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GPS could trim field crop herbicide costs

Global positioning and tractor guidance systems could, in a few years, give growers a new edge for more economical control on velvetleaf, johnsongrass, and other weeds in field crops, according to a northern California farm advisor. Doug Munier, who is based at Orland in Glenn County, says if only weedy portions of a field were sprayed, herbicide costs would be significantly reduced. "If you have a material that would otherwise cost $30 per acre and apply it to only 10 percent of the field, you have a $3 per acre treatment." Munier, outlining field-mapping advances to colleagues at the recent conference in San Jose of the California Weed Science Society, said, "This may open up possibilities for field-crop growers to very effectively use some of the more expensive postemergence herbicides on problem weeds." Velvetleaf, he added, is an example of a tough weed that has invaded the Sacramento Valley. He theorizes that with mapping a grower could first spray scattered patches and return — without having to rely on memory -- the following year and spray those same sites again, whether the weeds were visible or not at the time. Munier said the computerized technology, like herbicide-resistant crops, will be key in replacing manual hoeing in field crops. What’s more, he noted, it restores some of the familiarity farmers once had with individual fields, now lost with far larger farm acreages. Three components The site-specific technology is based on three components: the hardware for GPS, the software to manage data, and the hardware to manage control of the sprayer. GPS equipment, including handheld units accurate to four to five feet, is still pricey, but costs are dropping as more units are produced. Growers can map weeds, by species, in their own fields with the equipment, he said. "If you are going to the trouble of manual mapping, it’s most useful to map the perennial weeds that slowly become established. Identify the early infestations, and eliminate or confine them." Once the weed sites, which can number in the thousands, are entered into the equipment, the grower can survey points for each species and determine where best to apply certain herbicides. If a weed is widespread across a field, the site-specific method has less potential, and the entire field would likely have to be sprayed. Human perception, he said, can underestimate a weed population across a field and underscores the need for more exact methods. Munier asked two farm managers well-acquainted with a field to estimate the number of spots of johnsongrass in the field. One said 20, the other said 30, but Munier said he mapped more than 100.

Beltwide: Nematodes exacting heavy toll

More damaging than boll weevils (in some locations).

Able to increase populations rapidly.

Widespread across the cotton belt.

Difficult to control economically.

Nematodes, primarily root knot and reniform, take huge chunks out of cotton farmers’ incomes each year, and the best management technique may still be several years away.

“Nematodes have become significant pests across the cotton belt and take a heavy toll on production,” says Bob McLendon, a Leary, Ga. cotton farmer and former president of the National Cotton Council.

McLendon moderated a panel discussion on nematode management strategies recently at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta. Panelists from across the belt, representing growers, research and Extension, shared infestation data, loss potential, research needs and management techniques.

“This is an age-old problem,” said James Starr, Texas A&M University. Agricultural scientists “first discovered nematodes in the 1890s. We know they cause significant yield and economic losses and that management will improve profit potential.”

Starr said nematodes come in a wide variety of species and races but root knot is the most widespread. “In Texas, we see a lot of root knot nematodes in the Panhandle. Reniform nematodes are increasing in Louisiana and are severe in Alabama. The Columbia Lance primarily infests South Carolina fields but also shows up in North Carolina and Georgia. Damage from the Lance can be severe.”

Infestations often go undetected, Starr says, because nematodes do their work below ground. “Often, they leave no discrete symptoms but a farmer can lose from 5 percent to 10 percent of his yield and see no warning signs. Fortunately, we’ve awareness of the problem has increased in the last 10 years, but we still need more support for research.”

Critical needs include resistant or tolerant varieties, he said.

John Shackleford, a Bonito, Louisiana farmer, said reniform nematodes have emerged as a major pest problem. “I know way more about reniform nematodes than I wish I knew, but I still don’t know enough.”

He agrees that resistant varieties hold the most promise for adequate management. “But that’s still a ways down the road. With transgenic varieties, however, we may be closer. Unfortunately, little research is being done.”

He hopes a Reniform Nematode Action Committee will help bring the problem to the forefront. “We need to begin identifying some common varieties that have tolerance.”

For the time being, Shackleford depends mostly on rotation to manage the problem. “With high numbers, we have to rotate or treat with pesticides,” he said. “We’ve used Telone, but with cotton so cheap, we can’t afford it.”

He said cotton and peanuts provide an excellent combination. “I also plant corn two years in a row to reduce the numbers. Even with that, I can still find counts as high as 20,000 per sample.”

