Home Farm Equipment Texas cotton growers discuss soil health, management practices

Texas cotton growers discuss soil health, management practices


In terms of soil well being, there is no silver bullet, agreed 5 Texas cotton producers taking part in a soil well being panel throughout “The Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton Farm Showcase.”

Barry Evans, Kress; Jeremy Brown, Lamesa; Mark Howard, Hartley County; Layne Chapman, Vernon; and Zach Yanta, Runge, participated in a Soil Well being Institute panel moderated by Texas A&M AgriLife Cotton Specialist Murilo Maeda. The group mentioned the advantages and challenges of soil well being management practices resembling tillage, crop rotation and canopy crops.

“I’ve been in a strict no-till operation since about 1996,” mentioned Evans, who rotates cotton, grain sorghum and wheat. “Our biggest challenge is water. We get limited rainfall and irrigate out of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is not replenishing. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

When Evans started farming within the early 90s, he mentioned 80% of his land was irrigated whereas 20% was dryland or rainfed. Right this moment, he is 80% dryland. “My goal on my farm is how I can best capture and utilize rainfall, which is the reason for my no-till situation.”

Brown can be primarily dryland with some semi-irrigated acres. “We have to have good rainfall to help us produce crops,” he mentioned.

Brown produces predominantly natural cotton and rotates with small grains like winter wheat or winter rye. He additionally makes use of cowl crops. “We have a mission statement to steward the natural resources that God has given us to feed the clothe the world. We started on the soil health journey in 2010 to today where we’re trying to practice as much regenerative agriculture as we can.”

North of Lamesa, Howard farms at about 3,800-feet elevation within the Texas Panhandle. “I don’t know why we are trying to grow cotton in the coldest, driest, highest part of Texas,” Howard mentioned. “But we continually do so and it’s rewarding when you get it done.”

Howard rotates cotton and corn. “We love the rotation. It’s worked for the last 25 years. We’re trying to leave the maximum amount of residue on top and still have a good seedbed. We’re getting better at leaving more on top.”

Shelley E. Huguley

Texas cotton producers take part on soil well being panel, from left, Mark Howard, Hartley County; Zach Yanta, Runge; Barry Evans, Kress; Jeremy Brown, Lamesa; Layne Chapman, Vernon; and moderator and Extension Cotton Specialist Murillo Maeda.

Howard makes use of precision planting instruments to plant into and keep a excessive degree of residue.

Chapman, who farms alongside the Texas/Oklahoma border, relies upon solely on rainfall. “May 18, 2011, it was 119 degrees in Vernon, the wind was blowing 40 mph. It was an oven and I nearly lost a crop. I said something’s got to change.”

He is in his 11th yr transitioning from typical tillage to strip until and canopy crops to no-till and a single cowl species. “I’m largely cotton on cotton, even dryland acres. With the price of wheat picking up, we might change some things, but I can’t afford to rotate $3.50-wheat — we might as well try to grow cotton and conserve the moisture that we can.”

Yanta mentioned his curiosity shifted to no-till and canopy crop mixes 12 years in the past as he was standing in his discipline along with his son. “We had a clean-tilled field on the homeplace. We had a north wind blowing and so much soil particles and organic matter blowing south, I stopped and looked at my son (who was graduating from college) and said, ‘If we don’t do something different, we’re not going to have topsoil around for you,’ much less future generations after him.”

Yanta started to learn, analysis and speak to folks about soil well being practices. “Now we’re nearly 100% no-till,” he mentioned.

Yanta crops his cotton and grain sorghum with a John Deere no-till air drill and can quickly attempt corn.

He credit no-till for lowering inputs, soil erosion, and weed and bug stress, whereas enhancing the soil construction and infiltration charges. Yanta receives about 28 inches of annual rainfall. “You ought to be here the two days we get it. It’s really something.”

For the final 4 years, Yanta and USDA’s Natrional Sources Conservation Service (NRCS)  have carried out infiltration fee research on his homeplace. “A lot to my shock, we had fields that had north of seven.25 inches per hour infiltration charges, which is great for the state of affairs we’re in,” Yanta mentioned.


