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With emphasis on irrigation

Through the years, members of the Storey family have conducted a very diversified farming operation north and south of Marvel, Ark. They won't, however, in 2001. They will continue with large acreages of their main crops — cotton and rice, 4,000 and 700 acres respectively.

They will eliminate corn entirely and reduce soybeans by 50 percent, down to 500 acres. “Don't even ask me about the yields of dryland soybeans in 2000,” says Curtis Storey, whose father, Ronald Storey, died last year. Curtis now oversees and manages the large acreage with the help of his mother, Hazel.

With a crop rotation of three years of cotton and one of rice on the lighter soil types, they will plant soybeans for three years and rice for one year on the low, mixed and buckshot soils.

“We look forward to the day when we will be able to plant Roundup Ready rice to make a few zero-grade fields for continuous rice and control of red rice. But zero grade will not work except in a few fields because we like to give them a 0.15 fall for the row irrigation of cotton or soybeans in the off-rice years, says Carl Fannon, rice consultant.

The Storeys say that the hot-dry 2000 season impressed upon them just how important irrigation is. Now they are headed more in that direction with their game plan. At the present, about 75 percent of the cotton land is subject to sprinkler or row irrigation. “Irrigation is our insurance policy,” says Storey. “Although the Lord is in control of the weather, I feel he expects us to do our part. He has certainly blessed our efforts of trying to be good stewards of the land.”

“We much prefer furrow irrigation with polyurethane pipe,” say Dennis Cavette, cotton consultant for the south-end operation. “It has given us, through the years, an increase of a quarter of a bale per acre over that from center pivot system.”

John Boose, who has worked for the Storey Farm as farm manager for over 25 years, agrees. “Last year, with the sprinkler systems, we were able to get only 1.25 inches of water per week to the cotton plants, short of the actual needs of the plants. I am convinced that we need larger wells, more wells tied to one center pivot system, or systems with larger pipe to make the desired yields.”

“Needless to say, at this time we lean toward watering down the middles,” says Storey. Laying and punching holes is not difficult. “In fact, it is a family effort with (wife) Phyllis and (children) Elaine, Reed and Coleman helping to lay the pipe, punch holes, and plug them.”

Last year, with all types of irrigation and dryland, they came up with an average yield of 800 pounds of lint on the entire 4,000 acres of cotton.

“The irrigated fields last year produced 1.5 to 1.8 bales per acre, compared to a half to 1.25 bales from the dryland,” says Storey.

The operation is more minimum tillage than stale seedbed. After harvest, they cut stalks and run Paratills under the old rows. In the fall of 2000, for the first time, they broadcast the herbicide Goal on some of the worst weed-infested ground to cut back excessive growth during periods of heavy rainfall and warm weather.

“To burn down those untreated fields and escapes we will broadcast 1.5 pints to a quart of Roundup Ultra. Then we will broadcast 45 units of nitrogen in the form of a 32 percent liquid nitrogen. Just behind we will run three tractors, all 8400 John Deeres, with Orthman 12-row buster shapes to set up 38-inch beds.”

They will aim for 110 units of nitrogen this year on all cotton land. Since it is so easy to handle and apply, they will use ammonium nitrate for all of the sidedressings.

The Arkansas growers start their three 12-row planters about the middle of April and try to put them back under the shed by May 10. “We plan to do very little seed changing this year. We aim to get good germination and emergence the first time over,” says Storey.

Each cotton acre this year will be planted to a Roundup Ready variety. “Our best variety for the past two years has been Deltapine 436RR, followed by Deltapine 425RR and Deltapine 429RR. We hope to be able to find the seed to plant more of the new Stoneville 4892 BR. We will drop the FiberMax and the BXN cottons this year,” he says.

Cotton consultant Mickey Ligon keeps the insects north of Marvel in check. Dennis Cavetter does the same to the south. Both like to see 3.5 pounds of Temik and 7 pounds of Terraclor Super X dropped on top of the seed from the planter.

“We would not change this at all. The systemic insecticide and fungicide take care of thrips and seedling diseases for the fast emergence and grow-off of healthy seedlings. It certainly makes for less replanting. You can easily tell the untreated rows.”

2000 marked the start of the boll weevil eradication program in Storey's area. Prior to the start of the program — about July 15 — they had to “hammer” the boll weevil every three to four days for two weeks. Since malathion was sprayed on the boll weevils from then through October 2000, Cavette and Ligon do not expect that sort of expense this year.

Custom harvesting

The Storey family has been in the custom cotton harvest business since 1962, when Ronald Storey transported one-row pickers to south Texas.

“One of the first jobs I had on the farm after I graduated was to help haul two-row and four-row pickers to the Rio Grande Valley. We like the John Deere in-line heads, because it is an easy job to adjust them to the various row configurations found down there,” said Curtis.

“We have guidance systems on all five of our four-row pickers. There are four module builders for the five pickers. Since our rows are rather short and irregular, we see no need of boll buggies.”

“Although we have 12-row land preparation, planting and cultivation equipment, we cannot afford at this time to trade our four-row pickers for three six-row models at $300,000 each.”

Storey says that even with higher prices for farm machinery and fuel, they have held their price of 11 cents a pound of lint for two custom pickings.

The young Arkansas farmers says one of the major problems these days is the inability to hire good competent labor. “We must teach our young men that there has to be physical labor associated with farming — that there is more to it than sitting in an air-conditioned cab listening to hard rock on the stereo system.” Storey says they never shut down their operation. They are running Paratills or moving dirt in the off season.

“For sure, we need to take care of the elements of farming we can control. Hopefully, the rest of it such as labor, weather and prices will eventually take care of themselves.”

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