Setting New Yield Limits

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From Cotton Grower Magazine – June 2014

 

Like many of his neighbors in and around Maury City, TN, cotton producer Tommy Butner grew up around cotton.

For decades he’s been a dryland farmer, relying on usually ample Mid-South rainfall to scratch out his cotton, corn, wheat and bean crops. As any dryland farmer will tell you, though, Mother Nature doesn’t operate on schedule.

While many of the growers in his area have added acreage or installed irrigation systems, Butner has chosen a different path. He says he subscribes to a philosophy of making the most out of the hand he’s been dealt.

“I had a landlord once who told me something that I think about a lot,” Butner says. “He said ‘Son, it’s not about how much land you work, it’s what you make off of the land you work.’ I have got some good land, and I’m lucky to make good yield off of it. I could be working more land, but it costs the same to put in a rough cheap farm that won’t make, as it does to put in a good farm. You might say I’m just picky.”

That philosophy has paid off in the last two seasons. Over a career that spans a full three decades, Butner made the best crop he’s ever raised in 2012, when he averaged 2.6 bales an acre thanks to a series of timely rains. In 2013, he averaged 2.2 bales an acre, despite having to replant as many as three times due to a wet and cold spring.

“If the weather had cooperated and the fog had lifted, I would have had just as good of a year as 2012,” Butner says. “That’s just how it goes.”

Despite coming just short of his goals, Butner still did so well in 2013 that PhytoGen selected him as the company’s Best Yield Club Winner for Tennessee. It seems ironic that his soaring success the past two years can be traced back to one of the worst crop seasons he ever experienced, just seven years ago.

Westward Bound

The 2007 growing season was a rotten one for Butner – “dry as a bone” as he says. After it became clear that his crop wasn’t going to turn out well, a friend called to see if he wanted to travel to the High Plains of Texas to do some custom harvesting. With a wife and three children at home, Butner was hesitant to leave his Tennessee home, but his friend was persistent.

“They told me the man would furnish the module builders and I’d only need to bring the picker,” Butner says. “I decided to do it, and it turned out to be a good decision. I stayed out in San Angelo, TX, and picked somewhere around 3,300 bales. It was some good cotton.”

Aside from finding some excellent cotton farms, Butner also found great people in the San Angelo area. One of whom, PhytoGen’s Scott Fuchs, naturally started to ask about Butner’s own farm back in Tennessee. As a cotton development specialist for PhytoGen, Fuchs was well versed in how his company’s varieties had been succeeding in the Mid-South.

Barnes is the senior editor for Cotton Grower magazine. In addition to writing for the magazine, he assists in online content production and in event production. He joined the Cotton Grower staff in May 2008.
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