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Smart Choices

Flexibility Is Key To Planting Best Variety On High Plains


By Tommy Horton

Planting the right cotton variety on the Texas High Plains is a lot like voting for the No. 1 college football team in the country. No matter how much thought goes into the process, everybody has an opinion on the best choice.

One fact, however, remains constant. The innovative cotton producer isn’t afraid to plant a new variety if it suits the soil on his acreage.

Now that the rest of the world knows how important the Texas High Plains region is to U.S. cotton production, it’s understandable that farmers are looking for any advantage they can find.

By any standard, this was a difficult year for producers in the region. Unlike the previous four seasons, the weather didn’t cooperate, and the crop was late getting started because of lack of rainfall.

The first bloom usually occurs in early July, but this year that event didn’t occur until late July. Cool temperatures then hit the area later in the summer, meaning that all-important heat units weren’t delivered on time to cotton plants.

Behind Schedule

In some areas, farmers were close to four weeks behind schedule as they scrambled to harvest crops before the first freeze. In other places, yields were down by a bale per acre, depending on what kind of irrigation was used.

Despite the challenges of the ‘08 season, most producers are taking a pragmatic view of the situation. They knew that the law of averages would eventually catch up to them.

But the news isn’t bad everywhere in the High Plains. In areas outside Lubbock, some producers were recording 4.1 bale yields. For Ronny Alexander, a producer who farms 3,000 acres near Levelland, Texas, the situation wasn’t quite that rosy, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

Alexander, who has 1,800 irrigated and 1,200 dryland acres, saw the weather take its toll on his farm. When he finishes harvesting, he estimates his yields will be down somewhere between a quarter to a half bale per acre.

Even though most of his dryland cotton was destroyed by high winds, he’s thankful for what his irrigated cotton will yield – despite the lack of heat units.

“It’s been a tough year, no question about it,” he says. “We had four straight seasons where our yields and grades were outstanding. We just got off to a slow start because of lack of rainfall, heat and winds.

“We never caught up. You can’t hit a home run every year, but we were starting to believe it after four great seasons in a row.”

Family Operation Works Well

Alexander farms with his father-in-law, Jim Davis, and also owns a retail ag dealership in town. Being both a farmer and dealer gives him a chance to see both sides of farming.

And even though it’s been a difficult year for Alexander’s farm, he views the season as a learning experience. In fact, Alexander believes the late crop could mean it is time to consider planting an earlier maturing variety in ‘09.

Currently, Alexander uses two FiberMax varieties – FM 9063B2F and FM 9180B2F – along with Stoneville’s ST 4554B2RF. All are mid-season varieties that have performed well. But Alexander is known for his proactive approach to variety selection, and he isn’t afraid to try something new.

“I’m thinking that we can’t keep stretching ourselves by going for the fuller season varieties,” he says. “Even with the chance at making bigger yields, I think we probably need to rein in our approach and concentrate on early to mid-season varieties.”

The FiberMax brand has rewarded Alexander through the years. His farm was an early user of FM 960RR and FM 989RR several years ago. However, he became a believer in the Flex system and now uses that trait in all of his varieties.

Decisions on new varieties aren’t made in a hurry. Alexander will usually consult with his father-in-law and discuss the pros and cons of trying a new variety. Together they’ll also see how the variety performs in test plots on their own farm and their neighbor’s operation.

Some High Plains farmers are toying with the idea of going back to conventional varieties to save on the cost of inputs and technical fees, but Alexander thinks it would be unwise to walk away from proven technology.

“I don’t think that would be a wise move,” he says. “If we’re going to farm more land, we need this technology. The Flex trait allows us to farm more acres with less labor costs. That’s the road we need to stay on.”

Value Of A Consultant

Garrett Bednarz is the consultant for the Alexander farm and has worked in that capacity for 15 years. He has been alongside Alexander and his father-in-law during the good and bad times.

“Ronny is a very talented farmer and is very aggressive when it comes to trying new things,” says Bednarz. “He really has an advantage being both a farmer and a dealer.”

Friendships and family relationships mean a lot to Alexander’s farm. Davis, who is Ronny’s father-in-law, sold the dealership business to Ronny about five years ago, but still helps out on the farming operation.

“Ronny and I have a good partnership,” he says. “Farming has its ups and downs, but I’d like to think that we’re very progressive. We see eye to eye on just about everything.”

Spoken like a proud farmer who says he’s glad to have his son-in-law as a partner.

Ronny Alexander
Farming Operation

• 3,000 total acres.
• 1,800 irrigated acres.
• 1,200 dryland acres.
• Plants FiberMax and Stoneville varieties.
• Owns ag dealership.
• Average yields: 2.5 to 3.5 bales.

Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or thorton@onegrower.com.


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