No-till crops survive summer heat and drought


Cotton emerges from
heavy residue mat

For Harper County farmer Robert Sharp, there’s no such thing as too much residue.

Clearly, his 2012 cotton crop had no problem with that, either, because it was perhaps the healthiest-looking field on the South Central Kansas Residue Alliance’s summer crop tour.

“I planted this cotton in May, and it was three weeks before you could see anything growing in there,” Sharp told the tour participants. “That mat of residue was so thick you couldn’t see the cotton.”

The cool-season mix of cover crop on the field included volunteer wheat and fall rye, he said, and he terminated that crop just before planting his cotton.

Lack of moisture hampered the crop some, he said, but it still had a strong boll set. After rain the last week of August, many of the plants had put on new blooms.

Sharp said those blooms are not likely to turn to bolls because there will not be enough heat units before frost to allow them to mature.

“They look kind of pretty out there, but they won’t add to the yield at all. When the bolls already set mature, we’ll spray and harvest the cotton,” he said.

Next on his list of things to try, Sharp said, are warm-season cover crops.

“I haven’t had a chance to try anything; the conditions just haven’t been there for me yet. But it is definitely something I want to try when I can.”


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TALL COTTON: Robert Sharp’s cotton field is not as tall or as bushy as it would have been had there been more rain, but the plants that emerged from a thick mat of cool-season cover crops managed to thrive. Sharp said he expects a “decent” cotton harvest

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NEW BLOOMS: Harper County farmer Robert Sharp said the scattering of new blooms that dotted his cotton field after late-August rains came will not translate into added bolls of cotton, because there won’t be enough heat for them to mature before harvest.

A little rain makes a big difference

Scott Easter’s cover-crop field just a few miles south and east of Jim Robb’s farm caught a couple of showers that missed his neighbor, and the warm-season cover-crop mix — essentially the same as that used on Robb’s farm — showed how much difference just one or two extra showers can make.

Sunhemp stood taller than most of the tour participants, while cowpeas and sudangrass swayed in the wind.

Easter said he had not kept rainfall records for that specific farm, which he has enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program, but he does know that the general area had received about 3 inches of rain since mid-June.

He said he planted the cover-crop mix with a CrustBuster All Plant Drill, and used a starter fertilizer at planting time.

Kansas state agronomist Lyle Frees pulled up a plant to emphasize the difference that cover crops make in healing the plow pan that can plague many no-till farms for years after tillage has ceased.

Holding up the roots for the crowd, Frees pointed out how the roots of the sunhemp plant had hit that pan, then grew sideways to find a hole to go down through the soil.

Oklahoma soil scientist Greg Scott, who was a guest of the Residue Alliance on the tour, said that growth illustrates the benefits of the continuous no-till with cover crops.

“We are just beginning to learn about the beneficial life that is in the soil,” he said. “Examination of how these plants are helping heal the plow pan and provide a path for root penetration can teach us a lot.”


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RAIN MATTERS: Scott Easter used the same warm-season cover-crop blend as his neighbor Jim Robb. The difference in the size of the plants is attributable to an extra 1.5 inches of rain on Easter’s farm.

This article published in the October, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.