Terry Pollard says 2015 was one of those years where if it weren’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have had any.
After an unusually wet, cool spring that prevented him from planting as much cotton as he intended, conditions turned off hot and dry. So dry, in fact, that his farm received no rain from the end of August until the first of October.
“It was so dry when it was time to defoliate the crop, it was hard to get it to defoliate and open the bolls in the top,” said Pollard, who farms near Piggott in the extreme northeast corner of Arkansas.
Despite the adverse weather conditions that affected producers all over the Mid-South, Pollard still harvested good yields in 2015 and expects to increase his cotton acres in 2016 — if he can get the weather to cooperate. Higher prices than are currently being offered for cotton — and other crops — would be nice, too.
Darrell and Paul Spencer are also planning to increase their cotton acres in 2016 although they, too, had to deal not only with adverse weather, but also with unexpectedly low yields for some of the cotton varieties they grew in 2015.
“We had good yields with a new variety we tried, but, for some reason we don’t quite understand, another variety we’ve been growing let us down,” said Darrell, who farms with his brother, Paul, near Lunsford in what has become the “Mini-Cotton Belt” of northeast Arkansas.
Rains interrupted harvest
Near the end of harvest, the Spencers received rain so heavy it blocked the main road to their farm the night before they were interviewed — and they still had cotton left to pick.
“I really believe cotton is going to be about as good as corn and beans for us in 2016,” said Pollard, who farms with his son, Kris, and one other employee. Terry’s father, Charles, also helps on the farm.
He said he would have planted more cotton last spring if the wet, cool conditions hadn’t interfered. As it was, he had to replant some of his corn because it was so cool and wet. When it came to cotton, he wasn’t able to seed as much as he planned within his normal planting window before May 20, finishing with about 2,400 acres.
After planting a small amount of the variety in 2014, Pollard decided to increase his acreage of DP1518B2XF in 2015. He also planted DP1522B2XF and ST 4946GLB2. He harvested a module — 4.6 acres — from each field at year’s end to compare the results.
Bales from the module of DP1518B2XF, Deltapine’s new dicamba-, glyphosate- and glufosinate-tolerant cotton, averaged 1,353 pounds of lint per acre. The bales averaged a staple length of 38, strength of 29.8, micronaire of 4.1 and length uniformity of 81.6.
The DP1522B2XF averaged 1,398 pounds of lint and similar fiber characteristics to 1518. The ST 4946GLB2 yield was slightly lower, but the strength and uniformity were higher than the other two varieties.
Yield, grades all are factors
“The grades were higher on 4946, but you can’t give up much yield and make it work,” said Pollard. “I think the dryness we experienced late in the season hurt the 4946 more than the other varieties.”
Pollard burned down the fields with a mixture of dicamba and Roundup. He applied Cotoran behind the planter and Dual after the cotton emerged. He sprayed Roundup and Valor through a hooded sprayer. Every acre of cotton was chopped twice with hoe hands.
“We sprayed dicamba early and let the field get dry and planted,” he said. “But I want to spray dicamba during the growing season. We need every tool we can get.” (The dicamba formulations being developed by Monsanto and BASF for application on Xtend Flex cotton have not received registration for over-the-top application in cotton.)
Chopping by hand is costing him $5 to $10 an acre. “That’s cheaper than spraying Liberty,” he noted. “But we need the control that herbicides bring.”
He believes he didn’t have to use as much plant growth regulator on DP1522B2XF or DP1518B2XF. “We cut back on at least one spraying.
“”It takes every penny you can save — without reducing yields — to make it all work today,” Pollard said, referring to the premiums he received for the higher staple and higher strength cotton he grew in 2015.
Dual herbicide traits
Darrell and Paul Spencer planted six bags of DP1518B2XF — “all we could get,” says Paul Spencer. “We got it because of the Liberty and Roundup traits,” he said. “It reminded me of DP0912.”
The brothers were able to plant 30 acres of DP1518B2XF. “It was enough that we could tell it was a good variety,” said Darrell Spencer. “Everyone we’ve talked with seemed fairly pleased with it.”
They also grew Phytogen 312 and ST 4946GLB2 on a total of 850 acres.
The Spencers also had to deal with adverse weather last spring. They normally plant at the end of April or in early May, but with the conditions they faced — dry at first and then wet — they couldn’t plant until May 24. When the fields finally dried, they planted all their cotton in two days.
They applied a combination of Roundup, dicamba and Valor for burndown and residual control, and then Reflex for residual. The dry weather meant they had to wait for the Reflex to be activated. Then they got a 2-inch rain.
The brothers have center pivots, but 90 percent of their irrigation is furrow. Besides cotton, they grow corn, soybeans and milo on the 4,500 acres they farm. The milo on grain sorghum was the first they had grown on their farm in 20 years.
After they were able to plant their cotton, they sprayed Roundup and Liberty postemergence. The problems with activating the residual herbicide left them with weed issues most of the season.
Darrell and Paul were impressed with the yields from DP1518B2XF and hope to be able to plant a higher percentage of their acres to the variety in 2016.
They’re also hoping for some “big event” that will help send cotton prices higher in the near future. “We’re watching the markets daily even though there hasn’t been much to get excited about,” says Darrell. “If we start seeing reports of some improvement, we hope to start doing something, including planning for more cotton.”
Pollard, an alternate member of Cotton Incorporated’s board of directors and a producer delegate for the National Cotton Council, believes cotton acres could be up in 2016, “especially if corn stays at $3.50 and beans around $9 per bushel or less. I don’t think it will go down.”