Streamlining field operations

Richard Pelzel may reduce tillage or combine some field operations, like herbicide and insecticide applications, to save field trips and dollars. All the while, he makes good stewardship of the land at Miles, Texas, a priority.

Cotton is his main crop in rotation with wheat. Typically by March, Pelzel has his land bedded up in preparation to plant cotton later in the spring.

Key Points

Richard Pelzel combines field operations where possible.

The Miles, Texas, farmer makes cotton crops work with wheat.

The farmer says leaving land better than he found it is his priority.

There’s usually one more trip to work the land and put down his phosphorus fertilizer. “And depending on rain, I may spray for weeds once before planting time,” Pelzel says. As a dryland producer, weather has a lot to say about when his cotton is planted.

“I sometimes plant cotton the last week of May, but I’d rather plant in June,” he allows. “The reason is that with June planting, your cotton is not trying to finish out during the driest, hottest part of summer. So that lets you benefit some from any fall rains. Over the years, we’ve made more cotton with a later-planted crop.”

Cotton root rot

Cotton root rot long has plagued much of the Rolling Plains. Pelzel says he also has observed less root rot with later-planted cotton.

He buys diesel in bulk and watches the market for the best price, and tries to book fertilizer that way, too. Per soil tests, Pelzel will put out his nitrogen simultaneously with his cotton planting.

“I’ve got my planter rigged up where I can clean the field and plant all in one operation,” he notes. To accomplish that, he added John Deere planter units to a Bingham Bros. toolbar.

Pelzel plants cotton in 40-inch rows. That works for him, especially on terraced land, where the terraces were set up on certain intervals of 40-inch rows.

He also uses GPS to deliver even more field precision. Pelzel grows a lot of FiberMax cotton and sometimes Deltapine varieties, too.

Thrips are the first early-season insect to watch for in cotton, but thrips usually are not a problem, especially in later-planted cotton, as June cotton takes off so rapidly. But fleahoppers can do damage early and quickly.

“We really scout for fleahoppers,” Pelzel says. “We try to piggyback an insecticide treatment with our first Roundup treatment for weeds.”

The Roundup Ready Flex trait can be applied on weeds nearly all season long, which allows weed and insect controls to be combined.

“Before Roundup Ready Flex, we needed to spray cotton with glyphosate before the fifth true leaf,” he says. “But with Flex, we have the ability to spray when needed, and so that gives me both herbicide and insect treatment capabilities I didn’t have before Flex.”

Down the stretch

Pelzel has applied foliar fertilizer on cotton from time to time, but that depends on the rainfall for the year.

If he does opt to use a foliar fertilizer, it’s just for micronutrients. In addition, if the growing season has a lot of rain, he will apply a growth regulator to his cotton. Heading toward the finish line, Pelzel will cut many bolls open to make sure a high percentage of bolls are ready for a harvest aid.

The first shot will be a boll opener and something to drop the leaves. Then Pelzel comes back in for a second shot with a desiccant. Pelzel harvests cotton with an eight-row John Deere 7460 stripper and takes his cotton to Miles Co-op Gin.

Wheat in fall

In fall, Pelzel shreds cotton stalks and plants two to three wheat varieties. Moisture availability determines whether he applies fertilizer then with the air seeder, or waits to topdress wheat with fertilizer later.

Since cattle are not a factor in Pelzel’s farming, he doesn’t need early wheat forage for livestock, and can plant in November after cotton harvest and aim for grain production. At harvest, Pelzel combines the wheat using a John Deere 9770 combine with a 36-foot header.

The wheat is transported to Kasberg Grain in Miles.


Pelzel is known for his devotion to good stewardship of the land. “When wheat comes off, I will use some time to do a fair amount of conservation work,” he says.

That means rebuilding some internal blocks on the parallel terrace systems, building up end blocks and working on other needs.

Pelzel uses laser leveling of land, which is unique in his part of Texas. “The reason for all of that is to keep the rain where it falls,” he explains.

His passion for stewardship has grown over the years. When he earned his degree in agricultural engineering at Texas Tech University, engineering was the fascination for this precision-minded guy.

“At first, it was the machinery that interested me,” Pelzel recalls. “But actually using the equipment to help the land in a real setting just added to my appreciation of the land.”

Soon after his school days, his efforts in assisting local conservation work honed his skills and land appreciation. Today, it’s the land.

Pelzel concludes, “I want to leave the land in better shape than when I started for future generations.”

In addition to a cellphone, Richard Pelzel also has radio communication in his truck. Good communication helps Pelzel keep management tight on the farming operation at Miles, Texas.


NEAT GUY: With Miles, Texas, farmer Richard Pelzel, every tool in his large farm shop is returned to its proper place after the job is done.

This article published in the May, 2011 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.