Wendell Walker, general manager for Angelina Ag Co., in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, knew something was special about the field. The cotton was there, top to bottom, six or seven bolls on a lot of fruiting branches, virtually every first and second position filled.
When harvest time came, one of the two custom picker drivers told Walker he was having to slow down to gather the crop, something he had never done before. The rows in the 250-acre field were a mile long. He was dumping five round modules every round.
The gin confirmed Walker’s computations – the field yielded 4.5 bales an acre, over 2,100 pounds. Walker says a number of management factors led to the high yield, including timely management. But he also acknowledged that 2013 was one of those years when everything came together.
It was also a season to remember for most of Angelina Ag’s other crops, which include hybrid seed rice, commercial long-grain rice, corn, grain sorghum, soybeans wheat and oats. Environmental conditions were near perfect on the farming operation which includes Angelina Land, Angelina Grain and Angelina Airfield, which flies aerial applications.
The operation in Louisiana consists of about 28,000 acres, 14,000 acres of which is farmed. It was cleared for farming in the early 1970s.
The farm almost didn’t plant cotton in 2013, according to Walker. “We grew cotton in 2008, but we don’t participate in any government programs, and we sold cotton for around 37 cents a pound. After that, we decided not to grow cotton anymore.
“This year, when cotton got to 90 cents a pound, the corporate office called and asked if we could grow cotton. I said yes we could, but we had better sell it now while it was at 90 cents.”
The company sold a good bit of cotton in April and planted 2,250 acres in May, going with PHY 499 WRF and ST 5288 B2RF. Most of the cotton ground was planted to PHY 499 WRF, including the 250-acre field which yielded 4.5 bales. That field was planted behind several years of wheat and oats.
Most of the farm’s cotton ground had initially been burned down in February, with the intention of planting grain sorghum there, Walker said. “But with the rain, we just couldn’t get it planted. In April, when we decided to plant cotton there, we went back in and burned down with Gramoxone and Dual to control some Italian ryegrass and other weeds that had broken through.
“It came on and did extremely well. The weather was just ideal. We didn’t have to water any of it. Every other week, we would get an inch of rain. The weather was perfect throughout the year. In the end, the dryland cotton was actually better than the irrigated. That was because we had to replant some irrigated fields due to rains right after planting.”
Fertility was also a key for the farm’s overall good cotton yields, according to Walker. “We work closely with Jimmy Sanders and their OptiGro (precision farming) program. We’ve been grid sampling for five years now and applying variable-rate phosphate, potash and lime. In our area, water is probably the No. 1 yield-limiting factor, and then pH.
“We also apply some of the micronutrients, like sulfur and zinc. We also applied 130 units of nitrogen side dress.”
There were the usual suspects attacking cotton in 2013, spider mites and aphids when the cotton was small, and plant bugs later on. “But the thing that made the cotton so good was not having hardly any missing positions.”
About midway through the season Walker started noticing that there might be something special about the cotton crop. “At first, I kept telling the ownership that the cotton was pretty good, then that it was going to be a little better than I budgeted. Then as we got further into the year, I told them that maybe the cotton was a lot better than I had budgeted.”
In fact, at the end of the season, one of the biggest concerns for Walker and his crop consultant Richard Griffin was getting the crop to slow down. It took some doing. “We hit it with Pix for three weeks in a row. Finally the last application of Pix shut it down a little bit.”
Cotton fields remained dry on the farm as Walker prepared for defoliation and picking. He applied one shot of Dropp and Prep, followed by Prep, Folex, Dropp and surfactant.
Once the cotton crop opened up, rain continued to hold off for the most part, minimizing boll rot, Walker said. “We knew it was really good before we defoliated. I had counted a lot of bolls, and there were as many as seven on a branch. There were almost no missing fruit on the first and second positions.”
Earlier in the spring, Walker had budgeted 900 pounds for dryland cotton and 1,200 pounds for irrigated cotton. As it turned out, irrigated yields on the farm averaged about 1,370 pounds, on about 550 acres, while dryland yields were right at 1,700 pounds an acre, on 1,700 acres. Due to timely rains during the season, irrigation costs across all crops were about $200,000 less than budgeted.
Walker, who ginned the farm’s cotton at Tanner Gin and Catavoy Gin, sold unpriced cotton into the cash market, selling the last 900 bales at a little over 76 cents a pound.
Walker, whose experience includes a stint as a research farm manager at the LSU AgCenter’s Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph, La., says timeliness, paying attention to detail and good labor are keys to making a good crop, which is even more of a challenge on a large operation. “I am extremely fortunate to Shannon Gray and Bill Williams who are my farm managers.”
The farm employs about 50 people, including a number of H-2A employees from Mexico. This season after harvest, and a few days before Thanksgiving, the farm took time to show Angelina Ag’s appreciation to them.
“They’re going back tomorrow, so we moved Thanksgiving dinner up. Most of them have been coming here for 10 years. They know our program. They know what we do. We couldn’t farm without them.”
When asked why he decided to plant PHY 499 WRF on the farm, Walker said the variety was recommended by two retailers he works with regularly. “Plus I had three good friends that had been growing cotton a long time, and the PHY 499 WRF was the No. 1 on the lists that they gave me.”
With the great yields across the farm, and an extraordinary 4.5 bale yield on one 250 acre field, he probably owes them a dinner too.
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