Do it right, give it your best effort, or don't do it all. This pretty much sums up the management philosophy of Georgia cotton producer John S. Williams, Jr., and it's a big reason he's being recognized as the 2002 Farm Press High Cotton Award winner for the Southeast Region.
Williams, who farms in south Georgia's Dooly County, believes in doing things right the first time, regardless of the task being performed. His attention to detail and his methodical approach to farming have helped Williams to consistently produce profitable, high-yielding cotton crops.
Williams' painstaking approach to the management of his crop begins with the establishment of a cover crop over all of his acreage in the fall and extensive soil sampling to determine the nutrient and liming needs of the ensuing cotton crop. His 2001 crop consisted of 763 acres of cotton and 70 acres of soybeans, double-cropped behind rye. “We've been growing cotton here since 1973, and we've always planted a cover crop of rye on cotton land. Rye has a good root system, and it's been proven to be more beneficial to our soils than other cover crops. We harrow the rye two to three time prior to planting,” he says.
Williams credits the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service with much of his success as a cotton producer, and he relies heavily on Extension recommendations when making a decision on which cotton varieties to plant on his farm.
“I utilize the Extension Service as much as possible,” he says. “It's a very truthful and honest organization, and it does a very good job of helping farmers. I've participated with the local Extension office in replicated cotton and peanut trials, and I've worked with state Extension specialists in stinkbug management trials. I also follow University of Georgia soil test recommendations for all of my crops.”
Williams' entire crop is planted in Roundup Ready varieties, with the majority of it being Roundup Ready/Bt stacked gene varieties, all mid-season maturing. He was one of the first farmers in Dooly County to embrace new technologies in variety selection as a means of managing cotton pests.
“We're planting in 38-inch rows, ripping and bedding our land. After harrowing the rye, we broadcast Treflan or Trifluralin to help control annual grasses and broadleaf weeds. Then, we bed the land. If possible, I wait until it rains before planting so that the bed can settle. We usually begin planting on or about April 25. We apply Roundup Ultra or Staple Plus from emergence up until the fifth true leaf.”
Williams didn't cultivate his cotton crop this past year, preferring instead to spray the middles. This, he says, helps to preserve the integrity of the cotton plant's root structure and conserves moisture. He uses a hooded sprayer for the middles, applying either Roundup Ultra, Staple Plus or Direx/MSMA.
“We take a lot of pride in our clean cotton fields,” he says. “We're currently considering the possibility of switching to strip-till for our 2002 cotton crop. The chemicals now are available that make it possible to use some form of conservation tillage and keep the weeds out of cotton fields. Strip-tillage also would be another way we could conserve the soil and protect our land. If we as farmers don't protect the land, then we won't have anything left to work.”
Further conservation measures evident on the Williams farm include numerous parallel terraces and grass waterways.
Williams' cotton nutrition program normally consists of about 90 total units of nitrogen. “We put out about 25 units prior to planting, 55 units at sidedress and the remainder is foliar applied. The foliar applications have really helped our cotton — it goes directly to the fruit.”
Williams carefully considers all options before making a decision to use an insecticide, herbicide, nematicide or other crop protection material. He has used the services of a cotton scout or consultant since the inception of scouting in Dooly County. This, he says, helps him to make the most cost-effective, environmentally friendly decisions for controlling cotton pests.
“This past year, we put out Temik and sprayed our irrigated cotton two times with a pyrethroid to control stink bugs. Bt cotton has been very effective on our farm. Our insect scout looks at Bt cotton once a week during the growing season and scouts non-Bt cotton two times each week. The Boll Weevil Eradication Program also has helped with insect control — it's one of the best things that ever happened for cotton producers.”
About half of Williams' cotton crop is irrigated by four center pivot systems. His goal is to increase his irrigating capacity to include his entire crop.
“Drought routinely reduces the potential of our cotton. If I don't have any moisture by pinhead, I begin watering. At first bloom, I continue watering, depending on weather conditions. Around here, you're never but a few days from being in drought.”
Williams prefers to get into his fields as early as possible to pick cotton, using two John Deere two-row pickers. This past year, he used Aim and Cotton Quik as harvest aides.
After harvesting his 2001 crop, Williams used a new Amadas puller/chopper to pull up the cotton stalks and chop them out onto the ground. “This machine will save us trips across the field, thereby saving us money. Pulling up the stalks also should help us to prevent nematode problems. In addition, the Amadas machine is cheaper to run than a rotary mower.”
While Williams takes much pride in producing cotton, it's not the best crop he's grown on his farm. “The best crop ever raised on this farm are my two children — Wendy, 21, a senior at the University of Georgia and Bubba, 20, a junior at Georgia Southern University.”
He gives credit for his children's good looks, pleasing personalities and intelligence to their mother, Frances, who, according to Williams, “is the best thing that ever happened to me.”