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Steven Beakley strives to produce the best cotton feasible while conserving as much soil and moisture as possible on the Ellis County farm he works with his father, Bob. That commitment was instrumental in earning him the 2014 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for the Southwest Region.
ELLIS COUNTY, Texas, farmer Steven Beakley is the 2014 High cotton Award winner for the Southwest Region.
Variety selection is key
He attributes much of the farm’s success to cotton variety selection, rotation, ample fertility, plant management and timeliness. And a timely rain or two never hurts. Now, he’ll add harvesting with a round baler to that list.
“We generally don’t follow cotton with cotton,” he says. “An exception was three years ago, when the price went to $1 per pound or more, and we planted cotton back-to-back. But, we usually stick with a cotton/sunflower/wheat rotation. We like to plant cotton behind sunflowers Some folks say it’s not a good idea to plant two taproot crops back-to-back, but it hasn’t been an issue when we get some rain. We harvest wheat and fallow it all summer.”
They like to maintain some crop residue and use a minimum-till system to plant the next crop. “We’re not no-till, and not necessarily conventional,” Beakley explains. “We don’t get a lot of residue from sunflowers and ‘sizing’ (cutting the residue into smaller pieces) the sunflower stalks after harvest is important, or we have trouble with it.”
He runs a Kelly harrow over sunflower land immediately after harvest, then spreads chicken litter. He runs a disk once and then smoothes the field again just before planting.
He’s been pleased with the chicken litter. “We’ve been using it for about five years, and on the entire farm for the last three. We get a price advantage compared to commercial fertilizer, so we get a little more bang for the buck. Also, under stress conditions, the crop seems to hold on a little better with chicken litter, which puts organic matter back into the soil.”
Analysis shows he gets 51 percent nitrogen, 51 percent phosphorus, 56 percent potassium and “loads of sulfur, magnesium, iron, manganese and other elements. We apply 1 ton per acre annually.”
He side-dresses with commercial nitrogen, about 200 pounds of 32 percent on cotton. “Nitrogen in the chicken manure is organic, so it’s slow to release,” he says. “We supplement nitrogen as needed.”