Milo adds diversity, profit to traditional cotton farm

The Schoepf family farm near Lorenzo, Texas, primarily a cotton operation, added a little milo to the mix in 2007 on some dryland acreage. The price was up and it seemed a good opportunity to diversify a bit, add organic matter back to the soil, and give the land a short respite from cotton.

“We made about 3,000 pounds per acre,” says Mark Schoepf, who farms in partnership with his father Marvin and brother Bryan.

Milo acreage will be back in cotton in 2008, in better shape because of the rotation, Mark Schoepf says. They may plant milo on irrigated fields next year. “We could try grain sorghum under pivots with marginal water.”

They like the rotation option. “We don't have enough water to grow corn,” he says.

They are convinced that cotton yields behind milo will improve. They're also pleased that they have a rotation crop that does more than break even. Demand for grain, spurred by ethanol production, makes grain sorghum a valuable part of the crop mix.

“Other than adding milo, we'll probably stay with what we're doing in 2008,” Mark Schoepf says.

What they did in 2007 seemed to work well. “We have a good crop. Early harvested fields were pushing three bales per acre.

“We had a tough start and a hard time getting planted, but after we got it going and past the wet spring, we had good growing conditions. We were worried about getting planted but we got it in,” describes Mark Schoepf.

That wet spring turned out to be fortuitous in some respects, even though they lost some early May cotton and had to replant. “We irrigated a lot less than we did in 2006. After spring rains we had timely rainfall during the season. We couldn't have asked for better growing conditions.”

The Schoepfs used 20 percent to 25 percent less irrigation water than normal in 2007. “It was mid-July before we started irrigating,” Bryan Schoepf says. “Irrigation was a lot less expensive but energy costs and fertilizer prices were up and we spent a lot more on weed control. It took a lot of Roundup.”

They plant all Flex cotton. “We use a yellow herbicide on most irrigated cotton. We'll use some Staple where we have morningglory problems,” Mark Schoepf says. They may use Direx under hooded sprayers for morningglory.

“Flex was a lifesaver this year.” The wet spring promoted weed growth and added pressure to weed control strategies. “Even with spring and summer rains, weeds were relatively easy to manage with the longer application window with Roundup Ready Flex. We applied Roundup with Pix and aphid control materials,” Mark Schoepf says.

“We made one aphid application over most fields and had to treat one pivot twice,” Bryan Schoepf says. They used some Orthene on early pests and with the first Roundup application for thrips control.

The Schoepfs also applied Pix to irrigated acreage, from 8 to 20 ounces per acre, “depending on the variety and the field it was on,” Mark Schoepf says. “We usually applied it with Roundup.”

They use Bollgard cotton on their better-irrigated land. “Bollgard pays,” Mark Schoepf says, even without a lot of worm pressure. “We had a few worms this year, for about three weeks, but not in Bollgard fields.”

A successful Boll Weevil Eradication Program has eliminated the weevil as a threat. “It has been a good program. We were fixing to have major problems and would not be making the yields we're making today without Boll Weevil Eradication,” Mark Schoepf says.

Marvin Schoepf says the eradication program adds significantly to yield potential. He's been raising cotton in the area since 1962 and attributes current yield potential to success of the boll weevil program and other factors. “Varieties make a big difference. Technology is not cheap, but it has kept us in business.”

In 2007 they used Deltapine, FiberMax, Americot and Stoneville varieties. “We never plant just one variety,” Mark Schoepf says. “We have a lot of acres and we use several varieties. All our seed companies have good cotton and we use different ones to spread the risk a little.”

They're reducing risk with cover crops as well. Much of their land is prone to blowing sand and winter cover crops help prevent damage to seedling cotton. “We plant a lot of cotton into oat and rye cover, planted in every other row. We also plant into wheat that we terminate in April.”

Mark Schoepf says a cover crop will take some moisture out of the soil. “It worked well this year with spring rains,” he says. “Wheat residue is as good as furrow dikes to hold water on the land.”

“Cover crops save soil and save us sand fighting trips,” Bryan Schoepf says.

Marvin Schoepf says cotton yields the past five years have been good. “One bale per acre used to be a good crop,” he says. “Now, a bale per acre seems like a failure.”

In addition to varieties and the boll weevil program, Marvin Schoepf says better irrigation technology has helped boost yields. Most of their irrigated acreage is under center pivots with just a few still in furrow irrigation. “We were already irrigating some fields when I started in 1962 and folks had been irrigating in the area since the 1950s. We still have pretty good water here but not as good as in the 50s.”

Next year they'll do a bit more conservation tillage farming, add a bit more milo and stay with Flex cotton.

They may adjust nitrogen on some fields. “We typically apply 100 units per acre on irrigated land,” Mark Schoepf says. “On dryland acreage, it depends on the crop the field made the previous year. If we take off a good crop, we'll put nitrogen back. In 2006, dryland cotton did not make so we didn't need to add nitrogen. We'll have to fertilize dryland acres in 2008.”

They don't know what to expect in 2008 but are determined to stick with what has worked. “I hope we have another cotton year like 2007,” Marvin Schoepf says.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.