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GPS lessens cotton grower's fatigue

So far this season, Benoit, Miss., cotton producer Charles Coghlan has seen plenty of plant bugs, wind and rain. But if you notice a spring in his step, it's due to a new guidance system that has lessened fatigue, a smart herbicide application, and saving fuel by making fewer irrigations.

“The rains really have been a blessing,” said Coghlan, who grows 4,100 acres of cotton. “We're paying 60 to 70 percent more for the price of diesel to pump irrigation water than a year ago and twice as much as we were three years ago.”

A late July rain came just after Coghlan started his irrigation pumps for the first time this year and provided another week of fuel savings. But rains often overstay their welcome, as was the case for a couple of weeks in late June, Coghlan noted. Surprisingly, fruit retention has been excellent despite the cloudy stretch.

Coghlan has the straightest rows and the best stand he's ever had this year, thanks to a Trimble GPS guidance system. The system has cut fatigue which usually accompanies rowing and planting.

“When you're rowing up without a GPS, it is hard on you. Your muscles are sore. Your eyes are sore. With this, you could row up all night long. We didn't extend our hours because of our labor. But we can if we need to.”

Coghlan has been on 30-inch rows since 1990, and he believes that in most years, the practice gives him a 10 to 12 percent increase in yield over wide-row cotton.

The GPS also has a benefit when planting on the narrow beds, according to Coghlan. “The margin of error in 30-inch cotton is really close. Once you get off the bed, the seed is dropping on the ground and you have to pray for rain to get it to come off.”

The GPS system is even more valuable because Coghlan begins each season with a new set of rows. “Our sand washes so badly that we can't maintain the same set of rows every year,” he said.

After shredding stalks in the fall, “we normally subsoil with John Deere disk/rippers, follow that with busters and row it back up. We'll roll it and won't do anything else until late winter, when we burn down with Roundup and 2,4-D.”

Coghlan puts out Temik at planting along with a cutworm treatment. He started planting April 16, shooting for 45,000 to 50,000 plants per acre. “We have enough planting power to plant in about a week with three John Deere 12-row vacuum planters.”

Varieties include ST 5242 BR, DP 555 BG/RR, and ST 5599 BR. ST 4793 R is Coghlan's refuge cotton. A fungicide seed treatment was applied to all varieties.

He speeds the planting process with a bulk seed loading system. “We have less and less quality labor available on the farm,” he said. “We used to have three or four men carrying bags and dumping seed, and it would take 10 to 15 minutes. Now, one man puts the bulk loader in the back of a three-quarter ton pickup, drives up to the planter and loads in three or four minutes.”

Coghlan makes two shots of glyphosate over-the-top, and this year he used Sequence (glyphosate and Dual) for his second application. “We wanted to take advantage of the pre-emerge effect of the Dual.”

Early in the season, windy conditions kept him from making timely herbicide applications. In addition, “we had to cultivate a little in our sandy areas to keep the sand from blowing.”

“Other than that, spring was good to us. We had a relatively dry period which helped us establish a good root system.”

This year, Coghlan applied Envoke after his glyphosate applications, which turned out to be a smart move. “It's a costly program, but it really helped us this year. We haven't had many weeds with all the rains we've had.”

His biggest weed problems are morningglories. “We can pick through most other grass and weeds, but if we have a spot of morningglories, we just have to go around it.”

Coghlan used a mix of three layby materials, Valor, Roundup and Prowl. “We mixed the Prowl in for insurance against late-season grasses. I've been impressed with Valor.”

About the time cotton starts squaring, he applies 130 to 160 pounds of liquid nitrogen. The exact rate depends on the soil type.

This season was another bad one for plant bugs, noted Coghlan. “We have fought them from the day plants started squaring. We started using Trimax, switched to Centric, then Orthene, then Bidrin.” It's almost been a weekly application since the plants started squaring, Coghlan said in late July.

The crop will also be oversprayed for bollworms, usually one time. “We'll piggyback a plant bug application with it. We're going after stink bugs, too.”

Coghlan waited a little longer than usual to apply plant growth regulator since the cotton was fruiting so well early. “Also, just as we would get ready to put on a shot of growth regulator, here would come a rain. We had to dodge showers and some washed off.

“Despite the rains, I think we've done a good job of managing the height. But there comes a point where you can't keep putting on pint after pint of plant growth regulator. It's just not worth it. The heavy fruit load also helped to keep the plant size down.”

Coghlan terminates irrigation at the first cracked boll. About three-fourths of his cotton acreage is irrigated.

He uses a two-step defoliation program. “We use Dropp alone the first time and then add a boll opener on the second trip once we get the leaves out of the way.

“If we have an open canopy on some dryland fields that don't have as much leaf surface, we might do a one shot treatment with Dropp and a boll opener.

Coghlan harvests with three, six-row John Deere 9986s. “We have enough picking capacity that if we start picking Sept. 10, we'll be through by Oct. 10.”

As of early August, Coghlan was on track to harvest a strong, early crop. “It's always a little too hot or too dry here to keep us from making a three-bale yield. But I've been plant mapping a good bit, and I don't think plants shed as badly this year as in the past. All we need are a few more rains in August, and we'll be in good shape.”

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