Southeast growers take center stage at Beltwide

If you take care of the land, the land will take care of your crop. That has been a guiding philosophy for south Georgia farmer Kevin Shaw, who was part of the “Innovative Grower Panel” during the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences held in New Orleans.

Shaw, from Lakeland, Ga., began farming full time in 1993, after obtaining a degree in biology from the University of Georgia. Along with his associate Marcos Trejo, he farms 1,250 acres of cotton, corn and peanuts. He also growers wheat, rye and oats as winter cover crops. In addition, he manages about 300 head of cattle.

“We went 100 percent strip-till in 1995,” says Shaw. “There were several reasons for this. One was to save time. The other reasons were to save fuel and to improve the top layer of our sandy soil. The most important benefit we now see is in fuel savings — it has been a huge benefit for us.”

Strip-tillage, he says, is the “only way to farm,” allowing him to double-crop approximately 60 percent of his cotton acreage.

“The majority of our acreage is planted in cotton — it is instrumental in the survival of our farm,” says Shaw. “We have a fairly generic cotton program. The main thing we’ve based our program on is keeping the land in good shape.”

He applies one ton of lime in his fields every three years. If he follows with a cover crop, he applies one ton every two years.

He begins his cotton production season by burning down with an appropriate chemical mixed with Prowl at three weeks prior to planting. “We never stick cotton seed in the dirt before May 1 on our farm, and we don’t skimp on plant population. We hill-drop two seeds every 12 to 14 inches based on the variety. A good stand is very important because you can’t pick what’s not there,” he says.

Shaw’s irrigated and dryland treatments are very similar. “We use Temik religiously in our program, but we’re starting to find places and a need for the use of Avicta. We have shifted all of our cotton acreage to Roundup Ready. Our main variety is DPL 555, and it performs well for us in all weather conditions,” he says.

Shaw makes his first over-the-top Roundup application at about the seedling stage. After laying by with Roundup and Diuron, his crop is monitored for Pix needs, with rates being varied according to soil types.

“Hopefully, we are pest free. But if we’re not, we rely heavily on our scout. I can’t stress enough how important this profession is to the survival of our farm,” he says.

Shaw makes one last 20-ounce Pix application at about the first cracked-boll stage to finish out the crop and take him into defoliation.

Also representing the Southeast at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences on the subject of irrigation strategies was Gill Rogers of Rogers Brothers Farm in Hartsville, S.C. Rogers says he began farming on his own in 1970, and his brother joined him as a partner in 1977.

In 1987, the Rogers brothers stopped growing tobacco and began expanding their cotton acreage. For 2007, they intend on planting 4,200 acres of cotton in addition to other row crops, including peanuts and corn.

They began installing irrigation in 1993 and now have 2,000 acres under pivot irrigation and 90 acres of subsurface drip irrigation. “We became tired of our crop drying up. In 1990, our dryland cotton made no economic return. Our region averages about 45 inches of rain per year, but weather conditions are completely unpredictable,” he says.

“We do have an abundance of clean surface water, but collecting that water can be challenging. Most of our fields have elaborate drainage systems,” says Rogers. “We use center pivots and wells, pumping laterally from holding ponds. We now have six center pivots, and we pump water from as far away as a mile.”

He also uses an irrigation scheduling program from the University of Georgia. “This is a very important part of our watering system. We usually start irrigating during the week of first bloom,” he says. “We had tried using tensiometers, but that system failed.”

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