Making water work

Growing cotton means a lot of tweaking this or that to adapt to a particular season.

Chris Bubenik likes to plant all his irrigated cotton within a May 10-15 window. But this year, his irrigated cotton wasn’t planted until May 23. All of his 2010 cotton is FiberMax varieties, and most cotton is FiberMax 1740, an early- to medium-maturity variety.

“You can take an early-season variety, and treat it as a long-season with water management and fertility,” he notes.

Bubenik grows all stacked-gene cotton with the Roundup Ready Flex trait for virtually season-long weed control, plus Bt for worms. Meanwhile, the Boll Weevil Eradication Program has put the weevil out of the picture. (The Southern Rolling Plains zone was the first in Texas to eradicate the weevil.)

Key Points

• Cotton is the most important cash crop for Tom Green County, Texas, grower.

• Cultural practices, irrigation methods and capture of rainfall all stretch water.

• Despite up-and-down weather during season, region could still make good crop.


Bubenik didn’t begin planting dryland cotton until June 1. The dryland cotton, all FiberMax varieties, caught some good rainfall early, before August turned hot and dry.

All cotton is planted in 40-inch rows, which works well with equipment. If nematodes are present, he will use an effective fungicide to control them.

He has seen no resistance issues with glyphosate herbicide for weeds.

Nevertheless, because cotton root rot is prevalent in that region, he needs to rotate crops frequently. In 2008, for example, he went heavily in corn where he had irrigation water.

For 2009, Bubenik grew wheat, cotton and grain sorghum.

“Usually, we can do just two consecutive years in cotton on the same ground here because of root rot,” he says.

That requires rotation. “The ideal rotation would be 50% cotton and 50% grain,” Bubenik allows. “But how do you make any money off grain?”

He says sorghum is a good crop. But as of late summer, the local price was only about $5.50 to $5.55 per cwt.

Wheat prices showed some strength in late summer, but that was long after many producers had harvested their wheat for dirt-cheap prices. It’s made some growers very skeptical that they might experience a repeat performance at wheat harvesttime in 2011.

Stretching water

Bubenik uses both cultural practices and irrigation water management to stretch water. He says using Roundup Ready Flex for weed control means fewer passes over the fields to control weeds, and by not disturbing the soil, water is saved throughout the season.

“It also lets us use the previous year’s beds to conserve moisture,” he notes.

The Tom Green County grower also sets drop hoses low with his center-pivot irrigation. That, along with farming in a circle, has saved additional water.

Some dikes are used to keep water where it needs to be for efficient use by the crop. In addition, Bubenik uses dikes for all dryland cotton to get the most from rainwater, too.

“We dike where we don’t have to plow them out,” Bubenik explains. “It doesn’t interfere with tillage or harvesting, since we dike every other row.”

Bubenik takes soil samples yearly to check for fertility needs. On irrigated cotton acreage, he also uses petiole analysis to test for micronutrients.

Overall, 2010 could still be a good year. Bubenik experienced some fleahoppers in cotton early on and had to spray for aphids. Spider mites then appeared later in the season. But some years, spider mites can be stopped by just spraying the parameter of the field, he notes.

Bubenik uses growth regulators and harvest aids — according to the season and affordability — and likes to put out a desiccant at 80% open boll, but that may vary slightly with the weather and season.

He takes his cotton to the Wall Co-op Gin. Jerry Multer, gin manager, is president of the Texas Cotton Ginners Association. The gin processed 78,098 bales in 2007. By October, Bubenik and other growers hope to be deep in cotton harvest, with the gin humming again to handle a good crop.

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TANKFUL: Fertilizer tanks allow for precise and timely application of fertilizer with irrigation water.

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Filter system: Canal water from a federal reclamation project first has to undergo filtration before being used to irrigate crops like cotton. Chris Bubenik says the 2010 crop year put the filtration system to the test, dealing with algae and other particulates.

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SEE NO WEEVIL: Try as he may, Chris Bubenik sees no weevils in any of the multitudes of boll weevil traps, along either his irrigated or dryland cotton fields. The Boll Weevil Eradication Program has virtually eliminated the weevil from the Southern Rolling Plains.

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let it flow: Chris Bubenik uses a combination of canal water like this and wells to irrigate cotton or other crops with both furrow and center-pivot irrigation.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.