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Soil Management

Texas Producer Knows Value Of Ground Underneath

His more than 30 years of farming in the High Plains of Texas have shown Ron Luker that the key to making a good cotton crop is the foundation under it.

“Get the soils right, get the roots healthy, and the rest will usually take care of itself,” says Luker, who farms just over 1,000 acres, mostly cotton, near Brownfield. “There can be too much focus on the top half of the cotton crop when the real source of plant vigor and yield is the ground the crop stands in. The soil is the foundation that matters most.”

In his quest to build the best foundation, Luker focuses on the nutrients, soil bio-ecology and nematodes that are rampant in the High Plains, and the micro-management of diminished water supplies.

Importance Of Testing

Luker’s crop management philosophy and his ag engineering (Texas A&M 1974) penchant for tinkering have led him to test and adopt several new technologies such as Harpin Proteins and Low-Energy Precision Application (LEPA) systems on his center pivots and some technologies that are probably as old as the planet, like mycorrhizal fungi.

These ancient fungi have a symbiotic relationship with roots – building tubes that extend the reach of roots so they can capture more water and nutrients in return for plant sugars. Modern ag techniques tend to sharply reduce mycorrhizal fungi, so Luker bands the fungi product at planting and waters it in.

The extended cool, very wet and sometimes windy spring weather in that part of Texas this year made getting a cotton crop planted – and growing instead of stagnating – a tough challenge for everyone. Luker didn’t get the fungi on, but on irrigated ground he did stick with his in-furrow regimen of Temik and seed treated with N-Hibit and Awaken.

Effective Seed Treatment

N-Hibit is a Harpin Protein seed treatment for nematode management and plant health. Awaken is a 15-0-0 concentrate plus potash and micronutrients. Last year, the Texas producer wanted all the seed for his 435 acres of irrigated cotton treated with that combination. He doesn’t use a seed treatment for dryland cotton, but he still uses Temik on it. In 2006, the Temik + N-Hibit + Awaken combo on DynaGro 2520 made 3.4 bales per acre.

“With N-Hibit riding along on the irrigated acres, I can reduce the Temik rate somewhat and still manage nematode,” says Luker. “I add Awaken to the seed treatment package because when I’ve pulled plants for comparison, the treated plants have a much larger root mass.”

This year, 20 of the bags of seed Luker received had a three-way treatment instead of his usual combination, and he decided to put it to the test. The results convinced Luker he was on the right track with his own recipe.

The difference remained visible on July 9, though one had to look a little closer. At that stage, the three-way cotton typically was smaller, with seven nodes vs. the nine nodes for Luker’s standard combination. By late summer the fields were more uniform, but Luker wanted to harvest them separately for the payoff comparison.

Nematodes Invade High Plains

Dr. Terry Wheeler, research plant pathologist at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Lubbock, says nematode management is critical now and will be more so in the near future as reniform nematodes expand their territory. They already have moved into six counties near Lubbock, including Terry County, where Luker farms.

“Root-knot nematode has been around for a long time, so most producers know that they have it,” says Wheeler. “The reniform nematode is a growing problem. So far, there are not many acres with reniform nematode, but every year there are new fields that show damage.

“I believe our producers can live with root-knot nematode damage in most cases, if they use nematicides. I do not believe that producers can farm continuous cotton on land that has reniforms, even using a nematicide, unless they fumigate the soil.”

Plant Health Care, Inc., contributed information for this article.


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