Joe White splashed his pickup through puddles that kept getting deeper by the minute, taking time to point out recently dug peanuts being washed clean by the October rain and fields of cotton that could have used another week or two of hot dry weather to mature completely.
But, like most farmers in the Southwest, White stopped short of complaining about the rain. In mid-October White was anticipating decent cotton and peanut yields, following a “weaker than usual dryland corn harvest” but a respectable irrigated crop.
“The peanuts look good if we can get them,” he said. “Cotton is still up in the air.” He said rain in July turned the tide for some dryland cotton. He anticipated from three-fourths to 1 bale on dryland production, “some a little less.” He said cool weather may have cost him some yield on late irrigated cotton. “We have a lot of bolls, but it’s hard to determine what it will make.”
White farms in Tillman County, near Frederick, Okla., lists diversification/rotation, technology, the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, and the consistency of peanuts as keys to farm success.
For the past few years corn has played a key role in his rotation strategy. “I try to stay with a 50/50 rotation with cotton and corn.” He went a little heavier with cotton this year because of a dry spring that prevented him from planting as much corn as he wanted. He plants cotton “on top of old corn rows and corn into cotton stalks. Peanuts typically go behind irrigated cotton.”
Corn usually goes behind the irrigated peanuts. “I can make up to 110 bushels per acre on dryland corn,” White said, “and 60 to 70 bushels consistently. We don’t have much corn in the area but I like it. It works as well as wheat for me and I think it has improved my cotton yields. I believe in it.”
He’s doing a lot of reduced-till production and the residue from corn helps put organic matter back into the soil and also breaks weed and other pest patterns. He says corn spreads out the workload. He’s through planting corn in time to plant cotton and peanuts and he harvests before either of those crops are ready.
“It usually rains in May and June, when corn needs it most,” he said. “Unfortunately, we missed those May and June rains the last two years. Still, we had no problem pollinating. Our big challenge with corn is getting it all planted in two weeks, in late March.”
He plants Pioneer seed and selects 103- to 105-day hybrids. We have to select the right hybrid that works for a specific farm."
He fertilizes dryland corn with about 1 pound of nitrogen for each 1 bushel of yield goal. He lets dryland cotton pick up residual nitrogen from the previous corn crop. “That’s not the way I’d prefer to do it, but it seems the best way in this economy. I use more nitrogen on irrigated corn, about 200 units per acre, and then test for other nutrient needs.”
He has good market options for corn. “We have a good dairy in the area that has been buying corn.” Until three years ago he produced mostly corn silage, but switched to grain to keep more residue on the land. “Corn silage takes everything off the soil,” White said. “Leaving the stalks saves organic matter and I don’t see much difference in money between corn for grain or for silage. Also, cotton yield behind silage was not where it needed to be.”
White started no-till cotton “six or seven years ago. I got tired of dealing with blowing sand,” he said. He started by planting cotton into wheat stubble. But he found that he had to control weeds in stubble all summer and that corn works better as a rotation crop.
Reduced tillage allows him to “farm more acreage with less labor, less fuel and less equipment. It’s pretty much a wash with increased chemical costs,” he said. “We have to plow some land occasionally to get rid of washes, hard pans and such. We may cultivate 25 percent of our acreage each year. I still have most of my cultivation equipment; I just don’t use it much.”
He said timing for no-till is critical. Scheduling herbicide applications over herbicide tolerant corn and cotton is crucial to get weeds while they are small.
White said burndown applications are also important. He applies a burndown in early March for corn land, and by the last of April for cotton. “We can use 2, 4-D until May 1, in this area, not after that,” he said. “We can follow with two applications of Roundup (He plants all Roundup Ready cotton.) and that takes care of cotton weed control.”
He uses Atrazine and Roundup on corn. “Atrazine will help prevent weed resistance,” White said. “We need to do a better job with weed control in corn. We’re beginning to see some late-season grass problems.”
Most of White’s cotton is dryland with 200 acres irrigated with pivots. “Dryland cotton is strictly no-till,” he said. He hopes irrigated cotton will make about 3 bales per acre and says technology and boll weevil eradication have made that goal possible.
