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No-till, varieties, technology are keys to farmer's increased yields

Steve Riley has evolved. Just a few years ago he was making cotton with a breaking plow, multiple cultivation trips across the field and an occasional outing with sand fighters to prevent early season injury.

“Now I manage with a shredder, planter and spray rig,” he says. “The lister has been parked for several years.”

Riley says improved varieties, including herbicide resistant plants and global positioning systems, make reduced tillage an easy choice.

“About six years ago John Bradley (then a no-till specialist with Monsanto) came out and I got interested in no-till cotton,” Riley says. “I quit plowing. For two years or so I still used the lister. Finally, I started shredding stalks and planting back into the stubble.”

GPS technology allows him to maintain consistent rows. He follows the irrigation ruts to set up coordinates on each circle. He downloads the data onto a computer chip on the planter and follows satellite guidance.

“We're able to get back into the field at the exact row with GPS coordinates,” he says. “That saves hours and adds productivity to the day. It's not all that difficult but I had a lot to learn about the system.” He's using a John Deere system “with the latest John Deere software.”

He also uses the GPS coordinates with a new fertilizer coulter rig he runs just ahead of the planter. With the computer chip in the planter he follows the coulter tracks and puts the seed “exactly where we placed the fertilizer. It works well but we need to fine-tune the coulter rig.”

He's also using Coron. “I've used a little in the past but added more this year. I think it helped hold bolls.”

He made applications the first of July and the first of August. “I'm beginning to rethink foliar feeding,” he says.

Riley cites several advantages with his new system.

“We save moisture and we have less sand damage. We've seen yield increases with reduced tillage but we also have better varieties.”

He says the ability to work a lot of acreage with minimal labor also pays off. “And with the price of fuel, cutting trips across the field saves money.”

He also saves on equipment. “We need less,” he says, “and we don't need to update as often. And I rarely see a sand fighter in a no-till field.”

He just bought a self-propelled sprayer. “We held off for several years, until Roundup Ready Flex was available. We had some available this year so we bought the sprayer.”

He's more efficient with the new spray unit, covering more acres than he ever did with two hooded sprayers. The GPS technology also helps guide the spray rig.

Riley admits to an aggressive approach to weed control. “I'd like to plant all Flex varieties next year if yield and grades are good,” he says. (He used two in 2006, DPL143 and Stoneville 4554.) Nearly all my cotton is stacked gene.”

Even with Flex varieties, he'll still use some residual herbicides. “I can't get away from them yet. I sometimes use Staple and Direx behind the planter. On dryland acreage he uses Roundup Ready varieties with Staple, Direx and Prowl.

“I can't rely on one product. That's the value of Flex. I can come in at the 12 to 15 leaf stage with Roundup and take care of a lot of weed problems.”

He says Staple does a good job on morningglories but with Flex allowing a late shot of Roundup he may get by without it some years.

About the only negative Riley has seen with no-till is an occasional concern with uniform planting early in the season. “We have to be patient,” he says.

“We have a lot of flexibility in this system, especially with Flex varieties. This will be a big advantage with weed control. We can go later in the season with Roundup and with the self-propelled sprayer we cover more acres with less labor.”

Riley says his dryland field may “make a little cotton,” this year. “Irrigated acreage looks pretty good. I have one furrow-watered field and I'll convert that to drip irrigation next year.”

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