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Lifting cotton profits

Meticulous management, both in the field and the office, make the difference in profit or loss for dryland cotton on the Rolling Plains of Texas.

Richards Farms of Avoca, Ericksdahl and Stamford spends great time and effort at each.

Erick Richards says that means aiming for good yields and top-quality fiber, while also marketing the cotton in the best way possible. Efficiency is vital.

It starts with a John Deere MaxEmerge cotton planter to put the cottonseed in the ground precisely. Richards Farms plants in 38-inch rows in a 2-in-and-1-out skip-row pattern.

“I’m convinced that pattern saves us moisture,” Erick says.

Key Points

• Meticulous management in field and office means success for Richards Farms.

• Being efficient and combining some operations in field help to save money.

• Cotton remains the backbone of the diversified Rolling Plains operation.


A good planter was especially important with 2009-crop cotton when a rainy period stretched Richards Farms’ cotton planting into a wide widow from May 27 to June 21.

Nevertheless, Erick and his dad, Darrell, were glad to get the rain for dryland cotton production. It paved the way for a good start, and they caught nice rains later in the season before a string of sunny days for harvest in the fall.

Of course, timely rainfall also can mean a flush of untimely weeds. However, Richards Farms doesn’t tolerate weeds.

Glyphosate still gives Darrell and Erick excellent control of weeds. They have not experienced resistance problems, and they apply only when needed.

Stacked genes help

Both their FiberMax cottons from Bayer CropScience and Deltapine cottons from Monsanto are stacked-gene varieties, which include the Roundup Ready Flex trait, so they can get through the growing season with effective weed control over the top.

Erick and Darrell use a John Deere 4720 sprayer with a 90-foot boom to get over the ground quickly on any occasion when they do need to spray for weeds in cotton.

Richards Farms kept insect pressure on cotton in check in 2009.

“We had some fleahoppers and a few worms,” Erick notes.

Nevertheless, the Bt trait in their stacked-gene cottons kept the worms solidly under control.

“We did treat once for fleahoppers,” Erick recalls.

To save money with the treatment application for fleahoppers, Darrell and Erick opted to put out the growth regulator Pentia during the same trip across the cotton field. This was done when their cotton was squaring. They figure every field trip saved is money saved.

Harvest aids

Darrell and Erick don’t mess around when it’s time for harvest aids; they want to strip cotton in a timely manner while the fiber quality is still good.

For their 2009-crop cotton, they chose Blizzard and ephethon as their harvest aid defoliants to drop the leaves.

After that, they came back with Gramoxone as a second shot to finish the job.

They apply harvest aids when the cotton growth stage is five nodes above cracked boll. Every season is different, but for this latest crop, that did a wonderful job of getting cotton ready for harvest.

To gin and marketplace

With their farming spread out, Darrell and Erick take cotton to both the Farmers Co-op Gin in Stamford, Texas, and the Ericksdahl Co-op Gin at Ericksdahl.

The yield and quality were strong for the 2009-crop cotton.

“It’s an above-average crop,” Erick acknowledges.

Marketing is the final step, and Richards Farms finds the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association marketing pool in Lubbock has been the most dependable and profitable way to market their cotton.

That’s good, because neither Erick nor Darrell can spend all their time worrying about marketing their cotton. After all, they also raise considerable wheat, sesame some years and beef cattle, too.

Erick also is a partner in Ag Crop, which provides crop insurance over a wide area from its Stamford headquarters, where Erick also keeps an office. He’s also a partner in Seeds of Faith, which receives and sells sesame seed.

Erick says you must be efficient to grow cotton, and with its long growing season and the Boll Weevil Eradication Program having eliminated the weevil as a factor, he believes the Rolling Plains can be the most advantageous place economically to grow the crop in the entire Cotton Belt.

Looking to the soon-to-be-planted 2010 crop, Richards Farms plans to stay with cotton on at least half of its crop acreage.

“We are in a 50-50 rotation with other crops,” Erick says. “That works for us.”

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COLLECTION TIME: Lupe Alvarado on the John Deere 7460 cotton stripper (left) dumps a basket of white, fluffy cotton into the boll buggy of Donte Norman for transport during harvest of the Richard Farms’ crop.

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FROM TRACTOR SEAT TO SWIVEL CHAIR: Erick Richards, a 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University, says he spends as much, or more, time in his office chair as in a tractor seat, with management becoming just as important as agronomic savvy in farming nowadays.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.