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DELTA: Justin Cariker: Early burndown good start for cotton

Delta High Cotton winner Justin Cariker's weed control philosophy is centered around two important practices — get weeds early and rotate chemicals.

In the spring, the Dundee, Miss., cotton producer burns down every acre with Touchdown and Clarity, applied with a High Boy around the first week in March, about the time most winter weeds have emerged and are easier to control.

He'll also apply Envoke on some fields, “which I think is giving me some residual control of horseweed. It's a good product, just a little expensive.”

On the other hand, the practice has kept resistant-horseweed out of Cariker's field. “Once you get horseweed in some fields, you're going to have them in all of them. It's just a matter of time.”

Cariker will burn down again either five days before planting, or four days after planting and before emergence, usually going with Touchdown, giving him two shots of glyphosate out before his crop emerges.

Last season, Cariker started planting April 14 and finished on May 17. The day they wrap up planting, Cariker's hands hook up the nitrogen rigs and apply about 120 units per acre to the crop.

Cotton varieties include ST 5599 BR, DP 444 BG/RR, DP, 445 BG/RR, DP 432 RR and a test plot of a Dyna-Grow, Roundup Ready Flex, “which picked extremely well. I couldn't treat it like Flex because it was too close to my other varieties. But I really like it. It's the new generation of farming.”

Cariker figures the Flex technology can save him some time and money. “I have three hooded sprayers, three tractors and a man with a water trailer following them all day long — that's expensive. With Flex cotton, I can go out there with my High Boy and do 650 acres a day with one driver. That's a big savings.”

On the other hand, Cariker “won't give up 100 pounds of yield for the convenience. The race horse variety on my farm is DP 444 BG/RR. If they could come up with some high-yielding Flex varieties that would yield with it, I'd plant them. But I can't give up 100 pounds. That's $56 an acre.”

Cariker's two over-the-top applications for weed control are either Sequence, a combination of Dual and Touchdown, or Touchdown. “I like to put my Sequence out early, for a better chance of getting a rain to incorporate the Dual.”

Instead of glyphosate at layby, Cariker went with MSMA and Suprend under the hoods.

“I hear too many tales of the plant shedding fruit when glyphosate gets too high on the plant. We had a few pigweeds that emerged from not using glyphosate at layby, but there wasn't enough to where I was sorry I used MSMA.

“We have to change our chemistries up, too. We can't get into a situation where we put out five applications of glyphosate and go home. It's not a practice I want to get into.”

Cariker put out Cruiser and Dynasty on every acre. “On our early planted cotton, we had to go back and treat for thrips. We went through a cold spell because the cotton didn't grow off well and we couldn't take a chance on it. On the later-planted cotton, it grew off fast and we didn't have to retreat.”

Cariker's consultant, Winston Earnheart, scouts the crop twice a week, advising on plant growth regulator and insecticide applications, “but it's strictly up to me to decide when to pull the trigger on PGRs. I know the history of most of my fields and I know which ones tend to get rank.”

Rank cotton “hurts my defoliation, which in turn will hurt my grades. I think PGRs promote some earliness, too. It also helps protect against boll rot. If you have a tall plant, and you start watering late, you're going to have some boll rot.”

Cariker starts his irrigation early to avoid stressing the crop. This practice was expensive last year due to very high diesel prices at the time of watering. “But my argument is that I have to have a high-yielding crop to offset my expenses. We kept our pivots going day and night, didn't stop except to change the oil.”

Plant bugs continue to be the bugaboo for many Mid-South cotton producers, including Cariker. “We planted about 500 acres of straight Roundup cotton and treated it one or two times with Karate, so I was much better off economically with my straight Roundup. But it goes back to Bt cotton being good insurance. I don't want 4,000 acres of straight Roundup Ready cotton.”

Cariker shot for a one-time defoliation this year.

“We upped our water to 20 gallons. We did a three-way mix of Dropp, Prep and Def. It worked okay. We had to come back and spruce it up with Aim where we had some regrowth. I don't like coming back a second time.”

Harvest last year began earlier than the previous two years. “We actually could have harvested 100 acres the last week in August. We made our first module on Sept. 5. We were running two weeks ahead of schedule. That's not necessarily a good thing.”

He'll follow the harvesters with the stalk cutters, then once harvest is complete, his men work on getting ground ready for the next year, including applying mixed fertilizer.

“Last year, we spent $42 an acre on lime. We did 200 acres only where we needed it. We'll take several soil samples in a field. If all the samples indicate the same needs, we won't grid sample. But if there are parts of a 100-acre field that are high and low, we'll go back and grid sample.

Cariker did not let high diesel prices in 2005 affect his plans. “When we knocked off for the fall, we had every acre subsoiled with a Paratill, every acre had fertilizer out and every acre was rowed up. I don't think you can give up fall work for $3 diesel. My argument is that I cannot afford to.”

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