The boll weevil drove Jim Landers out of cotton back in 1995. Inconsistent soybean yields brought cotton back into his diversified operation three years ago.

“I got tired of watching soybeans burn up,” Landers said in late June. He still grows some soybeans as part of a diversified farm operation in Delta County, Texas, where rainfall was adequate through spring planting time. 

“Soil moisture was good all the way through the profile,” he said. “Cotton looks pretty good. Some fields that were planted earlier than mine are a little ahead, but I can’t complain.”

He double-crops some soybeans behind wheat, but he likes the diversification he gets with cotton added to a beans, wheat, milo and corn rotation.

He’s hoping for continued good rainfall on his summer crops and says so far soybeans, milo and cotton are doing well. He didn’t get corn planted this year because of wet conditions at planting time. But the moisture was appreciated. “Mother nature has been good to us so far,” he said.

Cotton was off to a good start. He said he got control of thrips early and was working on flea hoppers.

Landers is one of only a handful of Northeast Texas farmers still growing cotton. “I grew up with cotton but had not grown any since 1995. That was a tough year. We were spraying for boll weevils every few days.”

Without boll weevil pressure, plus new genetics that make weed and insect control a bit easier, cotton fits well in his rotation program.

He concedes that weed control may be a bit more complex than was the case when he relied on a cultivator and a hoe, but herbicide tolerance has reduced labor. He planted Phytogen 499 and 375 this year. “This is the first year with 499,” he said. “I planted 375 last year.”

He says Phytogen 375 “blew out of the ground and did well last year,” considering the drought. A good price helped out, he said.

He expects 499 to offer a slightly longer maturity. “I’ll probably need to apply a plant growth regulator one or two times, depending on moisture. I’ll be checking it every week.”

He’s using both Roundup Ready and Widestrike technology along with Bollgard II. “I also have Avicta (seed treatment) on it,” Landers said.

He considered reducing plant population a tad. “I probably should have cut back but I tried to get two to three plants per foot of row on 30-inch centers. That should strip better.”

He delayed planting a few days in early May to finish cutting hay. “I finished planting on May 10.”

New techniques

He’s trying a few new techniques. “I used some zone tillage that lifts the soil at 12 to 15 inches deep. The roots find the trench. I’m also trying to get some sodium to leach out of the top six inches of soil. Soil tests have shown a little too much sodium on the top. Of course, if we get enough rain it will not matter.”

He’s also bedding some cotton. “Not many are bedding cotton now,” he said. “I tried some this spring. I think it held moisture better after a shower, and then seedlings popped right out of the ground.”

He says just a shallow ridge also moves water away from the young cotton plants.

Landers missed a corn crop this year. “It was just too wet to plant.” He often plants corn for silage.

He’s double-cropping soybeans behind wheat and has 130 acres under a center pivot. “Irrigation has paid for itself every year but last year,” he said.

Dryland soybeans typically will do okay, “if we can get them into late August or early September,” he said. “Soybeans are bringing a good price, so we can do all right with 15 bushels per acre.”

He plants a 5.5 maturity variety, Dyna-Gro 3355 this year.

If he gets moisture in time, he likes to plant soybeans behind wheat. He may also plant milo or he may fallow harvested wheat land and plant cotton the following spring.

Wheat this year was far beyond expectations, the best he ever made with an 80-bushel-per-acre average yield, not an unusual mark in this Northeast Texas area this year. “We had some fields that went over 100 bushels per acre,” Landers said.

He said it looked good all spring. “But wheat yield is always tough to guess. You really don’t know until you put a combine in the field.”

Applying a fungicide made a difference this year.

“Fungicide applications paid off big time,” said Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist in Commerce. He said in some cases fungicide resulted in a 10- to 15- bushel-per-acre yield bump.

“It was a magical year for wheat,” Landers said. “We may not see another wheat crop like it, but we could get another one next year.”

Landers likes diversification because it spreads risks and evens out labor demands. “I’m also a fireman, so I want to spread the work load.

“I try to rotate everything,” he said. “That also helps avoid herbicide resistant ryegrass in wheat.”

And he likes rotation as a way to get organic matter back into the soil. “That helps hold moisture,” he said.

Landers is using chicken litter to supplement commercial fertilizer. “I add from one to one-and-a-half tons of chicken litter on cotton land,” he said. “I add commercial fertilizer based on soil tests. I added chicken litter to wheat land last year and could tell the difference in the next crops where I had residual left.”

He buys chicken litter mostly for the phosphorus and potassium. “Supplies of chicken litter may be getting tight, but I should be able to get it. I apply it in the fall for spring crops and in the spring for wheat.”

Landers farms just a quarter mile from where he grew up. “I spent my fair share of time hoeing out cotton,” he said. “Raising cotton paid my way through college.”

Now, cotton is back on the farm and helping Landers diversify, spread risks and offer an alternative when heat and dry weather limit soybean production.