He planted wheat on the field, but that spring, after he’d killed the wheat and started planting cotton, he thought he had made a big mistake.

“We couldn’t see the row because of the wheat stubble,” he says. “But, five days later that cotton was up, and in two weeks it looked better than the rest of my cotton. At harvest, the cotton where that had been wheat cover picked 1,100 pounds and the cotton right next to it picked 950 pounds.”

Since then, Coley Jr., has found there are other benefits from the wheat that’s now planted as a cover crop on all his cotton ground.

“We have a lot more water-holding capacity. Earthworms leave tunnels in the ground, and when the wheat roots decay after we spray Roundup, all those channels seem to hold water. A lot of times, after a two-inch rain, hardly any water will run off the field. Organic matter, with no-till and a wheat cover crop, has gone from .445 percent to over 3 percent.”

The Baileys usually do about five EQIP projects a year using the farm’s excavator and bulldozer.

“We farm up and down creeks, and slowing water going into creeks is what we’re trying to do,” Coley, Jr., says. “If we don’t do that, before long it will wash out, and the ditch will be as deep as the creek.

“A lot of what we’re doing now is maintaining or replacing existing structures that were originally put in with shovels. We get the soil and water guys to come in and design it, and hopefully we’ll get an EQIP project. Our landlords really appreciate that we keep their land looking good.”

Another big benefit, he says, is that wheat shades out a lot of weeds. “We have a lot less marestail, and we’ve been fortunate not to see pigweed yet.”

Still, the Baileys aren’t taking any chances with resistant weeds.

“We try to change up chemistries,” Coley, Jr., says. “In February, we apply 2,4-D, then in early April, Roundup and dicamba. When we plant, we apply Ignite and get everything cleaned up. So, there are three different chemistries before cotton emerges.

“With the first shot of Roundup over-the-top of cotton, we will add Staple to get a little more residual. With the second shot, we’ll use metolachlor. That carried us through the whole season this year, although we did some chopping this year for some marestail that came through.”

The Baileys plant with two 12-row John Deere no-till planters; 2011 was the first year they used an RTK guidance system for planting.

“The RTK puts us right where we’re supposed to be,” Coley, Jr., says. “My planter drivers like it a whole lot better.”

They plant all Deltapine cottons, including DP 1050B2RF and DP 1137B2RF on most of their dryland, and DP 0912B2RF on 300 acres of irrigated ground.

“We’ve always had good luck with Deltapine varieties and good service,” Coley Jr., says. “We grow 10 varieties for them in a variety trial, which lets me get a firsthand look at what’s coming along.”

Something unique in the Bailey operation took two years of working with environmental agencies and the Abitibi Bowater paper mill at Grenada, Miss. Under an agreement with the paper mill, the farm takes ash from the paper production process and applies it to their farmland. It provides all of the farm’s fertility needs, except nitrogen.

“It has been a win/win situation for the paper mill and for us, and it really has been a blessing in weathering high fertilizer prices,” Coley, Jr., says.

“We had to get the Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to come in and test soils and do other testing. The paperwork took two years, but 7,500 tons of ash per year that was just going into landfills is now providing fertility for our crops.”