David Wildy, Manila, Ark. farmer, battles more root knot than reniform nematodes. “I have a lot of sandy soil,” he said. “Boll weevils and boll worms are not as big a threat as they are further south, but nematodes are gaining on us. We’re beginning to pick up numbers above treatment levels. The trend on my farm is alarming.”

He said in 1998, he found 50 nematodes per sample. By 2000, that number had jumped to more than 800 per sample.

Populations, he said, are distributed across the field and range from four per sample to more than 700 (per 100 cc of soil).

“Telone gives us a yield increase of 53 pounds per acre but (at current prices) the expense is not justified. Temik, applied sided dress, provides a 50 pound increase and a slight profit improvement,” Wildy said.

He agrees with Shackleford that variety tolerance holds the key for management. LA 887 may be a possibility, he said.

Moe accurate treatment thresholds, better sampling techniques, improved procedures for handling living organism samples and economical control options top his list of research needs.

Gary W. Lawrence, professor with Mississippi State University, said the reniform nematode “is becoming the most serious pest in the 11 Southeastern states. The pest infests some 1.2 million acres, 19 percent of the region’s cotton. Infestation levels range from 1.4 percent to 55 percent. Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia have high numbers of reniform nematodes.

“The pest is difficult to see,” Lawrence said. “We know yields decline year after year, and if we pull plants we can see the pests, including small egg masses and a kidney-shaped nematode in the root system. Root necrosis may also be apparent.”

Lawrence said 1,000 nematodes per 100 cc sample could reduce yield by 7 percent. “As populations increase, yield loss goes up. In Mississippi, we’ve seen a 153,000 bale reduction from nematode damage.”

Management, Lawrence says, depends on a combination of tactics, including rotation (resistant grain sorghum, corn, peanuts and wheat), tolerance (DP 420 RR), and chemicals (Temik, Telone, Vydate).

Precision application techniques, according to Texas A&M researcher Terry Wheeler, currently provide little help in controlling nematode populations. “Sampling costs,” she said, “limit our opportunity to profit from precision ag technology. Sampling is expensive, difficult and time-consuming. And we’ve seen no significant improvement in yield with variable rate applications versus total field treatments.”

Wheeler said sampling techniques are not accurate enough. Field populations range from 30 percent with no infestation, 30 percent with moderate and 30 percent with high levels.

“Also, yield losses vary according to weather and other factors. Chemicals must be applied at an effective rate to reduce nematode numbers and pesticides must be applied accurately.”

She said nematodes have “to be costing farmers yields before treatment is justified.”

Gus Lorenz, University of Arkansas, said nematodes “make life difficult for growers. After they put seed in the ground, they begin to lose choices. Farmers have to know what they need to do before the season starts. They need to know if they have nematodes and then they can consider control options.”

Lorenz said pesticide options for nematode and thrips control include Orthene, Temik, Di-Syston, Thimet, Gaucho/Adage, Telone and Vydate. “Temik is the best choice for in-furrow treatments for nematodes and thrips,” he said. “We get about a 50 pound yield advantage. Still, nematicides will not turn a sorry field into a good one and they work better some years than they do others.

“Nematodes are like weeds,” he said. “We can never control them, but we have to manage them. We usually don’t see a crop failure but nematodes will take the high off a good year and make a bad year even worse.

“We have no new management techniques, no new chemicals, no transgenic cultivars and no fertilizers or plant growth regulators to help control nematodes. And we can’t manage them if we don’t know what’s out there.”

Phil Roberts, University of California, Riverside, said an assay of root galls may prove a better sampling technique than counting pests in soil. He said an Acala type cotton, NemX, shows some resistance to root knot nematodes. “Even without treatments, it shows tremendous yield differential compared to non-resistant. This is not the greatest variety so it behooves us to put resistance traits in good varieties.”

Until that happens, he said, farmers have to rotate.

Root knot nematodes are the major problem in southwest Georgia, said Eddie McGriff, Decatur County agent. “We find some reniform in heavier soils.”

Two root knot species infest the area, the southern and the peanut. “Cotton is a non-host to the peanut root knot nematode. And peanuts are non-host to the southern, so we have a good rotation option.”

McGriff said farmers should watch for stunting, reddening of leaves and interveinal necrosis. “And pull roots up carefully for samples or the galls will fall off.”

He said routine sampling techniques will not differentiate between the two root knot species. “We have to pull samples and grow them on a tomato so we can tell by the galls.”

Sampling is necessary to determine if chemical treatment is justified, McGriff said. He said Telone and Temik are excellent options. Temik side dressed is “very good.”

