For a 260-acre flue-cured tobacco grower to also handle 1,900 acres of cotton, he has to be mighty efficient. Billy Whaley says no-till and genetically engineered cotton varieties have helped make him as efficient as he can be.
"There's no way I could handle this much cotton if I didn't no-till," he says. "If I can find more land I'm going to increase my cotton acreage next year. Cotton, even at today's prices, still cash flows, as long as we keep the yields up. I sure can't say that about corn or even soybeans or wheat. We're very vulnerable here in the east to storms and hurricanes. But aside from that, we look at cotton as a reasonably certain profit center. We got excess rains in August and September that probably reduced our yields by 10 to 15 percent. Even with that, we're picking an average of around 850 pounds per acre this year."
Whaley says no-till production practices have allowed him to reduce his cost per acre, reduce labor requirements, and cut machinery wear and tear. That combination has allowed him to handle more acres with fewer people.
"I have to give some of the credit for the labor savings to Roundup Ready and Bollgard cotton too," he says. "About 35 percent of my crop is Roundup Ready with Bt and the rest is just Roundup Ready, five varieties in all. I can't say I've seen any yield increases since I went to no-till and genetically modified cotton. But I haven't seen any yield decreases either. I have to look at all the time and money I'm saving as an increase in my profits.
"If I wasn't no-tilling and taking advantage of the technology that's available, I'd have to cut back my cotton acreage or my tobacco acreage or both. As long as they're both profitable, it makes more sense to me to increase rather than cut back," Whaley says.