Clay Graves and Tyson Knight like the idea of diversification: crop rotation that spreads risks and helps manage weeds, diseases and pests. “I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket — it scares me,” says Graves, 40, who farms near Spade, Texas.
But this year, he and Knight, 30, who farms near Abernathy, will rely on just one “basket” — cotton — partly because, as Knight says, “it just pencils out better.” But, perhaps more importantly, they both will plant new herbicide-tolerant varieties, and they want to keep spray applications as simple as possible.
Knight will plant 100 percent Enlist cotton, Phytogen varieties that are tolerant to Enlist Duo, a new formulation of 2, 4-D, from Dow. Graves will plant only XtendFlex Deltapine cotton that’s tolerant to new dicamba formulations, XtendiMax from Monsanto or Engenia from BASF.
Both are concerned, but not overly worried, about potential drift issues. Limiting production to the same crop and the same technology will reduce potential for misapplication, they say. Dicamba sprayed on 2, 4-D cotton, and 2, 4-D sprayed on dicamba-tolerant cotton, will destroy the crops.
Knight says he, his father, and an uncle all share a sprayer, so they will all plant Enlist cotton in order to eliminate issues with off-target drift and sprayer cleanout.
Graves has followed a varied rotation program in the past — sunflowers, grain sorghum, corn, and wheat. Sunflowers are too vulnerable to dicamba, he says, and sugarcane aphids have made grain sorghum too costly to grow at current prices. “Corn is too finicky, and the ARC payment won’t be as good as it was the last few years. ARC payments have been from $40 to $60 per acre, but we can’t count on that now.”
COTTON IS BEST BET
Wheat doesn’t look promising either, he says. “I didn’t plant wheat last fall because the price was so low. This is good cotton country, so cotton is our best bet.”
Knight has planted white corn, but says its high water requirement is an issue, as is the potential for 100 degree temperatures during critical reproductive stages. “I tried corn to help with weed problems, but I’m planting all cotton this year — it just fits better, and with the new technology, it’s even more enticing.”
He’s hoping the new technology helps to manage glyphosate-resistant weeds. “I think we can get away from spending so much on hoe hands and weed wipers,” he says. He estimates hoe labor cost about $50,000 over the last few years. “I think we can reduce costs and get a better harvest with less trash.”
Both Knight and Graves are aware that the new products come with cautions, although they believe the new reduced-volatility formulations will keep off-target applications to a minimum — if applicators follow labels and pay attention to their surroundings and weather conditions.
“We have to pay attention to spray nozzle pressure, nozzle type, boom height, wind speed and ground speed,” Graves says. “Drift control is critical, but the new technology works.” Farmers dealt with similar cautions when Roundup Ready crops were introduced, he notes. “We had to learn how to use Roundup.”
Knight says, “We have some concerns with drift, but we’re not worried about our spray drifting onto other farms.” He is a bit concerned about other sprays from other applicators drifting onto his acreage. “The wind might change, so everyone has to be aware of weather conditions.”
FOLLOW THE LABEL
Following the label will be crucial, Knight says. “Wind can’t be more than 10 miles per hour, which will be an issue in this area. We get a lot of wind, so we might have to do a lot of nighttime spraying, and we need to be aware of potential inversions early in the morning.”
He’s heard some interest at farmer meetings about a program to flag fields to identify what kind of technology — or lack of technology — is in a specific field. But mainly, he says, farmers “have to be mindful of what they are doing. If we were good at keeping Roundup off non-target areas, we should be able to keep 2, 4-D off them.”
Graves adds: “Don’t be disrespectful of your neighbor. Communication will be important.” Timing for dicamba sprays will be critical, he says. “We have a narrow spray window with dicamba. Roundup lulled us to sleep — it was easy to use. With dicamba, we have to work with Mother Nature and watch wind speed, temperature, and humidity. We may have to spray at 2 a.m., and we may have to spray when conditions are right instead of when it’s convenient.”
The two agree that the new technologies won’t be a magic potion that will solve all their weed problems. They will continue to follow a thorough weed management program that includes preplant herbicide application and residual herbicides.
STEWARDSHIP IS CRITICAL
“We have to use residuals,” Graves says. “If we don’t, we likely won’t have this technology available in three or four years.” Farmers made a mistake with Roundup Ready technology, he says. “Careless weed wasn’t a problem until recently; it used to be easy to control. Now it’s a troublesome weed, and it’s a monster we created by relying on just one product. Now, with these new technologies, we have to practice better stewardship.”
Knight agrees. “We were guilty of overusing Roundup; we got used to it, and relied on it to kill everything. As a result, resistant weeds have become pretty bad in the last few years, especially pigweed. I spent a lot on hoe hands and weed wipers — and still had a mess at harvest. Residuals are the key.”
He also ripped his land this year, so he didn’t need a burndown herbicide. “I’ll use Treflan for the first time in 10 years.” He plans to use paraquat and Direx at planting, and then will get by with two applications of Enlist Duo before lay-by in early July.
Graves also starts with Treflan, follows with Direx and paraquat at planting, and Warrant or Outlook. He figures residual costs will be about $20 an acre.
They both repeat the mantra that Texas AgriLife Extension specialists have been promoting for years: “Start clean, stay clean.” They also agree that spraying weeds when they are small improves control.
Knight hopes the new technology will allow him to get back to a reduced tillage program and away from heavy tillage. “I’ll lightly till in Treflan to incorporate it.”
VARIETY CHOICES MATTER
Both growers selected 2017 cotton varieties and technology based largely on brand loyalty. Graves has been a Deltapine new product evaluator for years, and Knight has done the same with Phytogen varieties.
“I’ve been an NPE participant since I started farming,” Graves says. As a result of observing the XtendFlex varieties for several years on his own fields, he’s “very comfortable with XF varieties; I have no experience with Enlist. It’s so important to get the right variety for the ground.” The NPE testing program gives him insight into what new varieties will do on his fields.
“I’ve been growing Phytogen since 2010,” Knight says. “I know the varieties and know what to expect.” He’s also had some Phytogen trials on his farm. “I get to see what they look like.” His relationship with Phytogen sales reps is another advantage, he says. “They respond quickly when I need something.”
Graves and Knight hope their decision to grow only cotton — and only the new XtendFlex or Enlist technologies — will allow them to take advantage of an improved cotton market while they add new wrinkles to their weed management programs. With other commodity prices in the doldrums, it may be a good year to refocus, they say.
Graves sums it thusly: “I want to follow the KISS philosophy: Keep it simple, stupid. Putting all my acreage into one crop and into one technology will make management less complicated than a mix-and-match program would allow. I need to keep it simple, for my employees and for me.”