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Ultra narrow rows changing cotton industry

Increased acceptance of ultra narrow row planting and conservation tillage top the list of technology that is changing the Texas Plains cotton industry, says a Farwell, Texas, producer.

"We've increased acreage of narrow row cotton," said Mark Williams during a farmer panel discussion on technology's role in least-cost cotton production systems at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Anaheim, Calif.

He says weed control has changed. "We have gotten rid of our cultivator and we make fewer trips across our fields. From seeding to harvest, we probably make only two or three trips."

Williams said he's still "working with plant populations of 120,000 to 130,000 per acre in ultra narrow row systems, on good land. I think 60,000 plants per acre is possible."

Williams says he's increasing irrigation efficiency to conserve a valuable but increasingly limited resource. "We apply all water beneath the crop canopy to prevent evaporation loss," he said.

Rotation is a key aspect of William's system. "Cotton yields increase from one-half to one bale per acre with a corn or grain sorghum rotation."

He doesn't rotate no-till cotton, however. "We plant in standing cotton stubble. Stubble may interfere with harvest, but we reduce the effect by shredding stalks to around 8 inches. That provides wind protection and improves harvest efficiency.

"We conserve a lot of moisture with no-till," he said. "Reduced tillage has become an important part of our operation."

He's also adopted Bt and Roundup Ready technology to improve weed and insect management.

Williams says gin technology also holds promise to improve production systems. He said new systems allow ginners to identify quality factors that affect grade and price. "Information can help us select varieties that yield better and earn a better loan value."

"I'd like to see drought-tolerant cotton varieties. I want to see a seed treatment to control early-season insect pests. I would like to see a Roundup Ready variety we could spray later in the season."

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