May 18, 2018
Darrin Dodds, associate Extension, research professor, cotton agronomics, Mississippi State University, is conducting a unique cotton research experiment in the Mid-South using biodegradable film to trap soil heat and help young cotton plants establish more robust rooting systems, hopefully leading to more vigorous and healthier plants earlier in the growing season.
According to David McGrath, DC EnvironPlas, an Australian company marketing what it calls a OneCrop Cotton System, the film can trap up to 7 degrees of additional heat over what is available to the plant without the film. “The objective is to promote early season growth,” says Dodds. “The film has slits in the top so the cotton can grow up through the film which will biodegrade in 50 to 60 days.”
The planter is equipped with an attachment that lays down the film after the seeds are dropped into the soil. Dodds planted four rows of Deltapine 1646 under the film and four rows not under film side-by-side the second week of April. He will go back and plant four additional rows when optimal planting conditions finally arrive in the Mid-South. “We’ve seen some 40-degree nights recently, and it’s almost May,” says Dodds, with a little disbelief in his voice. “I would have loved seeing our growers start planting around the middle of April, but taking into consideration our weather patterns at that time, there’s no way soil temperatures could get anywhere close to 65-degrees.”
The four-row planter he used weighs about 7,500 pounds, and the tractor he used was rated to lift 10,000 pounds but would only lift the total weight of the unit it was pulling about 85 percent of the way up, and the front end of the tractor got light.
“The center of gravity was so far back because you’ve got a tool bar holding the row units, another tool bar on top of that holding the fertilizer tanks and another tool bar on back of that holding the apparatus dispensing the plastic,” explains Dodds. “I had to fasten some old railroad iron on front of the tractor to counter the weight of the entire back unit.”
The Australian researchers used a four-row planter and Dodds knows they will have to adapt the system to a larger planter to make it practical for more of today’s farmers. “I think they might have an eight-row planter, but that unit would be heavy even if you had an eight-row unit,” says Dodds.
“I’m working with several farmers who want to gravitate toward these new 16 and 24-row planters. “Even if the plastic improves early-season growth, I know farmers won’t be willing to go back to an eight-row planter that will take them twice as long to get planted. They just won’t do it.”
Dodds will collect data all during the growing season and compare yields after the research rows are harvested.
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