He recommends that farmers “consider the field history. On acreage with multiple years of cotton, walk the fields carefully and look for symptoms.”

McGriff said rotation helps, but some corn varieties are not as good as others. “Farmers in this area have changed corn hybrids and some are more susceptible to nematodes. Southern nematode populations will carry over from corn, so we prefer not to plant cotton behind corn.”

McGriff said weed control also plays an important role. Some weeds will host nematode populations.

Panelists challenged seed companies to screen for nematode resistance and tolerance as they look for better varieties.

“We can’t always generate enough money with rotation crops to support our farm community infrastructure,” Shackleford said.

“Grow the best cotton possible,” said Wheeler. “The less stress the cotton faces, the less damage it will get from nematodes.”

e-mail: Rsmith@primediabusiness.com.

Challenge, opportunity ahead for feedgrains

Profitability for U.S. corn, grain sorghum and wheat depends on the grain industry's ability to demonstrate the advantage of buying from the United States, as well as educating customers on bio-tech issues and keeping close tabs on competitors.

“Imagination also will play a key role,” says Kenneth Hobbie, executive vice president, U.S. Grains Council.

“We have to continue searching for new markets and new uses for grains,” he said recently in an address to the Texas Commodity Symposium at Amarillo.

Hobbie expressed optimism for the grain industry and provided a “report card” as a benchmark for improvement.

“Trade outlook gets a B+: that's up from a B. The world economy rates a C. We still see some cloudiness. Biotech merits a B+ and that's an improvement.

“Value-added products earn an A+. Customers' interest in value-added products is increasing.”

Hobbie said the export market is critical for the U.S. grain industry, accounting for 21 percent of annual feedgrain sales. Adding livestock exports, or “grain on the hoof,” pushes the percentage even higher.

Corn producers export 20 percent of their production and grain sorghum exports account for almost 50 percent of production.

“Markets are being driven by growing populations, but populations that are moving into urban areas where they find jobs and better incomes.”

He said world economic growth; changing dietary demands, which include more meat; nations' willingness to trade; and competition for markets play key roles in international trade.

“Customers have changed, Hobbie said. “In 1980, about 80 percent of grain purchasers were governments; now that's only 20 percent of the market.”

Hobbie said the United Sates maintains the lion's share of the world corn and gain sorghum markets. “We provide 64 percent of the corn traded in international markets and 77 percent of the grain sorghum, which may increase to 84 percent in 2002.”

Chief corn buyers include Japan, Mexico, Taiwan, Egypt, Korea, Colombia, Venezuela, Algeria, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.

“Japan is by far the biggest customer,” Hobbie said, “but they dropped some last year. The Star Link issue affected the market, but that likely will change. The Japanese market stopped growing five years ago, when their livestock production topped out.

“But we have new market opportunities with a biodegradable product made from corn, and Star Link is almost gone as an issue. Japan offers a good opportunity for value-added products.”

Mexico has emerged as an important customer, “a positive effect of NAFTA. Canada also makes the top 10 list.”

Hobbie said Mexico tops the list of customers for grain sorghum and “we see nothing to slow that market.”

Taiwan buys nearly 100 percent of its corn from the United States and also is moving into value-added products. They are developing an ethanol industry and are interested in the biodegradable products.”

Egypt has seen increases in income with an accompanying demand for more livestock. “The current turmoil in the Middle East could affect these markets,” he said.

South Korea is a puzzle. “They are buyers of opportunity, looking for the cheapest feed available. They have gone to China a lot, but the WTO may help us.”

South and Central American countries, combined, make up the third largest market for U.S. coarse grains.

“China offers a significant opportunity. The WTO agreement allows 300 million bushels of corn into China. New Chinese customers also are unaffected by government policy, and we're confident they are ready to buy grain.”

He said Russia is coming back as customer for feedgrains, mostly for poultry. “They will buy one-half million tons this year.”

Removing export subsidies will be important for improved international trade, Hobbie said. “Currently, export subsidies amount to $50 per ton.”

Sanctions also affect potential sales. “But Iran, Iraq, Libya and others are buying U.S. grain from third parties. Cuba also offers potential for increased trade.”

Hobbie said biotechnology remains a key issue in international grain trade.

“But biotech is not going away. It's not just a U.S. issue because other countries have a vested interest in the success of biotech. I don't think we're going to lose that technology. It's around for the long term.”

He said producers in the meantime might find premiums and ready markets for non-GMO grains.

“Europe, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Mexico, Colombia, South Korea, and China currently have issues with biotech.”

