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Family farm demands hands-on management

Fred Wyatt believes in hands-on farming. His hands.

You can find him in the fall sitting at the controls of a big, green, eight-row cotton harvester, harvesting all 5,000 acres of his crop near Hollister, Okla.

This is a family farm, he'll tell you. He and his son-in-law, Justin Waldroop, along with their wives, do the work.

That the Wyatts are harvesting such a large acreage of cotton this year and making excellent yields is a dramatic success story in itself. They had abandoned the crop.

At one time, they farmed as much as 2,800 acres of cotton, Wyatt said. But that was before the boll weevil shut down dryland cotton farming throughout the Southern Plains.

“From 1996 until 2000, we didn't have any cotton,” Wyatt said. “The weevils wouldn't leave us enough to make it worth harvesting. So we just quit growing it.”

In the 1990s, farmers voted to start area-wide boll weevil eradication. To say the effort has been successful is an understatement. The program enabled farmers like Wyatt to get back to growing cotton.

“In 2000, we only had 35 acres of cotton,” he said. “Each succeeding year we increased acreage until we're harvesting 5,000 acres. Yields have been good. Dryland yields this year ranged from 1.5 bales per acre to 1.9.”

The year began with a few problems. “Around 1,500 acres were hailed out last spring and we had to replant it,” Wyatt said.

Factors other than the boll weevil program contribute to Wyatt's success.

He's bullish on improved technology for growing cotton. Modern stacked gene varieties with built-in resistance to herbicides and insects are allowing him to plant more acres and get good yields, he said. “We planted most of our acres to DPL 2280,” he said. “We also have some fields planted with FiberMax 960 and Stoneville 5599.”

Wyatt had some problems this year with stinkbugs and fleahoppers. Stacked gene varieties containing Bollgard helped take care of a bollworm problem.

He likes cotton not only as a money crop, but also for rotation with wheat. In cotton, he can clean up weeds that ordinarily grow in continuously grown wheat.

Wyatt uses both conventional tillage and no-till in cotton. “We like no-till where we have blowing sand problems,” he said.

Modern technology has helped Wyatt improve his operation. While he still practices conventional tillage, he also uses no-till where blowing sand is a problem.

“We've found we can reduce wind erosion and damage to young plants if we use no-till in those fields,” he said.

Larger equipment and Roundup Ready cotton varieties have helped reduce the amount of tractor time while allowing them to plant more cotton acreage, he said.

“For instance, we plant all of our cotton with a 24-row planter. I plant all of it and we make good use of the extra planters. With Roundup Ready cotton we don't make as many trips applying herbicide. The cotton is resistant to the Roundup in the strength we use and the weeds are killed.”

Wyatt is interested in how new Roundup Flex cotton varieties will work in his cotton program.

“If the Flex capability gene is put in the varieties that are producing well for us now, I am certainly interested in using them. The other matter to consider will be how expensive the new varieties will be,” he said.

He hopes the federal government will leave the current farm program alone and allow farmers to stay eligible for the programs that help them plan farm operations each year.

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