What is in this article?:
John Friesen got into farming the hard way—starting from scratch with no family land or equipment to ease his way into a fulltime solo operation.
THIS IS WHAT FIVE-BALE COTTON looks like at harvest. Gaines County, Texas, farmer John Friesen, 34, adjusted management to reach the production goal.
“With any less water and without this indeterminant variety, we wouldn’t make that yield.” He also notes that making five bales per acre with pivot irrigation is an accomplishment. Most yields that top four bales typically come from subsurface drip systems. “This is good for center pivot farmers,” he says. “We can do it, too.”
His pivots are set 60 inches apart and hang about 30 inches above the plant with low drift nozzles.
Other management factors also played roles in Friesen’s crop.
He made two plant growth regulator applications, 8 ounces of Pentia followed by another 16 ounces 10 days later. “I should have used a little more and I should have gotten that first 8 ounces out a little earlier.”
Weed pressure was light, a condition he attributes partly to working in new soil. “I used only Roundup, two applications. I also hoed out some weeds manually. It didn’t seem much like work as I watched the cotton grow while I chopped the weeds.”
He says land coming out of the Conservation Reserve often has little weed pressure. “We get mostly grasses. The few weeds I pulled out of the field, I probably hauled in. I guess I pulled 30 or 40 weeds out. I also had some scattered hay grazer plants I had to hit with Roundup.”
Friesen says the new ground was an important factor in hitting five bales per acre. “But I’ve always rotated. I never go back-to-back with cotton.” He rotates mostly with wheat but also plants some grain sorghum.
“I harvest wheat, leave the field fallow until the following spring and plant cotton into the stubble.”
He’s adding another enterprise to his mix next year—grapes. “I’ll start with four acres; that’s about 5,500 plants, which some folks say is like 5,500 children. It takes a lot of work.”
And it will be three years before he harvests anything significant. “It’s a big investment,” he says. But grapes offer an opportunity to make a crop with less land and limited water, a situation that’s becoming a more critical issue across West Texas. “We can take a small acreage of grapes and concentrate water on them and still have a good farm,” Friesen says.
Farmers need options. “Our dryland cotton this year made nothing. We have to get smarter and work harder.”
Friesen says starting from scratch was a tough beginning but jokes that he didn’t know enough to think it wouldn’t work. “Looking back, I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” he says.
His father had worked on a farm when Friesen was growing up. “Until I left, I didn’t realize how much I missed the farm,” he says.
Making five bales per acre on a 120-acre patch of cotton, even in an off year across the board, should keep him focused for a few more years, and he’s already thinking about six bales.