He said the problem is lack of education on biotech. “A thin layer of scientists in other countries understand biotechnology,” Hobbie said. “We'll focus efforts on education. and we're willing to work with countries to address their concerns. We can't let it become a trade barrier.”

And trade should be a key in any new farm bill, Hobbie said.

Imagination also will help sell U.S. grain. “We're looking at new uses for grain crops,” Hobbie said. “Snack foods made from grain sorghum, for instance offer new market opportunities in Japan and elsewhere. Cookies and chips made from grain sorghum flour may soon be on Japanese grocery shelves.”

PLA, a bio-based plastic with uses in textiles and other industries, also provides new market opportunities for grains. Ethanol will become more important.

“We're also looking at value-added grain, nutritionally enhanced products and high oil corn. White, food grade grain sorghum also offers new opportunities.


e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com

Farm bill still weeks away?

“We know time is not a luxury. We’ve got to get this thing done as soon as we can,” Mark Keenum, chief of staff for Sen. Thad Cochran, told growers at the 2002 Delta Ag Expo Jan. 23 in Cleveland, Miss.

The good news, he says, is that money is available for the 2002 crop, whether or not a new farm bill is passed in time to cover this year’s crop. “We’ve got the money one way or another. You’re either going to get it through a new farm bill, or you’re going to get it in another disaster payment.”

Keenum says, “If for some reason we get bogged down in conference, and we can’t get this bill finished in a manner that allows it to be implemented for this year’s 2002 crop, the President has committed to $7.5 billion of extra money for this year’s crop. So if we can’t get the bill passed, we do have AMTA monies for another disaster payment. Money, which we would argue, needs to be delivered to farmers this spring. We don’t want to wait until the end of harvest time to get this money to farmers. We’d like to see this money infused into the farm economy as quickly as is possible.”

The most direct route to getting a new farm bill passed, he says, is the quick passage of a farm bill by the Senate, moving the debate into conference.

“There is a desire to get back to the farm bill very quickly. I expect that action will be taken in the Senate on the Harkin Farm Bill proposal before the end of January. Then the bill will go to conference to make the two bills mesh and come together as one,” Keenum says.

“Our number one priority is to get a farm bill passed by the Senate, and get it into conference,” he says. “It took us nearly four weeks to conference the last farm bill. It takes a while to work out these differences. This farm bill probably won’t be any difference than that.”

Keenum is optimistic that a farm bill could emerge from conference by the beginning of March. “Then when we hand it to the Department of Agriculture, they’re going to have a fit because it’s going to at least allow farmers to update their bases, and possibly their yields. You think of all of the farmers and all of the county offices, and they are going to have to get busy in a hurry to get all of this implemented in time for the 2002 crop.”

Exactly what the 2002 Farm Bill will look like, and what its life span will be, are still up for debate. Keenum believes the farm legislation will include complete planting flexibility with no set aside rules, and will allow farmers to at least update their program bases, and possibly their program yields. It will probably also include some type of counter cyclical payment program, and some type of farm savings account provision.

The new farm bill, he says, will allow the continuation of fixed payments, but at a rate that will be vigorously debated in conference. Also to be worked out in conference are the marketing loan program rates.

“We could also have something that’s more akin to Senator Cochran’s farm bill proposal, with very high AMTA payments that are locked in at one level for the life of the farm bill,” Keenum says.

A big issue in the debate, he says, is the concern by some that the $73.5 billion in additional farm bill funding approved in 2001 to write the farm bill will evaporate in 2002. However, he says, “President Bush has committed to that not happening. Money will be not an issue in this farm bill.”

Also at issue, are the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) regulations concerning farm support payments. Under WTO, loan rates are “trade distorting amber box payments,” which are limited to $19.1 billion for the United States.

“We’re already bumping up against that limit, which could cause problems with increasing loan rates. To compound the problem, counter-cyclical payments also fall into this amber box. So, we may be passing policy that can’t be enacted,” Keenum says.

In comparison, he says, there is no WTO limit on green box payments, which includes direct AMTA payments. “That’s the reason, Cochran concentrated the assistance in his farm bill proposal on direct-payments.”

Both the House and Harkin’s Senate farm bill proposals include language that tells the Secretary to will administer these programs in a manner that does not violate our trade agreements.

“On one hand, you are passing policy that makes it very likely that we will violate our trade policies. And on the other hand, you’re telling us administer the program so we can’t violate our trade agreements,” he says. “That’s the situation we are facing, and both the loan rates and counter cyclical program are going to be big issues in the conference.”

