From Cotton Grower Magazine – March 2016
Darrin Dodds admits that a presentation titled “Where Has Profit in Cotton Gone and How Can I Get It Back?” can be daunting, especially in a 60-cent cotton market. But he also admits it’s the right time for growers to take a look at options for savings on input costs.
“There are some things we can’t control, and some things we can control,” says Dodds, Mississippi State Extension cotton specialist, during the 2016 Cotton and Rice Conference. “Land and equipment are two of the biggest expenses that growers face, and there’s not a lot they can do about it. The key point is that a lot of our input costs have gone up, and our cotton price hasn’t.”
For savings and efficiencies, Dodds suggests that growers look in four primary areas – variety selection, fertility, pest management and unnecessary expenses.
Put the Right Variety in the Right Place
Put plainly, selecting the right variety can make or break a grower’s profit margin. For example, by choosing the highest yielding variety versus the lowest yielding variety, based on state variety trials, a growers could potentially make nearly $185 per acre. Even a variety that finished in the middle of the pack in trials is still worth $75 an acre over the lowest yielder.
“We have more choices of good varieties in cotton than we’ve ever had,” points out Dodds. “The key now is putting those varieties where they need to be, based on soil texture or irrigation or PGR management or fertility. There are a lot of things that can influence a variety, but it all starts with putting the right variety in the right place.”
Feed the Crop
It’s hard to skimp on a fertility program and still make cotton yield. But in the silt loam soils of the Mississippi Delta, tests have shown that growers can maximize yields on 80-90 pounds of nitrogen per acre, as opposed to the “traditional” 120-pound rate.
“Even in this cotton market, I’m not willing to cut fertility,” stated Dodds. “If your budget is tight, put out a maintenance shot of fertilizer at the very least.”
Growers should also take a look at irrigation programs. Too much water can actually hurt the crop. University tests showed that fields that were watered later and only twice instead of three times yielded the best. “If growers can cut out one irrigation, they’re saving money on electricity or diesel fuel to run the pumps,” he says.
In the Mid-South, herbicides and insecticides are two of the biggest expenses, thanks to plant bugs and pigweed. But studies have shown that selecting an early maturing variety and getting it in the ground early can help minimize losses to plant bugs. Dodds also says growers should keep plant pubescence in mind in some areas, since hairier leaf varieties have shown less plant bug activity than smooth leaf varieties. And, he adds, an application of Diamond at the third week of squaring can help maximize yields and potentially reduce the number of plant bug treatments needed.
Tighten the Purse Strings
When market prices are good, it’s easy to spend a little money to try something that may – or may not – work. This isn’t the year.
“This year, don’t spend money frivolously,” cautions Dodds. “Spend money only on what you know is going to pay the bills.”