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Farmer optimism: Grains, technology and moisture

Rex Carr is optimistic about 2007 crop prospects but hopes to see cotton and peanut prices rebound before planting time. Consequently, some acreage decisions remain uncertain.

Carr, farm manager for White Face Farms near Levelland, Texas, and a past recipient of the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award, will depend on cost-effective measures he's put in place over the past few years, new technology and some promising fall and winter rainfall that has begun to restore a dry soil profile to stay in the black for 2007.

He's been working on controlling production costs for several years.

“I've spent the last few years getting a lot of our land in shape so we can reduce the number of trips we make with our tractors,” Carr says. “No-till is the answer, but it takes some doing to be able to do nothing except plant, spray, and harvest a crop. I have some land that hasn't seen a plow, or wheat drill, in three years.”

The key, he says, is to get a good cover crop established, terminate it, then start the no-till process. “I have several circles I'm using that still have last year's cover, so all I've had to do to that land is shred the old cotton stalks. The only thing it will require for 2007 is planting, spraying, and harvesting.”

Carr used 25 percent less fuel in 2006 than he did in 2005 by putting all irrigated cotton in wheat-till. “I can see a great savings in fuel if I get to the no-till practice. If we use 25 percent less fuel, we make fewer trips with a $120,000.00 tractor and extend the life of a major investment.”

Carr has noticed reduced costs on some production materials.

“A lot of the chemicals we're using in our cotton are coming down a little in price. Roundup, plant growth regulators, even some defoliation products were down a little from 2005. Also, the new Flex technology in cotton is a big plus.”

Crop markets make acreage decisions difficult early in the year, Carr says.

“I'm currently undecided on the number of acres of peanuts we'll be growing for 2007. I have prepared some of my land in such a way that will allow me to plant peanuts, cotton, or milo. After growing cotton in 2006, I shredded the stalks, and then listed the rows. The land has been well rotated, and we had ample moisture after harvesting the cotton. I even have some ground I'm considering planting peanuts in wheat-till.

“Today, the peanut market is such that peanut companies are not offering more than a $25 premium on a 2007 contract. Milo is over $6; wheat is around $5, and cotton is loan price. So, I'm undecided just what I'll be planting.”

Carr says cotton is the staple. “We use peanuts as part of our rotation program, but we may substitute milo since the price is higher. We plant wheat for rotation and seed. We may end up with a little bit of everything this year. I currently have wheat on all our dryland acreage and have it planted in such a way that we can either harvest it, or terminate it and plant into it.”

The moisture situation looks considerably more promising than it did this time last year.

“We've had more than ten inches of moisture since the first of October, so we are close to having our soil profile full. We've also had some pretty cold temperatures, so insect pressure should remain low.”

He's also adding more technology.

“We're going to put the John Deere Greenstar Auto Trak on another tractor. This will be our second season running the Auto Trak and I think it is paying its way. Being able to work the land flat in wheat stubble sure looks good.

“We also may plant a circle of cotton on 20-inch centers, planted flat in wheat-till and harvested with a roller brush header. I noticed an article in (a recent Southwest Farm Press) magazine that addressed this issue. We've dabbled with (narrow row cotton) in the past, and planting and harvesting have been our main issues.

“One of our tenants is looking at purchasing a John Deere 20-inch planter and having a brush header made for his stripper that will strip the 20-inch rows. If he does, we'll hire him to plant a circle and see what happens. I am excited about that.”

Irrigation still pays, Carr says. “We are in the process of drilling four new water wells. We are still of the opinion that irrigation pays, maybe not much, but we will continue in that direction.”

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