Keenum adds, “Each camp is trying to blame the other camp on why we weren’t getting a farm bill passed. The bottom line is that we just ran out of time. If we had more time, and if we weren’t backed up to the holiday break, I’m convinced we would have passed the farm bill.”

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com

Irrigating soybeans with less labor

Willard Jack doesn't grow as many non-irrigated soybeans as he used to. Over the last five years, Jack says, he's done several things.

“We spent the time and money to grade some land and we quit farming some fields. I was growing early narrow-row Group 4s and some of the land didn't fit into my scheme. I'm not saying growing dryland soybeans can't work, but at current prices it's very difficult,” says Jack, who spoke at the Tri-State Soybean Forum and Southern Soybean Conference in Dumas, Ark., on Jan. 4.

Jack, who farms corn, cotton, rice and soybeans near Belzoni, Miss., still grows a few irrigated Group 4s. However, his primary crop is early-planted Group 5s.

“This year, my operation seemed to be the only one that was wet early. Usually we plant our soybeans before planting cotton and after corn.”

“We irrigate out of fish ponds, wells and lakes. We use hard pipe and run water uphill and downhill. Not everything is perfect. We use every irrigation system, including pivots, which we have on 1,400 acres — about the same acreage that we row water.”

Most of Jack's crop is in a rotation. He grows corn and beans, corn and cotton, and rice and beans. People often ask why Jack grows corn on cotton land. The land, he says, isn't that good — it's “pretty heavy buckshot.”

As far as scheduling, Jack simply starts watering when it gets dry and doesn't look back. “With pivots, my philosophy is to start early, go hard and hope they don't break down. Pivots work wonderfully for the first five to 10 years. The next 10 to 15 years, pivots are a bit tougher with maintenance. My pivots are around 22 years old and they're reasonably successful.”

One thing that's a bit of a trick with pivots is the way to deal with wheel tracking. Jack takes a rice levee plow, follows the track and plows up a levee. The pivots walk on the levees and keep out of deep ruts.

“With all our pipe — hard or flexible tubing — we try to get all our motors serviced at the same time so we're ready to go early. We try to get our flexible tubing rolled out on a rainy day.”

The irrigation system Jack has set up is, in great measure, a necessity because of his labor force. “It's hard to get anyone to work Saturdays. On Sunday mornings, I'm usually alone. So we try to start early in the week. If it looks like we might need water on the crop over the next week to 10 days, we start early.

“We've found in row watering that if we run water when it isn't too dry, the water moves quicker and gets off quicker. That means we don't over-water. I think it's better to run a little early than to wait a little late. Get the water on the field before the cracks are able to open too wide.”

Jack has a sign on his shop door that reads, “Think, man, think.”

“I always want to know where the crop will be 10 days down the road. Watch the forecasts. There's a big difference in water needs at 75 degrees and at 100 degrees.”

For the last two years, Jack has used some large, H valves that he had made. “We divide certain fields into thirds. We run one line of flexible tubing all the way down and lay it on the ground. Then we run another line in front of it about two-thirds of the way down the field. We then use a big H valve in the back line and front line. The H valve allows us to put water in three spots without ever opening or closing a gate.”

With this system Jack has been able to take two or three people out of his watering crew.

“I don't know if the system is any cheaper. But by the end of the summer, things are wild — someone is trying to harvest corn, someone is involved in something else, the football season starts and my irrigation crew goes back to school. The beans still need to be watered, and I'm left by myself. I can water the beans myself because there's a pin in the valve. Using that, I can move water to another row.”

It does cost a little more. How much more? It's really simple, says Jack. If you have a field where the pipe costs $5 an acre, you'll need to raise that to about $10 per acre. Plus you have to pay for the valve, which can be constructed out of steel or plastic. Jack's are aluminum, so they're easier to move.

“The big thing about irrigation is management. The worst thing I ever heard someone say regarding this is, ‘Man, I don't want to worry about watering these cheap soybeans.’ Well, if you're not thinking about watering soybeans in July, you probably shouldn't have planted and started watering them at all. If you're going to water beans, you should start planning early — get everything laid out and dug. Once that's done, you can hope you never have to run the system. But even with an extremely wet year, I still ended up irrigating everything at least once.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.

Commodity Classic, Feb. 21-23

COMMODITY CLASSIC, scheduled Feb. 21-23, 2002, in Nashville, Tenn., will be an opportunity for soybean and corn producers to gather information and knowledge that will help them increase their profitability.

Based on individual interest, growers can choose sessions they want to attend from a two-day schedule of concurrent seminars. In addition, all growers will have the opportunity to attend a stand-alone session on the farm bill and one on marketing.

