Texas grower makes change in crop acreages

Steve Patman is in a bit of a hurry. It's mid-April and he's, trying to catch up following a weekend deluge that dumped as much as 15 inches of rain on his Ellis County, Texas, farm.

He's weathered a cold snap that threatened, but didn't severely damage newly-emerged corn and a promising wheat crop.

Now, he's gearing up to plant cotton, but takes a few minutes to discuss his changing production plans: fewer cotton and soybean acres, more corn and wheat.

He also talks about marketing decisions he's already made in order to take advantage of soybean, corn and wheat prices.

Patman started planting cotton in mid-April, planning to reduce acreage from more than 3,000 last year to around 1,600. Corn replaced much of the cotton, and he has about 2,700 acres in corn.

“I only had 700 acres of corn last year,” he says. “At planting time, it was so dry I just couldn't justify putting seed in the ground. I was also concerned about potential aflatoxin contamination.”

He only planted 300 acres of wheat last year, again because of poor conditions at planting time

“I still had some pretty good wheat — some made 65 bushels per acre.”

He had 1,300 acres of soybeans in 2006 and has cut back to 800 this year.

“I didn't make much of a soybean crop last year, only about 11 bushels per acre, but I had some bottom land fields that cut 30 bushels.”

Area Extension Integrated Pest Management Specialist Glen Moore says Patman's acreage plans seem typical for 2007.

“Corn acreage in Ellis County has jumped for the last eight or 10 years. It will go up again this year. The largest crop increase will be grain sorghum — we had 13,000 acres in 2006 and will probably have 35,000 this year. Cotton will be ‘way down.”

Moore estimates Ellis County cotton acreage will drop 50 percent or more. “We're still getting a handle on it.”

Ellis County farmers planted 30,000 acres of cotton last year, he says. Price and production costs are the primary reasons farmers are cutting back this year.

Moore also works Navarro County and says cotton acreage reduction there seems to mirror Ellis County.

Patman has had good soil moisture for planting the 2007 crop. His wheat looks good, having survived a torrential rain — up to 15 inches over two days — and a cold snap.

He's hedged a good portion of the crop, about 25 bushels per acre (1,300 total acres), scaling up in increments starting around $4.60. He has hedged corn and soybeans as well, locking in profitable rates on at least a portion of his crop.

He says corn at $3 a bushel is a realistic expectation. “If it gets too high, it puts pressure on cattle feeders.”

He's waiting to price cotton and sees no reason to lock in 52 cents a pound. “Cotton is expensive to grow. I plant all stacked-gene cotton, mostly DPL 444, which is hard to beat. I haven't used Bollgard II or Flex cotton yet.”

Patman invested a bit extra in part of his wheat crop. “I put Quilt on about half the acreage. I saw some powdery mildew, but I wouldn't have spent the money at a lower wheat price. I didn't add more fertilizer.”

Patman says rotation plays a critical role in his operation. “I plant very little corn behind corn — I need to rotate to avoid rootworms and grubs.”

Moore says growers without sound rotation programs risk Mexican corn rootworm infestation.

“Most of our growers do a good job rotating. Some use a labeled rate of a soil insecticide at planting. The seed treatments, Poncho or Cruiser, at high rates, will control light infestations of Mexican corn rootworm.”

Patman plants Roundup Ready corn, Pioneer 31G65 and 33F85 (a test plot), and Garst 8248 and 8287.

One of his biggest concerns is aflatoxin. “It's not bad every year, but we'll see some in seven out of 10 years. Occasionally, we'll get readings from 100 ppm to 300 ppm. Most years it's less than 100 ppm.”

Patman says aflatoxin is closely associated with drought conditions. “We'll need June and July rains — we used to count on those.”

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