If Eric Silhan had know the 15 bags of seed-block cotton he was planting last year were the only 15 bags in the country he might have done things a little differently.

Or maybe not.

Turns out that the 70 acres of UA 48, a new conventional cotton variety developed by University of Arkansas cotton breeder Fred Bourland, performed well on Silhan’s worst Verticillium wilt field. An early June planting date also showed the conventional variety’s ability to mature quickly.

Silhan, who farms in Cochran County, Texas, near Morton, says when Brian Kindle of West Gaines Seed and Delinting asked if he would like to plant a seed block for a new conventional variety he “jumped on it. I wanted to be a part of it,” he says.

The variety, which is part of the Cotton Incorporated agricultural research effort, was bred for Verticillium wilt resistance. “I planted it on my worst Verticillium wilt ground,” Silhan says. “I didn’t know at the time that this was the only 15 bags of seed in the country. When I realized that it was the only seed available, I got a little nervous. And when a hail storm came through in October, I worried a little.”

The block came through. “We made 143 bales from 70 acres,” Silhan says. “We planted it under a half-circle.”

The grades, however, were what impressed him the most—39.12 staple, 35.69 strength, 4.41 micronaire and 82.41 uniformity. Loan rate averaged 57 cents per pound. Turnout was 34 percent.

“We had about 17 bales of bark cotton that brought the loan down. I’ve never grown a variety that graded overall as well as this did. And I’ve made some good loan cotton before.”

He says the cotton showed some signs of Verticillium wilt but “it never destroyed the plant. Cotton kept producing more leaves and produced fruit. It never stopped fruiting. It acted like I’ve never seen cotton act with Verticillium wilt. It just kept on fruiting and putting on bolls. I think it’s highly tolerant of Verticillium wilt,” a disease he fears is becoming more of a problem.

He planted the UA 48 block June 2 and harvested on November 15. “It was the first cotton we stripped,” he recalls. “It matured quickly.”

He used Prep and Def and then Aim to get ready for harvest. “But it matured so quickly we may not have needed the Prep and Def. We possibly could have used just one shot of Prep and Aim. But we wanted it clean.”

Yield and grade top priorities

Silhan says he looks for yield and grade when he evaluates cotton varieties for his farm. He produced 1,200 bags of UA 48 seed and hopes to plant more this year. “I’m not sure what will be available,” he says.

He’s pleased about a high-quality conventional cotton. “I planted 100 percent conventional varieties last year. Overall, the crop did well,” he says. “We made better than a bale per acre on dryland and from 1.5 to 3.9 bales per acre on irrigated fields.”

Highest production came from drip irrigation. He has 450 acres in drip and may add another 30 or 40. But he’s not sold on drip systems. “We can make more cotton but we don’t really save water,” he says.

Most of his irrigated land is under pivots with about 30 acres in side-row irrigation.

He’s not totally committed to conventional varieties and says technology will be part of his program from time to time. “Technology is wonderful,” he says. “It’s amazing what we’re capable of as science progresses and we’ve only scratched the surface.”

He says improved technology is simply “duplicating what God’s already done. He’s just given us the ability. Varieties will get better and better.”

Conventional varieties require a bit more management than transgenic cotton, Silhan admits. But he likes the flexibility he gets by having good conventional varieties available.

“But we have to lean on our own experience to manage conventional cotton and not rely solely on technology. We have to be more diligent scouting for insect pests,” he says. “But that’s not a big deal. I haven’t sprayed for worms or other pests except on a limited basis in four or five years.”

Weed control is a bit different as well. “We have a lot of good herbicides available that a lot of farmers have forgotten about. If we make early applications we have no problems.”

He uses a yellow herbicide and then Direx banded behind the planter. He applies Select post emergence for Johnsongrass and Caparol with a hooded sprayer as a layby treatment.

Keeping that seed block clean was imperative. “We also spent about $7 an acre across the board to chop cotton,” he says. “Finding and managing help is the hard part.”

The seed block also was rogued three times to preserve variety integrity. “They pulled out tall plants and some okra-leaf plants. They also pulled cocklebur as they rogued the field.”

Silhan typically rotates cotton with wheat, peanuts or grain sorghum. He is not planting peanuts this year because of rotation limits. He’ll plant about 5,000 acres of cotton.

“I’m not sure if I’ll plant 100 percent conventional or not,” he says.

Silhan was pleased with the results from UA 48 and says it “sets a new fiber standard for upland cotton lines. Uniformity was really good, as high as 87 percent in some areas and with staple as high as 41 in several bales.”

 

Special 4-H project

The variety also helped with a special project. Some of the lint from the seed block was ginned, spun, woven and dyed at the Cotton Incorporated research facility in Cary, N.C. Kater Hake, Cotton Incorporated Vice President for Agricultural Research, presented Eric and his wife Kim with a bolt of the cloth made from that cotton. Their daughter Kimberly, 13, cut about a yard of fabric from the bolt and made a dress for her 4-H project, earning a blue ribbon for the effort.

She plans to expand that project for district competition with a display showing the process of turning a cotton seed into an article of clothing. She’ll show steps from planting, to harvest, to ginning to manufacturing a finished product.

Silhan’s oldest son, Jacob, 17, plans a career on the farm after school and has worked on his own operation since he was about 12 years old. “He wants to sell calves,” Eric says. They maintain a herd of 65 mama cows and raise mostly club calves.

The Silhans also have a 9-year old son, Matthew.

Eric was watching the weather back in early April, hoping for a good “planting rain” to get the 2011 crop off to a good start. The area has been dry since last fall.

“It’s dry but I’m not that concerned about it,” he says. “I believe we will be blessed before it’s over. I’ll be optimistic. We always get a rain at some point. We always harvest something.”