The 27th Annual East Central Alabama Cotton Tour, scheduled Aug. 19, is a far cry from the first tour held in the summer of 1978. Back then, keeping boll weevils at bay was the overriding concern of virtually every cotton farmer in the region — which is why the first tour focused exclusively on controlling insects.

However, thanks largely to the highly successful Boll Weevil Eradication Program during the last decade, farmers see no weevil — a quantum leap in pest control technology that has enabled recent tours to focus on other pressing issues in addition to insect control.

Jeff Clary, former coordinator of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System's Lee County office and the tour's founder, says the event evolves year after year to meet the needs of producers in a rapidly changing world cotton economy.

“Everything associated with U.S. agriculture is undergoing rapid change, and cotton farming is no exception,” Clary says. “With insect control, for example, we face a set of challenges different from what we faced even a decade ago.”

In recent years, for example, producers have faced the additional challenges of reniform and rootknot nematodes, soilborne pests that have taken a huge toll on cotton yield throughout the state.

Part of this year's tour, scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Mike Gunn farm in Tallassee, will focus on in-furrow nematode treatments as well as rotation cropping alternatives aimed at reducing yield losses.

The use of peanuts as a rotational crop with cotton, a practice that has generated a lot of interest in the region in the last couple of years, also will be a major focus of the tour, according to Leonard Kuykendall, an Extension regional agent who, along with Clary, is organizing the tour.

“Nematodes are already a severe problem for some and likely to become a very significant problem for many others.”

“From the standpoint of crop sustainability, there are some merits to switching to peanuts, and in some cases, corn," Kuykendall says.

The tour will feature several stops where farmers can inspect some of the rotational research under way by Austin Hagan, an Extension plant pathologist.

Another major focus of the tour will be cotton crop varieties, many of which are available to producers for the first time.

“We've had the greatest selection of transgenic cotton varieties, featuring new insect and weed control traits, that we've ever had — a topic that will be discussed on three stops during the tour,” Kuykendall says.

Another major focus of the tour, as always, will be insuring that producers come away with practical knowledge that they can then apply to their farming operations.

“Immediate practical benefit is the foundation on which this tour is organized year after year,” Kuykendall says. “We want producers to return to their farms and immediately put to use what they've learned at the tour.”

In many cases, the tour offers east central Alabama producers the only opportunity they have during the year to interact with professionals on the cutting edge of cotton production technology.

Indeed, producers are able to rub elbows with everyone associated with the region's cotton industry, from Extension specialists and agents to seed, chemical and equipment vendors.

The cotton tour, which started out in the late 1970's as a countywide tour and initially attracted only between 30 and 40 growers, has emerged as one of the Southeast's most comprehensive and well-attended tours, typically drawing more than 150 producers from as far away as the Wiregrass.

To reach the Mike Gunn farm, from I-85 take the Tuskegee-Franklin exit to U.S. Highway 49 North. From Highway 49, turn left on Macon County Road 56. The Gunn farm will be located on the left after the creek.

From Montgomery, take Interstate 85 North to Exit 26, the Tallassee Exit, onto Alabama Highway 229 North. After crossing the Tallapoosa River, take the first road to the right, Freeman Avenue, which goes directly to the Mike Gunn farm.

For more information, contact Leonard Kuykendall, regional Extension agent, at (334) 361-7273 or the Lee County Extension office at (334) 749-3353.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com