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Innovators provide glimpses of difference-making changes

Nevertheless, minimum till Texas producer Danny May and his California counterpart, Ted Sheely, who is fully irrigated in the arid West are innovators who rely on information as a checks and balance to gauge whether what they are doing is moving them economically in the right direction.

Although May is a Coastal Bend dryland farmer and Sheely is an irrigated producer in the West, they both say cotton yield monitors are an important element in determining the outcomes of the new techniques.

Sheely and May were participants in an “innovative grower” panel at the Beltwide Cotton Production Conference in Nashville.

Both say commercial yield monitors “are not there yet,” yet they rely on what’s now available technologically to determine the yield outcome from their changes.

May has farmed for 38 yeas in the Texas Coastal Bend. He and his son, Shane, raise about 1,000 acres of cotton annually and 200 acres of soybeans.

May uses herbicide (2,4-D twice and Roundup once) to destroy cotton stalks in the South Texas Winter Garden Boll Weevil Eradication zone. He does not use a stalk puller as part of his efforts to reduce tillage.

He applies a pint of 2,4-D in a 12-inch band shortly after harvest and waits for volunteers to emerge to treat again. Before planting, he applies another pint of 2,4-D and a pint of Roundup to kill any remaining stalks before planting.

“We do not pull stalks,” said May.

When it’s time to plant, he knocks down the beds and applies a 10-inch band of herbicide behind the planter.

He also is adding organic matter with, for him, a new cover crop, milo. He plants it on top of cotton stalks and takes out the milo before it heads.

Sheely farms 6,000 acres of cotton, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, wheat and pistachios in Kings County, Calif. His farm has become a massive precision ag research trial as part of a NASA program called Ag 20/20.

The goal of a wide array of projects is to use remote sensing and variable rate application techniques to reduce costs by 20 per cent and increase yields by 20 percent.

He aerially maps his fields, using imagery to evaluate saline conditions, nitrogen levels and other variables across fields. He then uses variable rate technology to match application rates with those differences across fields for everything from seeding to gypsum and nitrogen application rates across the field.

And, he has enjoyed considerable success, reducing overall gypsum costs 20 to 30 percent by using variable rate rather than broadcasting the same amount across the entire field.

He used variable rate cotton seeding, planting 10, 15 and 18 pounds of seeds per acre based on the saline levels in the field rather than his normal 15-pounds-fits-all seeding rate. By putting more seed in the higher saline areas and less seed in better soil conditions, he averaged an overall yield increase of 89 pounds per acre.

Perhaps Sheely’s most dramatic result was with variable rate anhydrous ammonia application technology. By measuring residual nitrogen in all areas of a 152-acre field and applying nitrogen only where needed, he saved 50 percent on his nitrogen cost – more than $3,000 – for that one field.


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