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Corn+Soybean Digest

Propping Up Cotton Yields

These furrow dikes are easier on equipment With a water supply dwindling nearly as fast as irrigation costs go up, Larry Gamble counts on a unique furrow diking system to help "prop" up his cotton's bottom line.

Furrow dikes have always helped this Slaton, TX, grower. His 400 acres of cotton are all irrigated. Most are under center-pivot, low-pressure systems. But some are drip-irrigated, a practice that is increasing his yields by 3/4 bale/acre, or 75% in most cases.

Unfortunately, with cash cotton at about 50/lb, replacing all pivots with drip isn't possible. Instead, he depends on extensive water conservation. And the Prop Diker is his most efficient method of making sure any rainfall he receives doesn't run off.

Props, unlike traditional paddle-type dikers, build reservoirs with banks constructed at 45 angles. The reservoirs, about 30" apart and 10" deep, are contoured to catch rainfall and prevent it from escaping before soil infiltration.

"I farm in 30" rows. I like Props because they're narrow and easily fit between the plants," says Gamble.

He uses a reduced-till cotton program. The crop is normally stripped in mid- to late October. In late December or early January, he shreds the stalks, leaving them behind as a mulch to help trap winter moisture.

In February he applies yellow herbicide and fertilizer using a spring-tooth harrow. Fields are then listed. Gamble next runs an eight-row Terra-Till deep-tillage plow to loosen soil. Attached behind are seven Prop Dikers situated between shanks. Rows are diked during the deep tillage.

"Besides any needed insecticide spraying, that's normally the final trip before planting," he says. "The reservoirs enable us to get the most out of spring and summer rains."

Gamble can easily drive over the Props' angled dikes. "We can run hooded spray rigs down the diked rows at 7 mph with no problem," he says. "There's no way you could do that with paddle-built dikes."

Although some growers keep the dikes intact through harvest, Gamble plows them out. "You can drive a boll buggy or stripper across them a lot easier than with paddle-diked fields. Since the dikes are no longer needed at harvest, we prefer to have the rows as smooth as possible to make it easier on our equipment."

Texas A&M and other university studies have shown the benefits of furrow diking. "Diked furrows can hold several inches of rain without runoff for several days," says Leon New, ag engineer for the Texas Ag Extension Service in Amarillo.

A&M studies have shown that some diking equipment can pay for itself in just one season with increased yields from only 75 acres of cotton. Cotton yields can easily be increased by 25% or more.

Terry Howell, a USDA research engineer in Amarillo, says that, in both cotton and feed grain production tests, the Prop Diker was comparable to more conventional dammer dikers.

"It should have some real advantages in providing for easier traffic over furrows," he says. "It should also work well in a ridge-till program."

For further information, contact Sunco Marketing, P.O. Box 2036, North Platte, NE 69103; phone 308-532-2146.

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