Think it's easy to grow cotton? More than 2,000 attending this week's 2010 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans can testify to the diversity of challenges in growing the natural fiber called cotton.
Larry R. McClendon, Marianna, Arkansas producer says parts of Arkansas received from 80 to more than 100 inches of rain during 2010.
"That was unprecedented—even for us," the cotton, corn and rice grower allows.
But despite its challenges, cotton in his area can return more than $800 per acre income compared with $500 to $600 for corn, McClendon notes.
"Cotton still is our consistent crop," he assures.
Jimmy Webb of Leary, Georgia likes to grow peanuts but can't rotate peanuts and soybeans because they both are legumes, and that leads to problems for him. So he grows cotton and corn as part of his crop rotation, all with irrigation.
"And when you invest in a cotton gin, you'd better grow some cotton," he quips.
Bob Walker, a Somerville, Tennessee, cotton producer says marestail weed has become resistant to herbicide in west Tennessee, and is an enormous problem.
Altus, Oklahoma cotton grower Mark Nichols, producer and chairman of the Cotton Foundation, says studying herbicide resistance has become one of the special projects of the Foundation. The organization represents more than 60 agribusinesses aimed at helping producers and others in the cotton industry improve profits, through special projects, as well as general education/research.
In Georgia, herbicide-resistant pigweeds also are common, but Webb says he "never quit" using a pre-plant incorporated (ppi) trifluralin or "yellow" herbicide, not relying solely on glyphosphate alone during the season. This has controlled his weeds.
Stacy Smith, a Wilson, Texas cotton producer had a different challenge as yields mysteriously declined sharply 6 years ago, so he investigated intensely and found the problem was reniform nematodes. He used Temik treatment and crop rotation with grain sorghum—using its residue for the soil—and changed yield from 490 pounds per acre at the time of the plummet to more than 1,200 pounds of cotton per acre with the 2009 crop on the same ground.
"You don't eliminate nematodes," Smith notes. "You just control them."
Out West, Steve Sossaman deals with totally different challenges as a Queen Creek, Arizona cotton grower—the limits of water and urban sprawl.
Laser leveling of ground helped to cut water use more than 30% for Sossaman. Drip irrigation also stretches precious water in the desert some more. As part of that, he went to 34-inch rows for all his crop mix. It has worked well with drip.
But when you farm in such a densely populated area that you are completely surrounded by neighbors with "street lights"—it means the city has arrived. So he is environmentally friendly and neighborly in every aspect of growing cotton, alfalfa, silage corn, and grain.
Sossaman appreciates today's technology that helps him do just that, enabling him to continue as a fourth generation cotton producer east of Phoenix.
Kenneth B. Hood, a cotton producer-ginner from Gunnison, Mississippi, says it behooves growers to make use of the technological advances available to them nowadays—even if some of the old-timers may not be quite as fast on the computers as the youngsters—but notes there is a world of information growers can access these days by going online.