When Brandon Roznovak graduated from the University of Texas several years ago he had options.

He could teach history to high school kids and coach. He had the degree and the credentials. He likely could have parlayed that liberal arts education into a pretty good career in banking, sales, public relations or a half-dozen other options, but too much tradition stood between him and anything other than coming back to the family farm near Taylor, Texas.

“I was born and bred to this way of life,” he said. “My mother's side of the family all farmed. My father's family were all farmers, too, so it's in my blood.”

He said not going to college was never an option. “My parents said I was going and that was it. They wanted me to have a choice.”

So far he has no regrets. This is his first year farming on his own and he's working 400 acres of cotton, 100 acres of corn and 65 acres of milo. He plans to plant 350 acres of cotton next year with 250 in corn and 200 in milo.

“I lease equipment from my father (Jerry Roznovak) but it's my land and my bank account. He just helps me out.”

Roznovak says his goal this first year is “to pay all my bills. I have some land that's been in corn for years and I need to bring it into my system. Yields should improve when I get the land in better shape. New land has bad weed problems.”

Cotton hopes

He hopes to make 600 bales on his 400 acres of dryland cotton. “I think we can do that. It doesn't take a lot of water to make a cotton crop. If we have enough moisture to get it up, two or three inches of rain at mid-bloom, and one more rain late, the crop is made.”

Prospects looked dim early this year. “Planting conditions were terrible,” Roznovak said. “It did not rain. We planted corn in mud and then we went 79 days without a drop and we had 15 percent humidity and wind.”

Weed infestations that began in the winter compounded problems with the poor start. “It was wet and we couldn't get in to spray,” he said. “By the time we planted cotton, winter weeds had sapped the soil moisture.”

Mid-season rains saved the crop. “We got a rain at early bloom, about an inch and a half at mid-bloom and a good one to one-and-a-half inches around the Fourth of July.”

Roznovak says his system helped keep the cotton going until it got rain.

Wants high beds

“I raise cotton on beds,” he said. “I break ground as soon as it gets dry enough after harvest and build the beds. That way, every drop of rain that falls we hold on the land for next year. And I want high beds to keep cotton out of the water.”

He can slice off the top of a bed with a harrow and find planting moisture. He applies fertilizer in December and January, 550 pounds of a 17-8-4-2 analysis. He said a lower rate and then side-dress applications do not produce as much cotton.

“That's not as effective for us. We usually don't get water late enough to allow the cotton to take up side-dressed fertilizer. Sometimes we might be wet when we need to sidedress and by the time it dries out, it's late and the cotton canopy is too large to drive through.”

He likes to put fertilizer deep. “With shallower placement, cotton roots don't pick it up,” he said. “When feeder roots die the crop benefits from the deeper fertilizer.”

He uses 28-inch sweeps with tubes attached at the end of each to inject the fertilizer. “The tubes run where the rows will be,” he said.

He usually runs a cultivator “some. My dad has always been a believer in cultivation to put a little air in the soil.”

RR cottons

Roznovak is using Roundup Ready cotton varieties and says technology helps replace labor. “With limited labor and as spread out as we are we have to rely on technology,” he said. “Together, my dad and I have 1,000 acres of cotton. That's a lot to get over.”

He said his father has tried Stoneville BXN 49B, and Buctril. He's also used Caparol and Dual as pre-emergence treatments and Staple as a post emergence. “We have clean land.”

Roznovak uses Roundup and says keeping it off cotton is critical. “I use a hooded sprayer. BXN is easy but I'd like to see something that's better on pigweed. Staple works well but is climate sensitive. Roundup also does a good job but has zero percent residual control.”

He said the new field he brought into cotton this year posed significant problems. But technology helped keep weeds in check. He didn't get the field until January so he had some winter weeds to fight. “I planted cotton and used the hooded sprayer with Roundup and that was it. It cost about the same as using another herbicide program. Caparol and Dual are not cheap, but with Roundup Ready varieties I have to pay the technology fee. I used Roundup two or three times but the field is clean.”

He says Pix also plays a role in his system. “I used as much as 16 ounces on some fields and just 8 on the new land.”

Seven varieties

Roznovak tried seven different cottonseed varieties this year and said he was impressed with three Stoneville varieties, BXN49B, 4892BR, and 5599BR; two SureGro varieties, SG 215B/RR and 501B/RR; and two from FiberMax, FM 958B and 832B. “Stoneville 4892 appears to be a good variety for our area; however, 5599 seems to be extremely strong and looks wonderful in test plots.”

He says stacked gene cotton may be useful some years. “It fits pretty well in some locations, but it may not pay for dryland production. Some years we may make only a bale per acre and it's hard to justify the expense at that level. When we have high temperatures we don't have worm pressure.”

Cotton in central Texas was sprayed a lot last year with initiation of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program. “We probably had 18 applications,” Roznovak said, “and then we had to spray for worms. Insect control costs probably ran $40 per acre, counting application expenses. The Bt cotton would have been a benefit last year.”

He said eradication is helping bring cotton back to the area. “Cotton had left for about five years,” he said. “Most farmers in the area switched to corn. We still don't have an aerial applicator within 60 miles.”

He said improved varieties also might encourage farmers to plant more cotton.

Rotation important

Cotton is good for us, he said. “But we don't plant cotton in the same field two years in a row. Rotation is extremely important so we also plant corn.”

He said county yields average from 350 to 400 pounds per acre, but he expects to beat that, even in his first year.

“With new land I just want to pay the bills and farm again next year, but some farmers in the area, including my father, made 1,400-pound cotton last year and I think we have some that push that, weather permitting. I think we can get about 700 pounds out of the new field.”

In late August Roznovak was getting ready to apply harvest aids, Dropp, Def and Ginstar, hoping for a one-shot process. “The fewer times we're in the field, the more money we make,” he said.

Roznovak, still on the bright side of 30, believes in technology but says he's not interested in yield monitors yet. He likes surprises.

“I think we'll eventually use them but I like to take about 20 modules to the gin and just see how it comes out.”

And that, perhaps as much as anything, explains why a young man with a good education still wants to farm for a living. Something about anticipating a good crop and turning a sorry field into a good one may provide a challenge he couldn't find anywhere else.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com