Dundee, Miss., cotton producer Justin Cariker is watching inputs very closely these days, but he's not cutting back on them at the expense of yield and quality. Cariker spoke of his move to increase efficiency during an innovative grower panel at the 2006 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.
Cariker farms 5,600 acres on Maud Farms in the north Mississippi Delta, including 4,300 acres devoted to cotton, 70 percent of which is irrigated. Two thousand acres are watered with center pivots, 1,000 acres with furrow irrigation.
The producer takes soil samples in the fall every two years which help him plan out any variable-rate applications. Cariker and his consultant, Winston Earnheart, look at how each sample varies within the same field “before we decide whether or not to take grid samples. If there is not much variation, we go with a blanket shot of mixed fertilizer, lime or whatever the sample may call for.
“The following year, we look at the old samples and what we applied and apply a maintenance dose of mixed fertilizer and lime. Then we start our land preparation for the next year by Para-tilling down the row. We've been very successful maintaining a controlled traffic pattern.”
Cariker aims to Para-till each acre of cotton each year with three, six-row Para-tills. “After Para-tilling, we run a 12-row buster on our heavy ground followed by a roller. Hopefully, in the spring, all we'll have to do is burndown and plant.
“On sandier soils, we bed up in the spring. We'll look at each field to determine the burndown we need to use and when. In some cases, we burn down prior to bedding, wait two to three weeks and then plant.”
Cariker plants with two, 12-row planters going with several varieties “to spread maturity. After we get a stand of cotton, we start scouting for insects and get ready for our first application of Sequence. On a normal year, we'll fly on one application. This will usually carry us long enough to where we are able to get under our cotton with Touchdown or Envoke.
“After we have been around every acre with two, 12-row hooded sprayers, we start to watch closely for the right time to begin our layby. Our layby application is a tank-mix of Touchdown and Suprend (Caparol and Envoke pre-mix).
“After layby, we start to closely monitor our irrigation needs. We stay on top of it because if we ever get behind, it's hard to play catch-up.”
Cariker uses a computer software program available though Syngenta “to help us watch our inputs. It allows us to get up-to-date costs per acre on every field.”
Earnheart scouts Cariker's fields twice a week. Cariker noted that the only blanket insect applications are Cruiser for thrips and an application of Dynasty, a fungicide, “which I think is the best thing a farmer can do to insure a good, healthy stand. I have never been able to attain top yields and quality from skippy stands.”
At defoliation, Cariker shoots for a one shot application of Def, Prep and Dropp in a tank-mix, varying the rate depending on the amount of open bolls and juvenile growth in the field.
“We've been working with Syngenta for two years using satellite infrared images to determine when we are approaching cutout. With the use of this technology, we can determine which fields need to be defoliated before others — for example, fields that are not 100 percent irrigated or where we have corners that a pivot may not reach.”
Defoliation usually starts at 60 percent to 65 percent open bolls. All Cariker's cotton is harvested with three John Deere harvesters. “Each picker has its own module builder and boll buggy. I know that seems like a lot of equipment. We try to harvest our crop in 28 to 32 days, before the days get too short. We have found that our picking efficiency at night falls off 10 percent to 15 percent.”
Cariker markets his cotton using two co-op pools and “we do some marketing on our own. I like spreading our marketing strategy out this way because we don't always have our eggs in one basket. We don't plant our entire crop in one variety, therefore we don't market our crop in one way.”
Cariker, a recent participant in the Cotton Foundation's Cotton Leadership program, said after his graduation from the class in August 2005, “I learned that all segments of the cotton industry have their own challenges they must overcome. Through the work of the National Cotton Council working together with each segment, we can all succeed.
“We have to find ways to improve our bottom lines,” Cariker said. “We all have to watch our inputs very closely, but at the same time, not jeopardize our yield and quality.”