Commodity Classic, the Seventh Annual Convention and Trade Show of the American Soybean Association (ASA) and National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), provides opportunities to learn, discuss hot topics, see new products, and network with other growers.

Commodity Classic is an opportunity for growers to include their families and spend a few extra days enjoying the many activities in and around Nashville. Complete details and registration information are on the web at: www.commodityclassic.com, or call 636-928-3700.

Cotton growers seek balance between cost-cutting, returns

Newellton, La., cotton producer Jay Hardwick says a cotton yield monitor could be the key to his profitability. Dos Palos, Calif., producer Daniel Burns says his approach to ultra-narrow-row cotton is new and yield-enhancing, and surprisingly, he harvests with a spindle picker.

Hardwick and Burns were members of a panel of aggressive cotton producers who have found practices and systems that are helping them to balance cost reductions and net returns. The panelists spoke of their experiences at the 2002 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta.

“We can't survive or expect to prosper by doing to same thing over and over again,” Hardwick said. “It's time for all of us to think about the future of cotton production and where we are going.

“We know we are in a highly competitive environment. We're not going to have cheap land and labor. We're going to have to compete with new management and new technologies.”

Hardwick believes farmers need to do more on-farm testing. “New pesticides and seeds are coming and we have to learn how to manage them.

“But no matter what we explore, we have to have a cost benefit. We have to have yield and quality. The best way to explore our yield is to get a GPS yield monitor. The sum total of our efforts and Nature's efforts is yield. With the yield monitor, we can identify, locate, measure and analyze data to make better decisions.”

Burns has developed a unique production system he calls California ultra-narrow-row cotton. “We grew single-row, 30-inch cotton for 15 years, but decided about four years ago to plant two rows of cotton on a 30-inch bed and call it California UNR cotton.

“What we found was that growing double-row cotton decreased our inputs and increased our yields,” said Burns, who raises about 1,600 acres of cotton, including 700 acres of UNR cotton.

Burns increased yield in UNR cotton by 8 percent over conventional cotton and saved $60 per acre on labor and cultivation. He harvests the UNR cotton with a spindle picker.

Other panelists:

Buckeye, Ariz., cotton producer Jerry Rovey has his own approach to UNR cotton, including setting it up with borders for flood irrigation. “We started planting UNR cotton three years ago. The first year we had excellent yield and quality, so we decided to work it into a double-crop program with barley.”

Rovey plants cotton on 10-inch centers. The Roundup Ready varieties were planted at a population of 125,000 to 140,000 plants per acre.

“It's important the barley stubble is dead or dying when the cotton is coming up,” he said. “You really need the stubble because the ground will be hard and crusted after the first irrigation.”

“The real value of precision agriculture is doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time, in the right way,” said Brock Taylor, speaking for California cotton producer Ted Sheely, “We are reclaiming these high-sodium soils because we're putting the right amount of gypsum (as a soil amendment) in the right areas. And we're not spending money where we don't need it.”

Sheely also VR-applies nitrogen and Pix, which saved about $5 an acre, according to Taylor.

Sheely uses Beeline auto-guidance systems on his farm. The technology, working off satellites and a bay station located on the farmer's ranch, is accurate to less than 1 inch, according to Taylor. “The system is a real advantage for night application,” he said.

Elk City, Okla., cotton producer Daniel Davis told attendees that his conversion to no-till “removes the threat of losing an entire cotton crop to a 30-minute sandstorm. I think no-till has both long-term and short-term benefits. Irrigation is not an option in our area. We have to maximize every drop of rainfall. No-till helps us do that.”

Other benefits include more-consistent yields, higher organic matter content, improved soil characteristics and better water infiltration. “The return of earthworms to our farms is proof of some of the positive benefits of no-till farming. We had a farm that in 1982 had 0.3 percent organic matter that came back at 2 percent organic matter recently.”

Davis seeds rye in the cotton crop in August. “We try to get the cover crop up and established by harvest to keep the land from blowing.”

The rye grows until early spring and is burned down with Roundup. “We're more concerned about the condition and size of the rye rather than the calendar.”

Davis suggests that growers find an expert to discuss their no-till plans with. “You need a plan. The biggest cause of failure that I see is farmers trying it on a 30-acre patch, and when the first thing goes wrong, they give up. My advice is to try it on a large enough piece of acreage that it hurts if it doesn't work.”

Midland, Texas, cotton producer Jerry Hoelscher is going to drip irrigation to offset the effects of chronic lack of rainfall in the region.

