Cotton fertilizer costs are reduced because the crop shares the same fertile soil used earlier in the season by cantaloupes or watermelons.

The young cotton plants and the melon crop also share the same irrigation systems, so the cost of having to irrigate a second field is eliminated. Also, because the land is already tilled for the melon crop, land preparation costs for the cotton are eliminated.

Though intercropping has proven to be beneficial, it is not recommended for every farmer. For those who have limited water supplies, too little irrigation on the intercropped field will have adverse effects.

Also, intercropping won’t work on the late cucurbit crops that some farmers plant with plans to harvest watermelons in late July. That’s too long to hold back cotton crops, Tankersley said.

Look at market first before intercropping

Farmers should also consider the market. Grain sorghum is sometimes planted after cantaloupes so farmers must determine how the grain and cotton prices compare. Heavy weed pressure is another concern. According to the study, in 2012, 75 percent of fields had some weed pulling following the harvest of cucurbit crops.

“It’s hard to fight those weeds for that long of a period of time,” Tankersley said.

He cautions farmers not to do anything that would potentially harm their cantaloupes and watermelons, especially considering the expense that goes into growing both.

“The primary crop is the cantaloupes and watermelons,” Tankersley said. “This is where they have to spend so much money. You don’t want to jeopardize your primary crop trying to grow the secondary crop.”

Many farmers spend about $2,000 an acre to plant the melons and take them all the way to harvest.

Try it small-scale first

Tankersley recommends farmers who are interested in intercropping move forward cautiously and try it on a limited number of acres first.

“I tell people, don’t grow watermelons and cantaloupes just to plant cotton in it,” he said. “Don’t do that because you can lose a lot of money, and we’ve got enough watermelons and cantaloupes being grown. We don’t want to flood the market with melons.”

(For earlier stories on this intercropping system, see Melons, cotton intercropping system a head-turner, cost-saver and Cotton, melon intercropping system getting good look).