At harvest, Gill Rogers was still looking at 15-inch cotton as a learning experience. He harvested almost two bales to the acre from the 220 acres he planted in a 15-inch pattern.
“This was a good year to test 15-inch cotton because it was late,” he said. The 30-inch cotton on the remainder of the 5,000 acres Rogers and his brother, John, grow did better, mainly because it was replanted.
“We saw a big difference in the three fields due to weather,” the Hartsville, S.C., farmer says.
At planting in May, it was dry. The first rain came about two weeks after planting.
Rogers cooperated in a joint project of Monsanto Company, John Deere Company and Delta and Pine Land Company, demonstrating the advantages and challenges of 15-inch cotton to farmers. The narrow-row pattern was also featured in on-farm demonstrations across the Cotton Belt.
A Web site has been chronicling Rogers' experience with the practice.
At planting, a John Deere planter outfitted with GPS technology rolled across the field planting the 15-inch rows on auto-pilot. At harvest in early November, a John Deere Pro-12 VRS spindle picked the cotton.
“We saw the value of the GPS,” he says. “The driver can relax. One of my drivers told me he had a good day. He planted 90 acres and read three magazines.
“The new technology can possibly help us with profitability,” he says, pointing out the substantial equipment costs.
Rogers planted DP 555 BG/RR, DP 444 BG/RR, DP 449 BG/RR and DP 424 BGII/RR at a seeding population of 52,000 and 70,000 seed per acre, aiming for an in-row spacing of 6 inches and 8 inches.
Speaking at a harvest demonstration at the Rogers farm in Hartsville, S.C., Tommy Fleming of Delta and Pine Land said the seed company was “still not in a position to recommend which varieties will work best with 15-inch cotton. Personally, it looks like a mid-season variety such as 449 might be the best choice — but that's not a recommendation.”
This was the second year that Rogers has worked with John Deere technology aimed at taking the guesswork out of narrow-row cotton. “There's so much to learn here.”
The Auto Trac RTK system sets the tractor in an A-B line on autopilot. “You still have to have somebody in the tractor,” Jarred Karni, a crop systems specialist with John Deere says. “At the end of the row, all the driver has to do is grab the steering wheel, make the turn and the system guides him back into the next path.”
Andy Pace, a John Deere crop systems specialist, says the 15-inch system “offers growers another tool to make them more competitive in the world market.”
Henry Sink, also of John Deere, says the research on the system will continue throughout the cotton belt next season.
The 15-inch cotton offers the crop early shading.
Rogers found excellent weed control with the system this year. Two over-the-top applications of Envoke and Roundup WeatherMAX gave about 97 percent control of weeds, he says. His herbicide costs on the 15-inch cotton were less than with conventional cotton.
The Rogers brothers first experimented with narrow-row cotton about six years ago, working with D&PL.
Gill believes advances in seed, planting and harvesting technology have finally come together to give the practice real potential.
“We've always felt like there was potential for narrow-row cotton, he says. “Fifteen-inch cotton is just another step.”
In fact, he believes cotton growers are only two years away from a new era in production. “We're two years away from not needing a row. For a little while it will be a new era.”