While his summer days are split between the baseball fields, his family and the farm, Lamb County cotton farmer Brent Burns probably wouldn’t describe his 2017 production year as a home run but a base hit, none-the-less.
Sitting on the corner of his tailgate on a turn row on a clear day with Canada geese in flight behind him, Burns discusses his 2017 cotton crop and what he will do when he’s up to bat for the 2018 season. Burns farms near Olton, Texas with his father-in-law Mark Gunter and brother-in-law Justin Gunter. He is married to April and together they have three sons: Zane, Callen and Coby.
How did your cotton yield in 2017?
Overall, the yields for our cotton were about average. The quality so far, of what we’ve had ginned, has been off some. The color staple and the leaf are good but the micronaire is low. We haven’t had a whole lot of bales that have graded in the base mic or in that premium range.
What do you attribute to the low mic?
August was wet. I’m not convinced that August was the primary factor. I’m thinking it was September that did it. We had that cool spell in September with no sunshine and then October wasn’t much better. I just don’t think we had the time to finish the crop. We had a lot of bolls out there but the top crop, especially, had a lot of immature bolls. It just didn’t have time to mature like it’s supposed to.
In response to the adverse weather conditions in the Fall, did you defoliate any differently?
We waited as long as possible to apply a boll opener and to defoliate our cotton. I’d say probably 70 percent of our fields were sprayed the week before they projected a hard freeze, just with prep or ethephon alone. We worked with our crop consultant and he had the same opinion that we needed to stretch the growing season as far as possible. I don’t know that waiting gained us a whole lot of time in terms of maturity, but from evaluating the crop, that was our approach.
Did you plant different varieties of cottonseed and how did they perform?
We planted four different varieties. We had dicamba cotton and FiberMax and I can’t say that one did better than the other. Our yields were more in line with rotation, where we could rotate, our cotton was better, whereas where we had cotton back on cotton, the yield was off a little bit.
Any disease or insect issues this year?
Of the four varieties that we planted, one of them didn’t hold up to Verticillium wilt. That’s another factor that played into our maturity issues. The wet August followed by the wet, cool September seemed to accentuate that Verticillium problem. I think it also delayed our maturity.
We had farms that didn’t usually tend to show Verticillium symptoms, and if they did it was really late. But this year, it came on and it came on with a vengeance. Verticillium is something we fight every year but it did seem worse in September when it rained for about a week. We’ll just stick with our Verticillium- tolerant varieties that we can depend on.
It seemed like the boll worms came on late, by late I mean they got into September and they stuck around for a little bit longer. Where we hadn’t had boll issues in the past, if you didn’t have Bt cotton, they just hung around. There was a couple of fields where we might have had to spray twice. In our Bt cotton you could find bolls every now and then that had a worm in them. I don’t know if we are seeing some resistance or what. Our crop consultant found worms in our Bt cotton but not enough to treat but it may be an issue in years to come.
Any dicamba issues?
None. We had a lot of FiberMax this year, probably about 85 percent of our acres, which does not have the dicamba trait. Every neighbor that I had was good about calling me and then I called them. It was a mutual thing about spraying. We all tried to communicate about what each other had.
What is the water situation in your area?
The water levels have dropped off on every farm that we have. I believe that the genetics that we have now have helped to compensate for loss of water. You can definitely make more yield today on less water than you could 10 years ago. In the past, for a cotton crop, we needed a minimum of an inch and a half per week through bloom to achieve our desired yield goal, whereas now, with these new varieties, we can achieve that same goal at an inch to an inch and a quarter per week under a pivot. We still track PETs to try to take some of the guesswork out of when to water and when to quit in the fall. The water table is continuing to decline. In terms of managing for that, we want to be as efficient as possible in applying that water. We run LEPA irrigation through the pivots. We don’t have any drip but we want every inch to count, to be managed as most efficiently as possible. And I think rotation also accounts to that too, it helps when you can rotate.
Overall, how was the 2017 harvest?
Everything went about as normal. The weather, while it’s been dry, was exceptional for harvest. In fact, we finished relatively early for us. The only time we were shut down was if it was windy or the humidity was up. Other than that, it was ok.
Any issues with module or basket fires?
I heard of a lot of guys having issues last year. We had one case on one night with two basket fires and two module fires right in the span of about 15 minutes. And to this day, we don’t know what caused them. We were real fortunate. It’s not fun when you’re putting a fire out at 2:30 in the morning.
As for Burns’ plans in 2018, he says they’ll stick with what worked last year, planting primarily cotton with some corn, wheat and possibly sorghum. “We’ll continue to work closely with our crop consultant, Bob Glott, Agri-Search Inc., Plainview. “He has his own research farm, so we’ll have a management-type meeting with him, where he talks about what worked for him on his farm and we’ll discuss what worked for us and develop a plan for the New Year.”