Peace of mind may be the biggest advantage Steve Kellogg has found with reduced-till cotton.
“I can go to sleep at night without worrying about sand blowing and tearing up seedling cotton,” he says.
He's also convinced that planting in residue helps protect the young crop from wind and hail damage.
He's also saving money. “I don't use a rotary hoe to fight sand, and I'm saving trips across the fields and putting a lot fewer hours on my tractors and spray rigs. I'm also using less chemical because we're more efficient with a 60-foot boom, covering 18 rows.”
Kellogg uses a ro-till system, preparing a 16-inch seedbed with a Bushog unit, and leaving rye stubble in the middles of his 40-inch rows. He uses the ro-till in late March.
“I got some good rains after preparing that narrow seedbed this year and the water infiltrated into the soil.”
He runs a Lilliston cultivator in front of the planter to “fluff up the soil and break clods.”
“I haven't tried a complete no-till system yet,” Kellogg says, “but I've been using ro-till for quite awhile. I don't think I could go back to conventional cotton planting. Storms this spring would have cut the crop to pieces if I had not had residue on the ground. “
Kellogg says he had a good cover crop and by late June the cotton “was as good as it has ever been this time of year. We planted May 16 and got a good stand. We had good moisture for planting and have not had to work it or hoe it.”
Kellogg prefers a rye cover crop. “I've tried wheat, but it doesn't deteriorate as well as rye.”
He uses Roundup Ultra to kill the cover crop and winter weeds. He uses Roundup Ready cotton varieties and applied Roundup Ultra over the top before the four-leaf stage to control early weeds.
“I may come back with a hooded sprayer to control anything we missed,” he said. “I left out yellow herbicides this year. It's kinda scary to depend on just the Roundup, but with cotton prices as low as they are, we have to find ways to cut costs. We'll see how it works.”
He also reduced his seeding rate to 10 pounds per acre to save money. “We still got a good stand.”
He maintained his usual fertility level. “We can't cut back on fertility and expect to make a crop,” he says.
He's using a stacked gene variety for herbicide tolerance and resistance to caterpillars. He says Roundup Ready cotton makes the reduced tillage system work.
Kellogg plants all his cotton dryland. “The last few years it's all been ultra dry,” he says. “But we had good moisture going into the season and we have a good start. The crop is not hurting, but we'll need a few more rains to make a good yield.”
Kellogg says the crop survived some severe weather this spring. Much of the southwest Oklahoma cotton crop had to be replanted because of sand and hail damage, according to Extension cotton specialist J.C. Banks.
“But we have about the best ro-till crop coming along we've ever had,” Kellogg says. “The soil is mellow.”
Banks says Oklahoma farmers are slow to accept complete no-till production, but are picking up on ro-till and other reduced tillage practices.
“Most are looking for ways to save money,” Banks says. “But they're finding other advantages with conservation and less risk as they reduce tillage.”
He says some farmers have to get over a cultural hurdle to embrace reduced tillage. Many have grown up trying to plant cotton in clean fields, he says. “They're getting used to the advantages they get from planting in old crop or cover crop residue.”