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With tillage, less is best

The Mid-South winner of the 2002 High Cotton award winner has a high-input, high-yield approach to cotton production. But when it comes to tillage, less is best.

“We try to no-till everything we have,” said Jonesboro, Ark., cotton producer Marty White. “No-till has cut down on my labor and equipment. On my heavier type land, it's normally wet in the spring and the no-till will dry out a lot faster.

White first saw how no-till might work on his operation in the early 1980s.

“I was farming in Craighead County (Ark.) then and one of my landowners worked for the Soil Conservation Service. He wanted me to try some no-till soybeans behind wheat. In those days, we didn't have the chemicals we have now. I tried it, and had a big weed failure. But as it turned out, that was a drought year, and those beans were the only ones I harvested.”

It took a few years for the industry to develop the chemicals and equipment for no-till. Today, White has no-tilled on a large scale for about eight years.

After harvest, White's crop consultant Eddie Cates runs soil tests and determines how much fertilizer to apply for a two-bale-plus yield. Mixed fertilizer is broadcast on top of the ground early in the spring.

Nitrogen is applied two to three weeks before planting with a John Deere 4710 High Cycle. “As soon as we get a good stand and get everything cleaned up, we knife in the rest of our nitrogen.”

White will burn down with Roundup and 2,4-D early in the spring. At planting, “We usually have to put out something behind the presswheel — Gramoxone, Boa or Roundup — depending on what we have out.” Orthene is also applied in-furrow.

Planting begins the last of April or the first of May, with four 12-row planters.

Cotton varieties include Sure-Grow SG 215 BG/RR, Paymaster PM 1218 BG/RR, FiberMax FM 989 BR, FM 989 R, and Stoneville ST 4793 R. White goes with the 80/20 refuge option and all varieties are Roundup Ready.

Today's cotton varieties make cotton production even more challenging, according to White. “With these racehorse varieties, if you do everything right, you're going to really do well. But if have a little bit of adversity, you're not going to do as well. It will hurt it more.”

Bt cotton is an insurance policy against heavy worm infestations that paid off this year, noted White. In fact, he sprayed for tobacco budworms on non-Bt cotton five or six times with Tracer and Double Threat.

White and Cates have seen a much bigger problem with plant bugs and stinkbugs with the advent of Bt cotton and boll weevil eradication, but White says those pests are much more preferable to weevils and worms. “I've seen weevils damage us much more. Boll weevil eradication has been fantastic for us. It's going to put us back into cotton.”

White sprayed Orthene or Bidrin when both plant bugs and Southern green stinkbugs were present.

White will go with two over-the-top applications of Roundup with a John Deere 4710 and John Deere 6700 High Cycles, with 90-foot and 60-foot booms. “If the crop is good enough this year, we're going to replace the 60-foot boom with another 90-foot, so we can be timely with all our applications.

“On my size operation, to keep my yields up, I have to make timely applications. That's one thing I learned working with the Extension Service. A week can make a big difference. If you're going to have to spend the money anyway, you might as well do it on time and get the most benefit.”

White uses four 12-row Redball hooded sprayers for in-season weed control. “In certain areas where we have vines, we may run the plow, but it's on very few acres. And we have to run small furrowing plows for irrigating down the middles on our furrow-irrigated ground.”

White will run the hoods twice at the most, “but we went through only once with Roundup and Direx this year on a lot of our cotton. That was our layby.”

Most of White's cotton is irrigated, and fortunately, water supplies are ample. “We are so blessed,” White said. “We're on the right side of Crowley's Ridge. Our aquifer will recharge during the winter.”

Rains early this season reduced White's yield potential by 100 to 150 pounds per acre. Still, his cotton crop was shaping up to be one of his best ever by August. Then the crop took a hit from late-season rains in September, October and November which made for an extremely drawn-out cotton harvest.

White went with a two-step defoliation program, Def and Super Boll on two-thirds of his acreage, Ginstar on the rest, followed seven days later with Def and Super Boll. White harvested with three six-row John Deere 9976s and four four-row John Deere 9960s and six KBH module builders.

White markets his cotton through Staplcotn. “I've been with them since 1985 and I've been very pleased with them.”

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