The Common Thread Luncheon – presented by Cotton Grower magazine and sponsored by Deltapine – brought together a panel of experts to share their thoughts and expertise on precision agriculture, weed management options, and economic issues impacting the industry.
Participating were Dr. Tim Sharp, owner/consultant of Talon Tech; Dr. Larry Steckel, University of Tennessee Extension weed specialist; and Dr. O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus of agricultural economics, Mississippi State University.
Right Inputs in the Right Spots
Sharp says growers who are adding or expanding use of precision ag tools should ask themselves two questions – “Why should I do it?” and “How do I do it?”
“It’s doing a lot of little things a little more efficiently and little less expensively,” explains Sharp. “It’s matching the soil productivity with your expected crop outcome and putting the right amount of inputs on exactly the right spot.”
By doing so, growers can see roughly a 30% reduction in crop input costs and about a 15% yield increase. By Sharp’s calculations, that can add $200 per acre to a grower’s bottom line.
“With the variable rate systems we have, we can do a very good job of precision ag,” he points out. “And growers probably already own them, since newer equipment is pretty much VR ready. They just need to know how to make everything come together and work for them.”
There is no better crop than cotton, says Sharp, to totally capitalize on what precision ag offers, especially when it comes to variable rate nitrogen input, seeding rate and use of plant growth regulators. By correctly managing high vigor zones in the field, growers can remove about 80% of yield instability year over year.
New Modes of Action Needed
When it comes to weed control, Steckel says, “We’re living in some very interesting times.”
More weed control tools are available for cotton than some other crops, including hand weeding (surveys show that 55% of Tennessee acres and 88% of Georgia acres were hand weeded in 2015). Growers are using pre-plant and pre-emerge applications, followed by over-the-top and post directed treatments.
“We can easily have five or six effective modes of action on Palmer pigweed,” notes Steckel. “But a new mode of action would be outstanding.”
Not only are cotton growers losing technologies from weed resistance, they are also losing them from a regulatory standpoint. That, says Steckel, is aggravating.
“There are people today who are far enough away from the farm that believe we don’t need pesticides,” he states. “And we’re having to do things I thought we’d never have to do in terms of documentation.”
Fingers are crossed, awaiting favorable news about the new dicamba and 2,4-D products for use with recently approved traits. Until then, Steckel reminds growers to continue to steward the tools already in hand.
Keeping an Eye on China
Cleveland has prided himself on being a market bull. And he hates the bearish turn he’s taken in the past few months, thanks to price declines and rumblings about Chinese reduction of cotton stocks.
“They are going to let the market take care of this excess stock,” he says. “If that Chinese cotton is cheap enough, somebody’s going to spin it. To me, that puts more pressure on the market.”
Even if predicted reductions in world stocks hold true, Cleveland notes that there will still be 100 million bales of cotton available. “And there’s no demand,” he says. “We have to go out and grasp that demand and take it back.”