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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.
The sunflower rotation has been a good option, Beakley says. “It’s a good dry weather crop. About 45 percent of our acreage has been in sunflowers. The market has held up well the past few years, but with all commodities down a bit this year, prices won’t be as strong.”
Sunflower acreage in the area has increased from about 5,000 to more than 20,000 “in just a few years,” he says, based on what he’s seen come through his grain elevator.
Cotton management during the growing season is another key factor in success, Beakley says. “Early-season insect control is important, primarily for fleahoppers and thrips. We spray based on scouting reports. We’re also firm believers in plant growth regulators. The rate varies with the year, but research shows we can’t really hurt cotton plants with a PGR. It doesn’t affect yield, but makes the plant more efficient.”
Timing of essential practices and applications “goes across the board,” Beakley says. “Everything we do is geared toward an early harvest — that’s the key. Typically, we want to be out of the field by early October so we don’t run into weather issues. That hasn’t been a factor for the past few years, but it can be trouble. We prefer to finish harvesting in September.”
The round module harvester helps with that, he says. This (2013) was the first year he used the John Deere machine, but he’s sold on its efficiency. “We can just keep going and don’t have to stop,” he says. He figures he can accomplish as much with one harvester in a day as he could with three conventional machines. It also allows him to eliminate two module builders and the extra labor necessary to operate them.
“The round module machine simplifies harvest,” he says, “They’ve been around for five years or so, but until you run one, you can’t appreciate the advantages.”
The module harvester, GPS technology, boll weevil eradication and genetic engineering are among the most important changes since he’s been farming, Beakley says. At just 42 years old, he’s seen a lot of those changes occur in a relatively short time.
“I remember the first time I saw Bt cotton — I knew then that I wanted it. About two years later, it was the same thing with Roundup Ready cotton.” He credits Monsanto’s work with transgenic cotton varieties with improving opportunities for cotton farmers in his region. “They have a tremendous support group, and have spent a lot of time testing varieties on our farm to help identify the best options.”
He grows 100 percent Deltapine varieties, including DP 1219, 1133, and 1321 for the 2013 crop, all Bt and Roundup Ready Flex.
Variety selection is the top priority for a successful cotton crop, he says. “That’s why I like to work with seed companies on varieties for the future.” In addition to the Deltapine plots, he also has a county variety trial.
He is concerned about weeds resistant to Roundup — “pigweed mostly.” He’s gone back to a pre-emerge herbicide, Direx, which “seems to work really well. I had gotten away from pre-emergence materials, but Direx does a super job on pigweed. I didn’t see pigweed in any cotton fields this last year. I can take care of everything else with Roundup, and only had to apply it once in 2013, mostly for grasses. The dry year probably helped, too.”
Weed control is one issue he hopes to see as a research target. “Cultivation is no longer feasible,” he says. “We sold our last cultivator about 10 years ago. And hand labor is a thing of the past.