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Get the most from cotton

Mark Mueller doesn’t want to mess around when it comes to getting cotton planted — or harvested — from the flat countryside surrounding Stamford, Texas.

“We farm a bunch, so we start planting cotton as early as we can, and get it harvested as soon as possible, always putting on a boll opener,” Mueller notes. “Our goal is to get the cotton crop out by Thanksgiving, because in this country, after Thanksgiving is when the weather usually goes bad.”

Key Points

• Fieldwork must be well coordinated with crop rotations.

• Mueller Farms uses equipment that can cover a lot of ground in a hurry.

• Advanced technology makes weed and insect control a more exact science.


Indeed, this winter season from November through Christmas, New Year’s and into February was one of the rainiest and snowiest periods ever recorded. Consequently, some areas of the Rolling Plains still were dotted with big cotton modules waiting to be ginned in February. Some cotton fields hadn’t been harvested because of the three-month stretch of wintry, stormy weather.

Mark felt blessed he and his father, Buddy, got the cotton gathered last fall before the holiday season; it’s good for the cotton and the gin, not to mention time with family.

But with 5,000 acres of cotton and 5,000 acres of wheat in a balanced rotation, it doesn’t just happen. It takes planning and lots of big rigs working to get the crops planted and harvested.

Getting cotton planted

Mueller Farms aims for a two-week window, from the last week of May through the first week of June, to get their cottonseed in the ground.

“My ideal time to plant cotton, if the weather cooperates, would be the first week of June,” Mark says. “But it is going to take us two weeks, whatever we do. If it didn’t, we’d plant just the first week of June. But we can’t do it all in one week.”

Timing can be tricky: While continuing to harvest wheat, they will begin planting cotton. So the wheat combines and cotton planters roll simultaneously in any particular field the same day.

Mark and Buddy grow all skip-row, dryland cotton in a pattern of eight rows in and three out. They plant Deltapine and some FiberMax cotton varieties. All are Roundup Ready Flex and Bollgard II stacked-gene varieties with the Flex trait for weed control and the Bollgard II for worms. “We go wall to wall with stacked-gene varieties; it’s an expensive technology, but a good one,” Mark says.

Mueller Farms tries not to overuse glyphosate even though they have the freedom with Flex varieties. Mark doesn’t want weeds to become resistant.

“So we put down Prowl herbicide or something soluble early that reduces our dependence on glyphosate and the amount of spraying we have to do in the growing season,” Mark notes. “We usually have to spray only twice with Roundup during the growing season.”

Then, with two spray rigs, each with 110-foot booms, Mueller Farms can get over ground quickly to stop weeds abruptly.

On a good day when running both big rigs at near 20 mph, Mark and Buddy can spray up to 3,000 acres for weeds, or 2,000 acres on an average day. To reduce chemical waste, they use swath control.

Insect control

With the success of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, the weevil is out of the picture for now. Meanwhile, the stacked-gene cotton with the Bollgard II trait takes care of worms. Mueller Farms also treats their cottonseed to control thrips. So, that leaves fleahoppers as their main insect problem.

“We usually have to spray for fleahoppers twice per season,” Mark says. “They will get your bottom crop if you don’t watch them. So, you have to be on top of fleahoppers early.”

Take it to the gin

Because of weather extremes, Mueller Farms doesn’t hesitate a day when it’s time for a cotton harvest aid.

“We use both a boll opener and a leaf drop, and then go back in with a kill shot desiccant,” Mark notes.

When the cotton’s ready, Mueller Farms moves in with two big John Deere 7460 cotton strippers, two boll buggies and two module builders. From there, the cotton rolls to Farmers Co-op Gin in Stamford, where Mark also serves on the board of directors.

By then, planting of the next wheat crop already is in motion. While Mark and some of the farm crew are harvesting cotton, Buddy is planting wheat.

“We sow wheat then, right behind the cotton strippers, with a John Deere no-till air seeder,” Mark says.

Buddy does the wheat planting, usually finishing in just a few days.

Mueller Farms markets cotton with the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association pool in Lubbock. The PCCA pool has worked well for them.

They also harvest their wheat for grain and take it to Farmers Co-op in Stamford.

In their “spare time,” the Muellers maintain a mixed-breed cow-calf operation, with cattle on pasture. They have stock tanks for most of their water, along with some well water.

Today’s technology saves them dollars and precious time. “The initial cost of technology may seem crazy, but it sure saves you money in the long run,” Mark allows. “It doesn’t cost; it pays.”

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CHECK IT OUT: Mark Mueller (left) makes a stop at Farmers Co-op Gin in Stamford, Texas, where he serves on the board of directors, and visits with Rex Ford, gin manager, as they check the computer for movement of a weather front. Ford says the most frequent activities of farmers at the modern office are to check cotton prices and, of course, the weather.

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KEEPS ON ROLLIN’: The Mueller Farms freightliner spray truck, with the familiar Mueller brand, transports 3,250 gallons of water in its tank to the field for spray rigs. Another 6,900-gallon tanker will go to the field to fill this spray truck with water, so the operation doesn’t have to go back to town for water.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.