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South Texas farmer mulls 2009 cropping decision

Wayne Waters walked through the last field of cotton he had left to pick in late August and expressed a bit of disappointment in the way bolls were stringing out following several days of wind and rain that had inundated Wharton County, Texas.

He expects to average about two bales per acre and about 117 bushels per acre on his corn crop. Not what he hoped for, but with just one-fourth of an inch of rain in May and only 2 inches from May through July, it could have been worse.

“That 2 inches of rain came in small increments, three hundredths or four hundredths at a time. Three fourths of an inch was the most we got at one time, and we had high winds and high heat index so we got little benefit from a lot of it,” Waters says.

He’s wondering what to plant in 2009.

“I don’t know,” he says. “The last two years have been strong for corn and I got away from my 50/50 rotation. I’m up in the air about how much I’ll plant in 2009. I need to rotate and am wondering about soybeans or cotton. I haven’t planted milo since 1980.”

He says soybeans make good yields in this Upper Coastal Bend area “if they get water. But they are vulnerable to wet weather at harvest. Still, with fertilizer prices up and the possibility of $10 beans folks will plant a lot of them.

“I have grown doublecrop soybeans behind corn and made 29 bushels of beans per acre. Also, I’ll get some nitrogen fertility for cotton behind soybeans.”

He’s leaning toward maintaining his cotton acreage and may increase a little. “I’ll be working it out this month, figuring out next year.”

He knows he’ll pay more for fertilizer. “We can’t go on like this with high fertilizer and fuel prices,” Waters says. “Fertilizer doubled from last year and may double again.”

He says fertilizer costs went from $44 per acre to $84 per acre and could hit $160 per acre in 2009.

“With corn at $5 a bushel, that will hurt. Nitrogen price is outrageous and anything with steel in it is high.”

He’s also concerned about irrigation costs. He waters part of his crops with furrow irrigation and part with pivots. “I ran pivots five times this year and applied an inch-and-a-quarter each time. I could have run it once more.”

Waters does all he can to cut fuel costs. Reduced tillage makes a difference. “I haven’t plowed since 1992,” he says. “I sold my plow, but this might have been a good year for tillage. We were dry early and the soil cracked a lot.”

He’s running the same rows he started with in 1992. “I keep the same spray pattern and still use tracked tractors to help prevent compaction.”

He uses all Roundup Ready corn and cotton. “I used all Roundup Ready Flex cotton for the first time this year and I liked it.”

Roundup technology has changed weed control in Wharton County, he says. “Everybody has clean fields.”

He uses mostly Bt 2 cotton. “I also had some conventional cotton this year and it looked good on dryland fields. I like to see some conventional varieties available.”

He planted Phytogen 485, DPL 143 and Croplan 4020 this year. “Next year I’ll look at Extension tests and may try a new one.” He’s a Garst corn seed dealer so he plants all Garst hybrids, mostly 115- to 118-day maturity corn.

Waters is conscientious about destroying cotton stalks after harvest to limit boll weevil activity. “I’m set up for it,” he says. “I shred and spray 2, 4-D at the same time. Then I come back and pull the stalks. If I plowed I wouldn’t need to pull stalks.”

He says no-till corn is easy to work. “I try to pull a mold knife as soon after harvest as possible, late September. I like to be out of the fields and do nothing else until just before planting, when I shape beds and then leave it alone.”

Waters uses Cruiser seed treatment on corn and cotton, “especially on irrigated corn where I’ve gotten away from rotation. Bt takes care of borers, but the Cruiser helps with chinch bugs, and some grubs. It’s so much better to get this on the seed than having to put it in planter boxes. It’s more accurate.”

Waters stores all the grain he grows. “I haven’t moved any corn out yet and the bins are full.”

The slow corn market makes a difference, he says.

“Markets have changed for corn. It used to be that we could get a good basis in January and February. Now, most corn is going for livestock feed and feedlots are buying just a little at a time, waiting for prices to go down.”

He says limited storage may affect crop choices for next year. “Storage will be an issue if I look at soybeans.”

He hopes to see better growing conditions. He says irrigated corn yields typically run from 120 to 140 bushels per acre. But he needs a little rain to help it along.

“We would have had a good corn crop in Wharton County this year if we had gotten a couple of decent showers.”

He’s still waiting to see how cotton turns out.

“I had some contracted but I haven’t seen grades yet. I may go into the loan with most of it.”

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