No-till cotton makes best of limited rainfall in 2006

Last year Danny Davis and his father Doc broke records, averaging two bales per acre from their no-till, dryland cotton.

Early this year they wondered if they would make anything from drought-ravaged cotton near Elk City, Oklahoma.

Almost miraculously, they stand to make relatively good yields, even with the worst drought they’ve experienced in decades.

"Prior to the rain we received in September," Danny said, "the last rain came in September, 2005."

He cites several reasons for making a crop under the worst of growing conditions. The most important, of course, is rain. But production technique plays a critical role, as well. Danny points out the thick ground cover, which has been responsible for catching as most of the little rain that fell this year.

Danny, 50, will tell you how dedicated he and, Doc, 74, are in keeping their farm fields fertile and in top production.

"We broadcast gin trash each year on areas we think need extra care," he said. "And we plant rye each fall on all our fields. In the spring, the rye holds moisture, keeps the soil from eroding and protects young cotton from wind and blowing sand."

Using a drill they designed and fabricated with special discs and shields, the Danny and Doc plant rye between the rows of the almost mature cotton. Their equip their tractor with sheet metal shields welded on the front and rear wheels to deflect the cotton plants as they seed winter rye.

Danny estimates his 2006 crop will average 400 pounds of lint per acre, not spectacular, but satisfying to anyone surviving the current drought. He will harvest all of his cotton this fall and credits no-till farming practices he’s followed since 1995.

Before that they tried cotton, grain sorghum and mung beans as substitutes for continuous wheat.

They decided to stay with cotton. Determined to keep their land from eroding, they pioneered strip tillage in 1982, where a ripper or tillage tool is used to open a furrow. They place all fertilizer and seed in that furrow.

Later, they built their own equipment including the drill they use for planting.

"It isn't easy to practice no-till farming," Danny said. "It takes time to bring back fertility in a field that has been left bare to wind and water erosion. It will take three to four years to get a field where it really responds to no-till. After that, as fertility improves, you see greater benefits in yields."

Danny uses Delta and Pineland cotton varieties. He is primarily concerned with increasing the staple length of the cotton he grows. All of the varieties are Roundup Ready and Bollgard varieties, he says.

Cotton farming is not just a source of income to the Davis family but a lifetime of dedication to the crop.

"We never do a halfway job of farming cotton," he said. "Cotton demands year-round attention. Whenever we make plans for next year's crop, we always swing for the fences. The last two years, we’ve dusted in every acre of cotton. Even with such dry planting conditions, we fertilized and planted with the intentions of making top yields. That’s the only way we know to do it."

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