Four-bale cotton requires a better than average variety, ample water, a proper nutrition program, timely application of necessary practices and just a smidgen of luck.

That’s what Randy Hargrove, Memphis, Texas, cotton and alfalfa producer, says helped him make 2,159 pounds per acre on just over 72 of the 400 acres of irrigated cotton he harvested last fall. He also irrigates 90 acres of alfalfa.

He was especially pleased with the yield considering rainfall for the third year in a row was sparse. His other acreage didn’t top four bales but yield ranged from 1,300 pounds per acre to 1,616 pounds per acre—on limited water. “I planted that field (1,616 pound yield) late, June 16,” Hargrove said. He planted his best cotton in early May.

Hargrove received very little rain last year and pre-watered cotton with 4 inches of water before he planted. “Last year was almost as bad as 2011,” he said. “We’re in a four-year drought cycle and this year could be worse than 2011. It’s starting off that way.”

He had already added 6 inches of pre-water irrigation to his cotton land as he prepared to plant in early May. He planted his best field May 1 last year and would have started planting by late April this year but a cold snap delayed him a bit. Plant population runs from 50,000 to 52,000 plants per acre with a seed drop rate of three per foot of row.

He thinks he can top last year’s production. With 6 inches of pre-plant irrigation, Hargrove says he’s “set up for a better crop than last year.”

For the latest on cotton and other Southwest crops, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.

He says his wells “have held up. But water quality is not as good. We’re nozzled for 950 gallons per minute (on our best water). Wells are about 120 feet deep and we do everything we can to conserve water.” He said if conditions warrant, he’ll irrigate again before planting to assure ample moisture for germination.

Lot of water needed

Cotton took a lot of irrigation water last year. “We pretty much had to leave it on after we started irrigating,” he said. In-season he switches to bubbler nozzles. He builds row dikes to help hold water in place. “We also plant a circle row pattern to hold water,” he added.

He plants in a two in and two out skip pattern to spread water out better. He leaves old cotton stalks in the field all winter. “I come in with a para-till without disturbing the old stalks.” He plants in the fallow rows beside the old stalks and then chops the stalks after planting.

Choosing between keeping a cover crop alive with irrigation to reduce the possibility of wind damage in the spring or to save water for the summer crop is often a hard decision, but he believes conserving the water is more important. He gets some protection from the old cotton stalks. He also interseeds rye between cotton rows in some fields and leaves the stubble.

“We have to come up with a way to hold soil rather than watering a cover crop,” he said.