Dryland production also has improved. “We look for1 bale per acre versus a half-bale or two-thirds of a bale before eradication.
“Varieties are better,” he said. “But the boll weevil program has made the biggest impact of anything on increased cotton yields. Without the program, we’d lose 150 pounds of cotton per acre on dryland production. That’s a conservative estimate. On irrigated cotton, we think we get about 500 pounds per acre. Before eradication, we were happy with 2 bales per acre. Now, it’s easier to make 3 bales than it used to be to make 2. I don’t make 3 bales every year, though.”
He plants Deltapine cotton varieties — 164, 0924, 104 and 0935. “I start with longer-season varieties and move on to shorter ones."
“I depend on my seed rep to suggest new varieties,” White said. “DPL 104 was good last year. Cotton overall was good last year. Grades were good, too.
“I’m anxious to see how the 2009 crop does. I don’t want to be too optimistic; I just don’t know how it will turn out. Cool weather keeps me from being too hopeful about this crop.”
He sprayed harvest aids following a fall cool spell. “It got into the low 40s and cotton had done all it was going to do. We applied Prep to open up what we could.”
He said an emerging problem for both corn and cotton is controlling volunteer plants. He plants stacked gene cotton and stacked gene hybrids on half his corn acreage. “We have to maintain a refuge with Bt corn.”
Corn and cotton have earned a place in White’s rotation strategy, but peanuts remain his most consistent crop. He typically makes 2 tons per acre, 5,300 pounds last year.
He’s planting all Virginia peanuts, Jupiter. “It’s a good variety and seems to stay on the vine better than others I’ve tried.”
He gets a premium for Virginia peanuts and has “them sold before we plant them. It’s probably the best marketing strategy we have. We use a pool for cotton and market grain on our own. Grain is our weakest marketing program.”
White said rotation is crucial for consistent peanut yields. “We follow a three-year rotation and plant about 200 acres every year. We haven’t cut back in recent years. If we have a little less than usual one year, it’s because of rotation, not because we want to reduce peanut acreage.
“Peanuts are still the most consistent crop we grow, year in and year out. Expense for growing peanuts is not much more than cotton. We may go a little longer with irrigation to finish the crop and get ready to dig.” All peanuts are irrigated.
Weeds pose a few problems for peanut production. “We have no cure-all for weeds in peanuts,” White said. We use a moldboard plow on peanuts every year and put out a yellow herbicide one month before we plant. We usually get two or three rains before planting time.”
He said that early herbicide application gets early weeds. He may cultivate and then apply Cadre about three weeks after planting. “That pretty much takes care of weed control. Our peanut fields are clean most of the time.” Rain before planting and one cultivation helps keep soil from blowing.
“It’s important not to let weeds get ahead of you in peanuts — and we will sometimes pull scattered weeds by hand.”
He said new chemistry has allowed him to increase peanut yields without adding new ground. “We use Abound in mid-to-late July and sometimes Folicur in late August to early September. We may have to spray Bravo once for leaf spot, but we haven’t seen much leaf spot this year.”
He has seen no sclerotinia in the area. “Temperature may be a factor,” he said. He has not applied calcium to peanuts but is “thinking about it.”
His biggest problem on this crop has been “no sunshine for three weeks from late September into October.”
White said he and one hired hand make up the labor force. “I used to have three hands, but now I’m farming more acres with less labor. I don’t have a lot of equipment. We always try to have cotton out by Christmas and we hire help if we need it. We harvest all the peanuts ourselves.”
He said reduced tillage and technology have allowed him to economize. “I added GPS to make it easier for the guys working,” he said. “I have a planter tractor with a screen display so we can change settings on the planter from inside the tractor cab. I don’t have a self-propelled sprayer yet.”
White’s family has been farming in this area for a long time and he credits family and others for a lot of his success. “My father and grandfather farmed here,” he said. “I’ve also had good landlords. So I have a lot of good people behind me and in front of me.”