Maeda requested the panel to discuss modifications they’ve made of their management practices over time. Evans mentioned he is caught with a grain sorghum rotation. “I like the cotton having a tap root, broadleaf mixed in with the grain sorghum, a high residue crop.”

Reasonably than planting his sorghum in rows, Evans just lately started drilling it on 10-inch facilities, “with the hope of trying to build more organic matter and keep more cover on the ground. One of the biggest challenges we have in this dry climate without irrigation is trying to get enough cover on the ground to get the benefit,” he mentioned.

With curiosity in regenerative agriculture and canopy crops, Evans mentioned he had 1 / 4 part he was “pretty aggressive” on with a multispecies cowl crop. However he mentioned he hasn’t had a lot success. “With our lack of rainfall, from the time I terminate the cover crop until it’s time to plant, I have a problem getting enough rainfall into the soil moisture profile. That profile will fill but getting it filled when I need it doesn’t happen, so how to make a cover crop work? I’m still playing with it.”

What has been profitable is his crop rotation with grain sorghum or wheat, he mentioned.

Brown looks like his management practices change yearly. “The last couple of years have been tough. We’ve been in a drought,” he mentioned. “When I think about what’s changed, I think about what Gabe Brown says in his book, Dirt to Soil— a book I highly recommend. As farmers, we’ve got to quit trying to outperform our environment. I pretty much farm in a desert. Sometimes, I think we’re trying to outperform what this environment is giving us instead of taking a step back and thinking, at one point this was prairie grass and grazed with livestock, so, how can we mimic nature?”

One other idea he adopted from the writer is to not concentrate on yield per acre however {dollars} per acre. “Sometimes as farmers, we can chase yield and when you farm in the desert and you never know when the next rainfall is going to come, you’ve got to maximize your dollars per acre.”

Nobody yr is similar, Brown mentioned. “You’re learning what you can do, and you’ve got to work with the conditions you’ve been given.”

Timing is vital in Chapman’s evolving soil well being journey. “There’s one million alternative ways to no-till a crop. You may select a multispecies cowl crop or you will discover what works with the gear you will have. I finally discovered which species would develop one of the best and the quickest that I may terminate within the timeliest method for each dryland and irrigated. And with that, what I may get planted in a well timed method after I’ve harvested the crop.

“What timing fits your operation the best?” Chapman mentioned.

What did not work for Chapman was shuffling round various things when he wanted to be planting a canopy crop. “Get no matter cowl crop you may get best and most cost-effective and get it planted. Timing. As a result of we’re already operating on restricted moisture.

“What did work was determining which one physiologically was going to work one of the best in our surroundings with our warmth and restricted moisture, what would get us to a hole stem that may stick across the longest.

“The biggest change was finding our fit.”

On the protection

“It seems like a lot of our changes are defensive in nature,” Howard mentioned. “In this area, we haven’t run a sandfighter on cotton ground in three or four years. Last year, we ran it three or four times. The strip-till blew, the minimum-till blew. It was not fun but if you worked on it, you had a crop. So, there’s lots of wheat going in behind whatever crop that cotton is going to go into.”

Cowl cropping is new to Howard. “We are fully irrigated and concerned with water infiltration as well as wind erosion. That wheat will hold the water in place when we apply it, and that will give us a big yield increase in corn.”

His problem will likely be planting wheat into the corn stalk residue after which getting an excellent seedbed as he crops into cornstalks and useless wheat. “So, we have some challenges this spring.”

Yanta mentioned gear has been essentially the most important change. No-till requires much less and but totally different gear. “We first started out with a drill that I thought would work but it was really equipped for a minimum till operation. When we switched over to the no-till air drill, which we really like, we can put down pressure when we need it.”

Time is the largest change no-till has afforded Yanta. “More time to concentrate on other management things that maybe I wasn’t able to do quite as often, maybe not quite as well, because we were busy cultivating, spraying and doing other operations that we were doing as a conventional operation.”


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