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Managing Texas-Sized Growth

From Cotton Grower Magazine – June/July 2016

Eric Seidenberger Web

Two years ago, Eric Seidenberger and his wife, Christy, were faced with a big decision.

The couple’s farm operation covered 3,000 acres in the Garden City, TX area – a comfortable combination of owned and leased land blessed with pretty good water. Seidenberger had worked diligently to transition his irrigated acres from flood irrigation to drip irrigation to improve water efficiency. His cotton yielded well enough to secure membership in the FiberMax One Ton Club. And he found enough time for involvement in local and industry organizations.

Then, his dad decided to retire. And he asked Eric and Christy to take over his acres – all at once.

“After thinking about it for a long time and crunching the numbers, we decided to add his acres,” says Seidenberger. “Overnight, our operation grew from 3,000 acres to 6,000 acres, and I went from three full-time employees to five. I also bought most of dad’s equipment on a lease-purchase agreement.”

He’s managed to make the transition as smooth as possible by sticking to the plan and processes that have worked for him since he started farming in 1994. A good bit of that plan is centered on water management.

“Of our 6,000 acres, only 1,500 are irrigated,” he says. “We try not to spend a lot of money on the dryland acres. If we get the moisture and can get the crop up, we’ll usually knife in fertilizer when the cotton reaches pinhead square and looks good. But most years, we just depend on Mother Nature. And whatever it makes, it makes.”

Those irrigated acres, however, are a different story.

“Each of the irrigated fields are different,” he points out. “I have 14 sub-surface drip systems spread 35 miles apart, and they range from 1½ gallons per acre to 4½ gallons per acre. I put in my first drip system in 1997 on a 45-acre field. We’ve added more every year, and I have one more system to put in this fall.”

For the fields that get more water, Seidenberger knifes in fertilizer and other inputs during the summer. The fields with less water may only get fertilizer, but those rates may get a bump if the fields get some rain to help out.

His reasoning for the irrigated details is simple.

“Out here, we are behind when we start,” he says. “Cotton needs six gallons per acre per minute at full bloom. That’s 3/10 of an inch a day. Most of our water, on average, is only three gallons per acre. All I can do is give the crop half of what it needs at peak bloom. The rest of the time, we try to bank up. We really overwater when the cotton is young to try to build a profile.

Seidenberger generally turns the water on in mid-June and doesn’t shut it off until the crop reaches 20% cracked boll.

“Even if we get 1½ inches of rain, we’ll be out in the mud restarting wells, because we always think that’s going to be the last rain for the summer,” he laughs.

Putting the Right Varieties in Place

His emphasis on water efficiency also impacts his variety selection.

“There are a lot of varieties that do better under limited water,” he says. “On these 14 irrigated fields, I may plant six different varieties where I know I have a good fit. Where I have 1½ gallons of water available, I don’t want to plant the same variety I put where I have four gallons.”

His variety choices are also driven by a history of Verticillium wilt in some of the fields that have better water.

“That’s a big deal for me,” he states. “I use a lot of data from Dr. Terry Wheeler at Texas Tech to help make decisions on varieties. I’m looking for varieties that do well with the water situation and varieties that can handle Verticillium wilt. It’s hard to find those that are a perfect match.”

Seidenberger is quick to point out that he uses varieties from all of the major seed companies. Some of those choices are based on the results and his observations from a field test he’s conducted with the seed companies for 18 years.

“I do this in a field along a road that the entire community travels,” he explains. “The seed reps and I work together and put about 6-8 of each company’s newer varieties in the trial. The companies get to have field days on site in the fall, and we get an even playing field for evaluation. It also helps get me in the door to grow seed block of these new varieties that are adapted for this area.”

Over the years, Seidenberger has grown seed for FiberMax, PhytoGen and Deltapine. He’s been impressed with the yields and quality he’s seen from varieties such as FM 2484B2F, PHY 333 WRF and DP 1219 B2RF.

“FM 2484B2F has been one of the best for me,” he says. “It’s versatile. We can use it on dryland or irrigated fields, and the quality is always good.”

It’s one of the varieties that helped the Seidenbergers earn the Most Acres award for the 2015 FiberMax One Ton Club. Combined with FM 2007GLT, the varieties yielded 2,054 pounds on 564 acres, with a loan rate of $0.5584.

On average, Seidenberger says roughly 70% of his irrigated and dryland acres are planted to FiberMax varieties. PhytoGen, Deltapine and NexGen varieties make up the remaining acres.

Tough Times, Innovative Decisions

Even with the efficiencies in place with the farming operation, Seidenberger admits that it’s a tough time to farm right now. Watching expenses is Christy’s specialty. An RN by training, she took over the farm’s books when their acreage doubled and now focuses on watching the dollars and helping look for ways to trim costs.

One of the more innovative cost saving measures they’ve put in place is co-ownership of a John Deere 7760 round module picker with another farming operation south of Corpus Christi. The partnership has halved the cost of the equipment for the Seidenbergers and benefits both operations equally.

As a fifth generation farmer, Seidenberger understands the job at hand and recognizes the hard work and sacrifices that his grandparents and parents dealt with. That’s why things related to the history of the farm are important to him. He has restored his maternal grandfather’s 1971 Chevrolet step-side pickup back to its original condition and color. Likewise, he also restored his paternal grandfather’s 1959 John Deere 730 butane tractor back to operating condition.

“I have something special from each of them from the farm,” he says. “It means a lot.”

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