“We had a lot of residual fertilizer from the cantaloupes. Escaped weeds were hand-pulled on July 17, and most of our produce growers are accustomed to hand-pulling weeds. Nematode samples were taken in the cotton crop and in terminated cantaloupe beds on July 26, and we monitored the crops with photographs.”

On one field, 1,270 pounds of cotton per acre was picked behind cantaloupes. “In field two, we ran out of water after we picked cantaloupes, so it was essentially a dryland field, but we harvested 740 pounds per acre. With water, we would have had similar results on both fields. Obviously, the grower felt good about that situation.”

University of Georgia economists compared cotton intercropping with grain sorghum following cantaloupes, using an expected yield of 1,000 pounds per acre for cotton versus 75 bushels per acre for grain sorghum and an expected price of 90 cents per pound versus $5 per bushel for grain sorghum. Gross returns per acre were $900 for cotton and $375 for grain sorghum, and return to land and management was $304 for cotton and $41 for grain sorghum.

Yields on the cantaloupes were typical to what the grower normally has with cantaloupes alone, about 4,500 to 4,750 cantaloupes per acre. “Once he got the cotton planted, this grower managed for cantaloupes. Harvest of the cantaloupes did not result in any damage to the young cotton plants and the cotton intercropping did not cause a delay in cantaloupe harvest. Removal of the black plastic was delayed until after the cotton harvest.”

The economic returns and profitability of cotton compared to late-planted grain sorghum is very positive for cotton, says Tankersley. “The total fertilizer applied to cotton was reduced and insect pressure was relatively light. Nematode samples were taken in the cotton and terminated cantaloupe beds and samples indicated that no treatments were needed. Weed control was accomplished with the standard application of herbicides and one hand weeding.”

Many producers are excited about the possibilities of intercropping, he says. “My concern is whether or not we can duplicate this on a year-to-year basis. Things went together really well this past year as far as timing. Questions still remain about the timing of the planting of the cotton and cantaloupe crops. We planted the cotton based on when the cantaloupes were running off the plastic. More research also needs to address questions related to pesticide compatibility issues.”

The question of whether or not intercropping cotton is a possibility with other spring vegetable crops also needs to be answered, he adds.

phollis@farmpress.com