When many growers parked their pickers and boll buggies to go with more corn and soybeans 10 to 15 years ago, Darrington Seward and his father, Byron, stuck with the white stuff and have managed to keep cotton as king of their area’s agriculture. Darrington is a fourth generation Mississippi Delta farmer whose family has been dependent on cotton since the 1930s. Corn and beans are still part of their operation — both crops help them to get the most out of their dependable Delta ground. But cotton is still No. 1.
“My family has been farming here since the Great Depression, when my great-grandfather bought land in the ‘30s,” says Darrington, whose family farms out of Louise, Miss. “They first had a commissary that served sharecroppers, but eventually got into farming.
“They were mostly cotton farmers, but moved into soybeans in the 1960s and ‘70s. We started growing corn in the early 2000s, and found that a corn/cotton rotation really worked well for both crops. Our lighter soils are good for that rotation. We still go with mostly soybeans on our heavier soils, and rotate them with rice.”
The Sewards maintained their cotton program in the early 2000s, when some Delta area farmers moved to corn and soybeans. The infrastructure suffered and some gins closed. “But, we took on more acres for cotton,” says Darrington, whose father received the 2017 High Cotton Award from Delta Farm Press. “Now, we’re about 75 percent irrigated and we run 28 center pivots.”
Their large farm operation counts on precision agriculture and electronic monitoring software to enhance management capabilities. With the management software, they can manage the center pivots, and use infrared maps and other technology to direct variable rate application and balance nutrient treatments to a particular field’s needs.
They normally begin cotton planting in late April and early May, but, “This year it was mid-May due to wet weather,” Darrington says. “We just couldn’t get into the field when we wanted to." Their typical cotton plant population is 42,000 seeds per acre, grown in 30-inch rows in a 2x1 skip row pattern. "We do that because of the high humidity here in the Delta. We've learned that if we plant solid 30 inch rows, we'll lose a lot of cotton to boll rot. We were on 38 inch rows, but switched to 30 inch with the skip row pattern so we could plant corn and cotton using the same types of equipment.”
The Sewards have used Roundup Ready technology since the late 1990s. Fields clean of pigweed were the norm, but about five years ago they started seeing glyphosate-resistant pigweed. “It started in the edges of fields and in bar ditches,” Darrington says. “It became a bad problem two or three years ago, and we started to have to manage it in the field and to be more proactive to prevent hot spots from getting out of control.”
WINNING HERBICIDE PROGRAM
Virtually all of the 2017 cotton crop was planted in Deltapine Bollgard II XtendFlex varieties, which have the new dicamba-resistant trait to allow for over-the-top spraying of the proven herbicide. The new technology worked into their well-planned weed control program, adding more teeth to pigweed control.
“We started off with an early burndown after the first of the year,” Darrington says. “The burndown included Roundup, 2,4-D and Valor. The burndown is usually applied by air. It held back any weeds until we could come back with a preemerge.”
Their preemerge mix included Roundup, Warrant, and dicamba in spots where they had traditional pigweed problems. After the preemerge, they came back several weeks later with an over-the-top post application of Roundup, Warrant, and dicamba. A later lay-by postemerge application included Zidua, Direx, and Roundup.
“We also did some spot spraying of dicamba where we had bad pigweed problems,” he says. “And that was it for cotton. We wound up with clean fields all the way around.”
AN EXTRA 100 POUNDS
Their average cotton yield is usually in the 1,350 pounds per acre range, and after seeing yield results of XtendFlex seed planted in 2016, they had counted on the new varieties to boost that production. They were not sprayed with dicamba because the herbicide was not yet labeled for Xtend crops.
Darrington says he certainly wasn’t disappointed in yield results this year. “With the new varieties, we got at least an extra 100 pounds per acre — the new technology did exactly what we expected. Other than the early weather problems, everything went fine.”
The new varieties are more management-intensive, he says, in order to make sure the herbicides are applied correctly.
They took precautions to monitor sprayer application speed and how much water was included in the application. “We applied the tank mix at 12.5 mph and made sure the chemical was applied in 12.5 gallons of water solution. We all went through Monsanto applicator training — it was needed so we could correctly use the new tools. With the training and proper application of dicamba and other herbicides, we had no problems with drift. This new technology allows us to be more aggressive and obtain better control of pigweed.”
BOLLWORMS NOT AN ISSUE
Insect control was also improved with new Bollgard II technology, Darrington says. “We didn’t have any problems with bollworms,” although he notes that other insects did require treatments. “We always have plant bug issues, and end up spraying five to seven times during the season. “We can also have issues with spider mites if it’s too hot and dry — but not this year, with all the cooler, wet weather at peak growing periods.”
Every production year is different from the last one, he says; 2018 may be hot and dry, forcing him to rely heavily on irrigation. “One benefit of the wet season this year was that we were able to reduce our use of irrigation water without hurting our cotton or grain yields. With the new Xtend technology available for cotton and soybeans, we look forward to advancing our overall crop production next year.”