Expo research evaluated

With a goal of improving the economic efficiency of farming, the Sunbelt Expo recently offered growers the opportunity to view more than 100 crop seed varieties, in addition to hearing about and seeing some of the latest research projects involving chemical applications and irrigation options.

The Sunbelt Expo Field Day, held in Moultrie, Ga., is a preview to the Sunbelt Expo held each year in October.

This year's field day featured 48 varieties of corn, 35 varieties of soybean, 30 varieties of cotton, 16 varieties of grain sorghum and six varieties of peanuts. University and USDA researchers also shared some of their latest research aimed at increasing yields and profitability.

Low prices and high production costs in cotton production are leading University of Georgia Extension researchers to take a closer look at skip-row cotton.

“With skip-row, we're not planting every row or we're leaving certain areas in the field unplanted in a specific pattern,” says Philip Jost, Extension agronomist. “Hopefully, this will save us money on seed costs, in-furrow insecticides, banded herbicides over-the-row and other inputs.”

Researchers, says Jost, are attempting to determine the optimum skip with currently available varieties and which varieties will work best in a skip-row system.

“We're looking at two rows in and one row out, four in and one out, and a modified skip with two rows planted with a 50-inch skip and four rows planted with a 50-inch skip. We're also looking at full- and short-season varieties under dryland and irrigation situations,” he says.

Researchers also are looking at the use of plant growth regulators and fertilizer in skip-row cotton, notes Jost. “We need to grow this crop big enough so that it will canopy over the skip. And, it's possible that we may be able to cut back on fertility rates in skip-row cotton. But we're also asking a lot from these plants, so we may need to keep fertility rates where they are,” he says.

Looking at observations from other states, Jost says Mississippi researchers are seeing good results from a two and one skip.

“They're seeing 94 percent of the yields found in their conventional plantings. If you can get 94 percent of your yields, but you're using 33 percent less land, then you can do pretty well with this system. Planting skip-row cotton can result in savings on technology fees, insecticides and other inputs.”

Some limitations of skip-row cotton may be the equipment requirements, he says. “When setting up a planter for skip-row cotton, you must get a pattern that the planter can maintain throughout the field. You also have to set it up so that your tool bar can handle it. Also, if you run a picker head down an unplanted row, you've voided any advantages gained from planted skip rows.”

Weed control is another concern, he adds. “Weed control in those skips can be a challenge because it'll take longer for those skips to canopy. We'll continue to look at this problem.”

Turning to fertility, Extension soil scientist Glen Harris says many farmers are complaining this year about yellow cotton. “We were blessed with rainfall early in the season, and many growers were conservative with their fertilization rates. The rain has leached out a lot of nutrients, and we need to be aware of this situation,” says Harris.

Nitrogen, potassium

Research at the Expo, he says, is focusing on nitrogen and potassium on cotton. “We're looking at a lot of foliar fertilizers. We know that foliar application is a good way to supplement a soil-applied program. We're also looking at foliar calcium materials. We looked at those last year and didn't see a lot of response.

“We're also continuing to do some boron work. Many materials are available, and our research shows that they're all very comparable in their performance. You probably should base your purchase of these materials on cost,” he says.

Georgia cotton producers are seeing major problems this year with weed shifts, reports Extension weed scientist Stanley Culpepper. “We have adopted the Roundup Ready technology hard and fast, and the result has been a lot of weed shift problems. Morningglory and dayflower especially have become problems with our growers.

“Dayflower is absolutely killing a lot of our growers, and we don't know how to manage it. We're focusing on controlling these weeds. At the same time, we're looking at technology that's probably two or three years down the road, including the next generation of Roundup Ready,” says Culpepper.

Integrating cotton, grazing

Another feature of this year's Sunbelt Expo Field Day was a study that looks at the economic and production responses to grazing beef cattle on winter annuals in rotation with cotton in conventional and strip-tillage production systems.

“We want to see what kind of revenue we can generate during the winter from irrigated crop production land,” says Arthur Gates with the Agricultural Research Service. “Our strategy involves the winter grazing of stocker animals.”

The Expo plot consists of four strips — two in conventional-tillage and two in conservation-tillage. “We fenced off areas during the winter to restrict grazing. We measured the impact of grazing versus the absence of grazing.

“We have plenty of information on the performance of cattle during the winter on many different forages. We also have information on subsequent crops in the summer. What's missing is the integration of these two things. What is the impact of grazing during the winter on subsequent crop production? Our hope is that we can manage grazing so there is no impact,” says Gates.

The ultimate goal of the research, he adds, is to make grazing beneficial for crop production.

“We grazed a field of about 10 acres,” says Gates. “We grazed 10 yearlings this past winter — that's a fairly conservative stocking rate generating about 1,500 pounds of animal feed over an 84-day grazing period. We started the second week in January and went through the first week in April.

“From a revenue standpoint, we need to expand the time that we can graze during the winter. The best way to accomplish this is to get earlier grazing. This year, rather than waiting for the crop to be removed, we want to relay plant behind the cotton so we can get grazing up and growing before the first of the year.”

Researchers learned this past year that cotton stands ranged from 2.3 to 2.6 plants per foot, and there was no difference between conventional and conservation-tillage. Also, there was no impact from grazing, says Gates.

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