Jimmy Killebrew allows as how raising cotton in the Brazos Valley of Texas is not all that much different from making a crop in the Mississippi Delta.
“We just seem to have a bit milder weather in Texas,” he said. “I get started a little earlier and harvest sooner. Insect pressure is not really much different here. It's certainly not worse thanks to the Boll Weevil Eradication program and BT Technology.”
Killebrew managed a cotton farm in Mississippi for years before moving to Texas to help manage the Buffalo Ranch. The owners sold that operation, so Killebrew went out on his own in 2003.
“I'm farming on a shoestring,” he said. “I'm doing most of the actual labor on my own. I've had several friends and neighbors who helped me get established by helping me acquire land and equipment.”
He says one of the main changes he'll make in 2004 is to improve water management. “I'll be more timely with irrigation,” he said. “Most other management practices will stay about the same.”
He planted 100 acres of irrigated cotton and 240 acres of dryland cotton last year. “Irrigated cotton made 1100 pounds per acre,” he said. “Dryland yielded less than 600 pounds.”
Killebrew watered the 2003 crop twice. “I did irrigate some fields to get the crop up and then two more times. My heavier land needed more water. I irrigated in July and then got some showers. I watered one more time but just ran water down every other middle.”
He said cotton never really suffered all season. “We had no rain until early June and then we had showers off and on all month. We probably got four or five inches of rain and those rains were very timely. The last irrigation was late.
He said late rains may have fooled him. “We got some showers and I shut off the irrigation. Looking back, I probably should have kept running. But those late rains made the dryland crop. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how the cotton turned out.”
It started with a good stand. Killebrew planted seed 1-1/2 inch deep. “Some was slow coming up and we had to irrigate it. If it had rained, planting at that depth could have gotten us in trouble, but it came through okay. I was just happy to get a stand.”
He planted all Roundup Ready and BollGard varieties, “except for a small acreage for refugia. We had used a good bit of Stoneville 4892 on the Buffalo Ranch so I used that and some Deltapine 451.”
The Roundup Ready technology helped with weed control. “I used Roundup over-the-top at the four-leaf stage and applied Roundup and Diuron at lay-by, with hooded sprayers.”
He said Colorado grass is one of his toughest problems. “This is the first year to farm these fields and I've seen some scattered weed problems.”
He said it's critical to “catch the little stuff.”
He had a little problem with insects. “I sprayed two times early in the season for fleahoppers and once for thrips and I was never really satisfied. Fleahoppers were in and out. I sprayed the last time on June 12.
“I also had a little worm pressure but it was light and my entomologist said infestation was not heavy enough to justify spraying.”
Boll weevils posed no problems. “I found one punctured boll and no live weevils all season,” he said. “We're in the second (?) year of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program and pressure has been light. The program is doing a good job. Other farmers, in more heavily wooded areas, have seen more weevils. They just have better habitat.”
Killebrew doesn't leave much habitat after harvest. “I want to remove stalks by late September,” he said. “We can get a rebate if we get them out early. And I don't want to leave host plants for boll weevils. I either shred and pull stalks or hit them with 2-4,D.”
Killebrew likes the Stoneville 4892BR variety, but says managing vegetative growth is critical. “We planted quite a bit on the Ranch and it always yielded well. It grows off fast, but tends to get a little rank. We have to be timely with growth regulator applications and we have to start early.”
Killebrew used Pentia last year, 20 ounces in three applications, two six-ounce treatments and one eight.
“I probably should have started earlier,” he said. “Some cotton got a little rank, but we were not getting any rains so I wasn't sure about how early to begin.”
He applied the material June 2, June 13 and July 1. “We were getting regular showers and the cotton really wanted to grow,” he said.
Killebrew also grows milo, corn and wheat. “The dryland wheat did really well,” he said. “I probably should have planted cotton behind wheat but we'd been in a drought and I had not planned on following the grain crop. I left it fallow.”
Killebrew irrigated some milo and said yields were exceptional, better than 6,000 pounds per acre. Dryland milo made less that 4,000 pounds per acre.
“Dryland corn just burned up,” he said.
He may replace some milo acreage with soybeans this year. “Soybean prices look very good. For a few days, we could book beans at $8 a bushel.”
He'll plant most of his soybeans on irrigated acreage.