When Less Means More
From Cotton Grower Magazine – April 2017
Spend any amount of time with cotton producer Greg Basinger, and you’ll notice two things. The first being that the man is passionate about producing a cotton crop. The second – that he’s open minded when it comes to solving his on-farm problems. He says he’s always ready to listen when a fellow farmer or the Texas A&M Experiment Station team has a novel idea about agriculture. It shows.
He’s got a strong opinion on how to overcome most any challenge growers might encounter in West Texas. Worried about spray drift? Utilize nozzles meant for fertilizer to make “globs” of your tank-mix application, he says. Recurring drought? The region should invest in desalination plants “like they use in the Middle East,” he says. Low yielding farmland? Simple. Don’t farm it.
If that last solution made you do a spit take, you’re not alone. But through meticulous record keeping and a commitment to his plan, Basinger was able to significantly reduce his acreage while actually increasing his overall cotton production. It was, in every sense of the phrase, a win-win for the Slaton, TX producer.
“I’m in this to make money,” Basinger says, bluntly. “I’m not in it to simply make a crop.”
That’s the philosophy that drove his decision to drop nearly 1,000 acres – troubled acres, to be sure – from his operation two years ago. It was a decision that was made with significant amounts of data to back it up.
“Between me and my dad, I’ve got the records of us farming over there since 1992,” Basinger says of a patch of farmland near Wilson, TX. “I went back and looked at the historical production by year since 1992. I was looking at the New Lynn area, the Lynn County dryland and then my Garza County dryland. I did a cumulative plot of the fields, and the New Lynn area yielded about 100 pounds an acre less than the stuff in Lynn County or Garza County.
“If you go over there, you’ll see why,” Basinger says. “It’s sandy and it’s just difficult. It’s uneven land and very sandy and harsh.”
Cotton prices were poor at the time, and Basinger was searching for another of his trademark solutions to the problem of making ends meet. Eventually he came to the conclusion that management of his multiple farms was ultimately zero-sum. Time and effort spent tending to his poorer ground was time and effort that he wasn’t dedicating to his best acreage.
“Realistically, you want to spend as much time as possible on your highest margin properties,” Basinger says. “So I decided to turn back that acreage.”
Overnight his farm went from around 2,600 acres to a more manageable 1,600. He saw benefits on several aspects of the operation.
For one thing, Basinger was able to trade in six pieces of farm equipment for two. For another, he was able to dedicate more irrigation, crop nutrition and crop protection dollars to his best acreage.
“After all was said and done, I looked at my taxes and my direct farming expenses had dropped significantly by not farming that,” he now says. But something unexpected happened that season, as well. “My total pounds of cotton produced was actually 10,000 pounds higher than it was with that other acreage. I made it up on yields spending time in the better quality properties. It was the definition of a win-win.”
An Eye for Efficiency
Acreage wasn’t the only asset Basinger wanted to be more efficient with, as he looked for ways to maximize his farm’s potential. Water is a valuable commodity in his part of the Cotton Belt, and Basinger leaned on his 19 years as an oil and gas industry engineer when considering how best to irrigate.
The problem with center pivots, he says, is that they can exacerbate any existing resistant weed issues. Drip-tape provided a more attractive and efficient option. Ultimately Basinger decided on sub-surface irrigation, laying it out in a 2-in-1 row system. With this method, he is able to water two rows with one strip of tape, leaving a “blank” row to Mother Nature’s care for irrigation. His engineering experience led him to believe that blank row would act as a reservoir for rainfall that would be discarded from rows with the drip tape.
“I wanted to consolidate the water into a smaller area and leave that blank sitting there where there’s not tape,” Basinger says. “What we saw that first year was that the blank dryland rows were twice as good as the dryland field just across the road. There’s an accumulated moisture and fertilizer bank in that field that hadn’t been utilized before.”
The new water regime, combined with the added inputs he gleaned from reducing his acreage, resulted in some eye-popping yields. In one field, planted to PHY 375 WRF, he averaged 2,802 pounds per acre.
“It did over 3,000 in spots,” Basinger recalls. “I could’ve stripped it twice because there just so much lint left in the field because the plants themselves were just gigantic. That was the first year I tried PhytoGen here, and it made that yield and it was just impossible not to replant it the next year after seeing that.
“Once you do that well, you replant it or else you’re an idiot,” he says with a laugh.
Like many cotton producers, Basinger was ambushed by glyphosate-resistant pigweed several years back. With this challenge, though, he saw no need to reinvent the wheel. Extension experts have long urged growers to stay vigilant and get weeds out of the field as early as possible. That’s exactly what Basinger tries to do.
“Everybody in Mississippi and the Southeast, they already learned this: The best way to deal with careless weeds is don’t let them come up,” Basinger says.
In addition to a rigorous herbicide plan that begins well before planting, he also relies on cold steel.
“We plow and hoe and make sure we kill every weed we see and make sure they never go to seed,” he says. “That’s been my mantra – do not let the females go to seed. And it’s tough. That first year that’s all me and my son Colton did all year it felt like. I just drive around until September and if I see one, I go in there and get it out. We rely on constant vigilance and carrying them out.”