“Expanding also has to be profitable. We will use advanced irrigation technology to improve efficiency.” He says things like controlling irrigation systems with a cell phone helps manage time. And GPS technology is an essential tool.
He says the opportunity to expand should be possible as area farmers begin to retire and land becomes available.
“Water availability will be the million dollar question,” he says. “We will continue to see more restrictions. The answer to water limitations will not be to tie five or six small wells together.”
He wants to concentrate water on the best land—half circles, perhaps—rotate with winter wheat then summer fallow and possibly plant more dryland cotton. “We will see more dryland cotton in the area, but I hope to see cotton remain an important part of the crop mix.”
They will plant some milo this year but he prefers winter wheat. “It’s just a better rotation crop for us.”
At 28, Kris Verett is looking forward to a career he had not planned on until he got away from it for awhile. He can name a few other young farmers in the area who are near his age, “but not many.” He also realizes that farming comes with few guarantees other than had work, long hours and frequent disappointment.
But he’s prepared with two good degrees and some good mentors who have steered him well so far.
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