John Malazzo concedes that he doesn't make a profit on corn every year, at least not directly.
“I usually make a little money on corn, but even if I don't, I make it indirectly on the next cotton crop. I figure I get at least an extra quarter bale of cotton per acre following corn,” Malazzo says.
He cites added organic matter and residual fertilizer as key benefits to a corn/cotton rotation on his Brazos Bottoms farm.
“I'll plant 1,000 acres of cotton and 1,000 of corn and flip flop the fields each year,” Malazzo says.
Weed control still poses one of his biggest challenges. “I use Roundup Ready varieties and am trying to get a better handle on managing weeds. I sometimes have weed problems in cotton after corn. Grasses such as foxtail or Colorado grass come in late on the corn, seed out and emerge in cotton the next year. I'm looking forward to the extended Roundup Ready varieties. We need the technology.”
He relied on Roundup Ready genetics in his cotton crop in 2003. “I didn't use a yellow herbicide. I usually do, but I'm trying to be as efficient as possible. The Roundup program has been good. I will use a yellow herbicide on my corn acreage next year but not the cotton.”
He says he took care of a late flush of pigweed with hand spray applications. “Some of the cotton got too big for Roundup over the top,” he says.
Malazzo usually averages 180 bushels of corn per acre on irrigated land. “I'll get 110 on dryland. That's a pretty good dryland crop.”
‘Plenty of nitrogen’
He fertilizes irrigated acres for a 200-bushel yield. “I put plenty of nitrogen on the irrigated corn so I'll get some residual for the following cotton crop. I'll ease back a bit on cotton fertilization. I don't want stalks to get too rank.”
He figures 200 units of nitrogen for irrigated corn, about one pound per anticipated bushel of yield. “If I make 180, I have about 20 units left for cotton.”
He applies from 120 units to 130 units of nitrogen to dryland corn. “It doesn't make sense to over-fertilize dryland acreage,” he says.
He uses row water irrigation.
“I watered corn three times. I usually plant in late February, but had to wait until March 8 this year. And it did not rain until July. We went 108 days without any rain.”
He watered cotton acreage twice. “I started the third week of July. We had a 2-inch rain in early July. Some of the cotton got a late start so that rain helped it.”
Malazzo believes his long-term rotation program allowed his crops to hang on as long as they did without water. “Putting organic matter back into the soil keeps water in the fields,” he says. “Without rotation, we see a significant yield decline.”
He's ordered a center pivot system to cover some 584 acres and will plant part of the circle in corn and part in cotton.
Split the circle
“I may split the circle in half or plant three-fourths in corn and one-fourth in cotton.”
He sees other advantages with a sound rotation program. “We're getting some help with reniform nematodes in cotton by rotating corn. Corn is a slight host for reniform nematodes but not as good as cotton. I'm spreading labor and management risks over two crops. I also can manage water resources better.”
But the main advantage of rotation, Malazzo says is “better yields.”