10 keys to containing the cost of your cotton crop

10 keys to containing the cost of your cotton crop

Some practical ideas for saving money. How is the Louisiana cotton crop shaping up so far?

With markets stuck in quicksand, keeping input costs as low as possible is crucial for many farming operations in 2016. What will that mean for the Louisiana cotton crop?

First, though, what is the expected cotton acreage for the state in 2016?

“We’re expecting to have somewhere around 150,000 or 160,000 acres,” says Dan Fromme, LSU AgCenter cotton specialist. “2015, was a historical low for cotton acreage in the state with 110,000 acres. We thought we’d bottomed out with 125,000 acres in 2013. In 2014, acreage ran back up to 140,000 to 150,000.”

How has the planting season progressed so far?

“We had about 6,000 to 7,000 acres planted in April. Then, rains hit and some had to be replanted because of crusting over and the like. Also, we have had some issues with cutworms.

“The weather started to cooperate the last week of April and we have been able to get some planting done. We’re looking at a forecast of no rain for the (week of May 9). So, we’ll cover a lot of ground very quickly.” 

As for saving money on your cotton operation, Fromme says “one of the top issues Cotton, Incorporated, has identified for producers across the country are input costs. In this market environment, everyone is looking to keep as tight a handle as possible on costs wherever they can.”

Some considerations:

Fertility

“It’s always good to take a soil test and see what you have in the bank. Do you have low pH issues? If so, you need to do some liming to make sure certain nutrients are available to crop.

“As for banding versus broadcast of P and K, we don’t see a heck of a lot of banding. When you band or knife it in you can cut back on how much to apply which is 40 percent to 50 percent. Especially in dry years, banding can be very beneficial.”

Fiber quality/loan value

“Yield and fiber quality are both very important. Yield may be the top worry but don’t discount fiber quality. If you have two varieties neck-and-neck look at the fiber quality, look at the loan value, and see what variety could bring in another cent or two.”

Seeding rates

“Since we began planting transgenic cotton, our seeding rates have gotten lower without taking yield hits. If you haven’t looked into seeding rates, do it. There’s the possibility of saving a few dollars. Research throughout the Cotton Belt that two plants per foot final plant stand is good enough. Planting three plants will likely provide two plants in the end.”

N rates

“Not long ago, cotton specialists did a Belt-wide study. It turns out 80 pounds of N looked good. It’s quite possible 80 pounds is all you need.

“A Louisiana study shows 75 pounds of N following corn at 150 to 200 pounds of N is about all you need to apply. More than that and there was no benefit in yield.

“There are plenty of situations where producers are putting out well more than 75 to 80 pounds of N. That’s something to reconsider if you’re looking to save money.”

PGRs, irrigation, equipment

Plant growth regulators

“Obviously, we use PGRs for controlling the height of a cotton crop. After that, we see very little benefit. No fantastic yield results will come from PGRs after you’ve already kept the crop at the right height.”

Irrigation

“There are a lot of good soil moisture sensors available. I really encourage producers to get comfortable using them. The sensors can save you a watering, or two, during the season.”

Defoliation

“The main message here is: every leaf doesn’t have to come off the plant and fall to the ground. A few desiccated leaves sticking, a few green leaves aren’t a problem. If 90 percent of the leaves are off after the first application does it really pay to go back in with a second application? That’s highly questionable in those circumstances.”

IPM

“Obviously, there are lot of good entomologists and plant pathologists who have come up with thresholds to follow with insect pests and diseases. Follow their advice. In the long run, you’re saving dollars and helping to manage resistance.”

Equipment

“If they can work it out, a lot of farmers in the Cotton Belt share harvest equipment. The cost for that equipment is high especially when cotton prices are low.

“This is easier in some areas like, say, south Texas where they harvest in July. They’ll own and share a picker with a farmer in west Texas where harvest is done in October/November.”

No silver bullets

“There are no silver bullets out there. No matter what someone promises you a product will do, no matter how much pressure you’re under to buy something without a proven track record, don’t agree immediately. Do your homework and make sure there is solid, scientific information that proves it makes a difference. Has a product been through valid scientifically-based tests?” 

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