The growing season at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga. – just like at many farms throughout the Southeast – got off to a “rough and rocky start,” according to Michael Chafin, farm manager for the Darrell Williams Research Farm.
During the recent Sunbelt Ag Expo Field Day, Chafin discussed the progress of the approximately 600 acres of cropland at the farm. This year’s field day, as in years past, featured a wide array of products, crop varieties and on-farm research.
“We started off extremely wet like everyone else, and it was cold in early spring,” says Chafin. “It didn’t seem like we could get a rain less than 5 or 6 inches. But we finally got over that hump and got everything in the dirt. Just like everyone else, we had to do some replanting this year. We had some seed that had rotted from the excessive moisture, and we had to replant some places that were washed out. We actually had to convert some cotton acres into soybean acres to have them ready for the show in October. It’s never easy farming on a timetable.”
However, conditions had improved in the days leading up to the field, and it was shaping up to be an overall good year, he says.
“We had not had a rain in three weeks prior to the field day, and we got small amount the night before. Growing conditions are perfect right now. We’ve got the heat that we need to fill out the corn and the cotton, and cotton is blooming. We’ve got cotton in the first and second week of bloom,” said Chafin on July 10.
Normally, 200 to 250 acres of cotton are planted at the Expo site, he says, but this year those acres dropped to about 150, with soybeans being planted on the remainder of the cotton ground.
“We’re pretty consistent with our corn, always having from 60 to 75 acres,” says Chafin. “We’re pushing 75 to 80 acres this year. The corn market, as growers know, is up and down, but the cotton market has been fairly consistent. The soybean market is still looking really good. We’ve got beans contracted at $12, and we think that’ll work out well for us. Soybeans are a low-input, low-maintenance crop, and that has helped us this year considering our rough start. Our peanut acreage is down a little bit – we normally run about 60 to 75 acres of peanuts and we’re down to about 30 or 40 acres this year. A lot of that is due to planting dates and getting everything coordinated for us at the here at the Expo. We just couldn’t squeeze them all in.”
If there’s a “hot” crop at this year’s Expo, it would probably have to be soybeans, says Chafin.
“I’m excited about our soybeans. Single-crop soybeans are not a staple crop in south Georgia. We do a lot of double-cropping of soybeans, especially in the southwest part of the state, behind corn, sweet corn and late wheat. But I think single-crop soybeans have the potential to be a good crop for us.
“They’re a legume crop, and they don’t require a lot of nitrogen. They’re easy to grow and to maintain. Also you don’t have to overspray them every week or two. They usually require a couple of fungicide applications and a couple of insecticide treatments along with the fungicides. Also, they require the weed control that you’d do with any other crop. Some farmers might want to consider focusing more of their attention on cotton acres while putting their marginal land in soybeans.”
Chafin says he is pushing for top yields with the Expo’s soybean crop.
“We’ve all heard the talk, mostly from the MidSouth, about 100-bushel soybeans, and we’re working towards that, but we’re not there yet. We’re close, but we’re not there yet. There are some theories out there about how to achieve this. I think 70 to 80-bushel soybeans is an accomplishment. In the 1980s and early 1990s, interest in soybeans began to wane, and people were happy with 15 to 20 bushels of beans. We’ve put the pencil to it, and we think 60 to 70-bushel soybeans is just as good as 2-bale cotton with a lot fewer manhours involved and fewer inputs, including lower nitrogen requirements.”
New weed technologies
University of Georgia cotton research at the Sunbelt Expo is focusing on new weed control technologies, says Stanley Culpepper, UGA Extension weed scientist.
“The biggest thing we’re working on this year are cotton varieties that are tolerant to Roundup, 2,4-D or dicamba. These technologies are likely to be commercialized sometime near the end of this year and through 2016, and we’ve still got a lot to learn about them,” says Culpepper.
Research results so far have been impressive, he adds.
“We feel really good about the weed control component of these technologies. There are 18 treatments here at the Expo and 16 of them don’t have a weed in them, and I haven’t had to hand-weed. Having said that, our standard programs also look pretty good if you’re very timely, but they don’t allow as much flexibility. The new technologies do offer a few more days of flexibility,” says Culpepper.
The greatest concern and our greatest challenge, however, with the new weed technologies is off-target movement, he says.
“We’re looking at drift on seven or eight acres of soybeans. We have to understand drift and the volatility of these chemistries as they move into our market. That will be our greatest challenge, and we have to know these things before they get into the market.”
Last year, Georgia received a Section 18 for Brake herbicide, says Culpepper. “This herbicide is new chemistry, it’s very safe to the cotton, it’s no better than weed control in our current programs, and it is expensive. If you use Brake or if you want to use Brake next year, I want to hear from you. If you don’t feel it’s of value, I don’t want to spend the time doing what’s required for the Section 18. If you want that option, let your county Extension agent know that.”
UGA cotton researchers also are looking at true conservation tillage work where they’re rolling rye, says Culpepper. These programs can offer great benefits in terms of weed control, he says, in addition to conserving soil moisture.”
UGA Extension cotton agronomist Guy Collins says some of his trials at looking at the value of irrigation during cotton squaring.
“So far, our results are indicating that it’s not a time when we need to be neglecting irrigation. Not every field needs a lot of water during cotton squaring. It’s not a growth stage when cotton generally uses a lot of water. However, we’ve seen very clearly that if we allow drought stress to occur during that point in time, we can lose a lot of yield,” says Collins.
Extension soil fertility specialist Glen Harris reminds growers that whenever their cotton reaches the third or fourth week of bloom, that’s when the plant will start to drain any available potash. So watch for potassium issues and think about putting on some foliar potassium is needed,” he recommends.