“The drip tapes are 80 inches apart and 13 inches deep. Fertilizer is applied through the drip system. In our situation, drip irrigation is the answer to today's water conservation issues. I increased yield four years ago 75 to 80 percent using drip with 18 inches of water.”

Hartsville, S.C., cotton producer Gill Rogers was one of the first producers in his area to irrigate cotton. “I became fascinated after seeing it in California. I saw that in the West they used their resources better than we did.”

Rogers is looking at drip irrigation because many of his fields are too small for center pivots. “But we never did attain the yields we expected with drip. We had good yields this year, but drip is still in the experimental stage until we can get consistently higher yields.”

Mike Newberry, Arlington, Ga., says growers should consider all cost-saving practices, no matter how small.

One cost-saving practice is the variable-rate application of lime. “We know we can cut our lime costs and end up with a lot less variability. We also are using precision agriculture techniques to variably apply Pix. But you don't need a lot of high tech. We can just use our eyes to judge the height of the crop.”


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.

Georgia's Brown named cotton specialist of year

Steve Brown, cotton team leader for the University of Georgia Extension Service, has been named Extension Cotton Specialist of the Year by specialists from across the Cotton Belt.

Brown was honored during the Extension Cotton Specialists dinner at the Beltwide Cotton Conference in Atlanta. Uniroyal Chemical, a subsidiary of Crompton Co., sponsors the event annually.

“I have worked with Dr. Brown since 1996 and have seen how dedicated he is to the industry,” said Phillip Roberts, Extension entomologist with the University of Georgia. “He is well-respected among county agents in Georgia and as a leader of our cotton team.

“I truly value what he does as a professional and look to him for leadership.”

Brown became Georgia's cotton team leader in 1995. His primary role is to be a resource person for Georgia county Extension agents in all cotton production matters.

Besides general cotton management issues, Brown focuses on variety selection, planting procedures, plant growth regulators, harvest aids and other agronomic issues. He also serves as a liaison to various public and private sector organizations interested in cotton.

Brown received his doctor of philosophy degree from Texas A&M University in 1986 and began work as a weed scientist at the University of Georgia shortly after graduation. He and his wife, Lisa, have three sons, Charles, Knox and Luke.

Timing weed control with BXN cotton

The Laneys farmed 2,940 acres of cotton in 2001, including 2,400 acres of Stoneville varieties for seed production. They say the big benefit of BXN 49B, which is resistant to the herbicide Buctril, is they can time herbicide applications to the size of the weed, rather than the age of the cotton plant. That’s especially helpful when the weeds are morningglory and cocklebur.

On the BXN 49B field, the Laneys applied 45 units of nitrogen pre-plant and 60 units side-dressed. All pre-plant nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium were applied with variable-rate (VR) equipment.

For the VR application, soil consultant, Joe Pettiet, Pettiet Ag Services, Leland, Miss., precision soil-sampled on 2.5-acre grids. "He puts the information in a computer disk," Johnny explained. "The applicator can put the disk in a Terra-Gator (for variable rate application of fertilizer).

"You have to trust the applicator and Dr. Pettiet because it’s all way above my head," he added. "But basically, with VR, you put the fertilizer where you need it, and you don’t put it where you don’t need it. In the long run, the technology is supposed to save us money, and it ought to help our yields."

The Laneys will put down Treflan or Trilin at planting on all cotton, even Roundup Ready cotton. "A lot of farmers might not do that with Roundup Ready cotton — if you’re able to get in there and spray it twice before the fifth true leaf. But that’s hard to do if you catch or rain or two."

BXN 49B was planted at a seeding rate of 12 pounds per acre on May 1. Pre-emerge herbicides were Cotoran at six-tenths of a pound with 2 ounces of Command, for wild cotton, on a 20-inch band. They also applied Temik at 3.5 pounds for thrips control.

It was a low-cost year in terms of insect control.

"We applied insecticides twice the entire season," Johnny said. "Ammo for bollworms in July and Bidrin in the middle part of August for plant bugs. That, plus the Temik is all the insecticide we used all year. We’re real pleased with that."

The Laneys applied Pix on the BXN 49B, but at a lower rate than on other cultivars. "That tells me that the 49B is a shorter, more compact plant than some other Stoneville varieties with the same lineage," Johnny said.

"But it can get away from you," he added. "We have another 34-acre furrow-irrigated field of 49B that had been in soybeans for several years, and there was some extra nitrogen in the soil. We didn’t cut our nitrogen rate back and didn’t know the Good Lord was going to bless us with some rainfall."

In early June, the Laneys sprayed 8 ounces of Buctril on a 16-inch band. "We used three tips to the row, one over the middle, two on either side with a cultivator. We plowed it and sprayed it one time."

Buctril "is probably a little better than Roundup on morningglories and cockleburs, but it is not active on grasses," Johnny said. "But both of them are good, better than anything we had 30 years ago when I started farming."

The producers also spot-sprayed Select for johnsongrass with an eight-row Scan-Ray from Mid-South Farm Supply. "You use that when the johnsongrass gets above the cotton," Johnny said. "On each row it has electric sensors that turn the nozzles on when you come upon a clump of johnsongrass. It saved a lot of chemical."

They finished the crop out with two more cultivations and a layby of Direx. Then Mother Nature threw the Laneys a curve ball.

The BXN 49B looked like a two-bale-plus crop by early August, according to the Laneys. "Unfortunately, we got about 11 inches of rain on all of the BXN 49B fields before we had a chance to pick them," Jack said. "No doubt, that hurt it."

They had even worse luck with one BXN 49B field planted previously in soybeans. "It wasn’t the best dirt in the world," Jack noted. "But we land-formed it so we could furrow-irrigate it last spring. The cuts we had to make hurt the soil some, so we’ll put gin trash on that field this year to build it back."

A hailstorm hit the beleaguered field in mid-May, and the Laneys had to replant about half of the field in the middle of June. That field averaged 536 pounds. "But you can’t blame any of that on the variety," Jack said.

With that field, the BXN 49B averaged 824 pounds, without it, 914 pounds. Other BXN fields averaged 900, 938 and 966 pounds, and the 34-acre field which had been in soybeans the previous year averaged 753 pounds.

The Laneys were pleased with grades and quality across all 2,940 acres. "We had a very small percentage of high micronaire cotton, but nothing like the some competing varieties we’ve heard about. Our average micronaire was 4.6 to 4.8. And we were getting the best grades I can remember right before the big rain. After the rain, we started seeing a lot of light spots."

The Laneys averaged 1,080 pounds per acre on 1,400 acres of ST 4892BR and 1,045 pounds on 694 acres of ST 474.

They averaged 1,036 pounds over the entire farm. "Anytime we do that, we’ve had a good year. On solid cotton, we need to average 900 pounds or better," Johnny said. "With the price of cotton, that’s not enough, but it should be."

Despite the ill-timed rains, the Laneys were happy with their BXN 49B. "I think it’s a good-yielding variety," Jack said. "The Buctril has a place for cockleburs and morningglories. And we like the Bt."

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.

Time right for planting tree seedlings

Cool temperatures and abundant soil moisture make this the ideal time for landowners to plant tree seedlings in Louisiana, Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Bob Odom says.

To help landowners with their reforestation projects, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry's annual pine and hardwood seedling sale is in full swing with plenty of both varieties still available.

“We've ended a three-year cycle of drought that prevented a lot of people from reforesting their lands after timber harvests, and those who did plant saw much of their crops suffer high levels of mortality,” Odom says. “But, now the weather is great and soil moisture levels are the best we've had in four years.”

Pine seedling packets come in a minimum order of a thousand seedlings. Pine seedlings available include superior loblolly, advanced generation loblolly and slash pine.

Charles Matherne, reforestation chief for the department, says the superior loblolly seedlings have a 14 percent to 18 percent gain in growth over wild seedlings, which means they will be mature enough for harvest in nine to 12 years versus 15 to 17 years for other trees.

“We have bred pine trees specifically for application in Louisiana for about 35 years and improved their genetics greatly,” said Matherne. “Through selective parent breeding we've not only increased the growth rate, but also have improved wood quality and disease resistance.”

Matherne also mentions that the advanced generation loblolly has a 24 percent to 34 percent gain in growth over wild seedlings, and the slash pine has a 30 percent to 34 percent gain in growth paired with an exceptional resistance to rust cankers over wild seedlings.

Hardwood seedlings are available in about 35 species, including water oak, native sweet pecan, river birch and sweet gum. Hardwood packets require a minimum order of 50 seedlings.

For information about ordering seedling packets, call any district office of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry or visit the Website www.ldaf.state.la.us and click on “seedling sales.” Seedling inventories are updated weekly on the site and a downloadable order form is also available for printing.

“Many people don't realize it, but timber is the number one agricultural crop grown in this state. We have nearly 14 million acres of trees growing in Louisiana forests that are a vital component of the state's economy,” Odom notes.

“By planting pine and hardwood seedlings, we continue contributing to the health of our environment and to the well-being of the state's economic future.”