Last year, one of the windiest springs in northeast Arkansas history convinced Manila, Ark., cotton producer David Wildy that a wheat cover crop should be part of his cotton production program.

Where Wildy had a wheat cover crop/ridge-till system in place - on about 2,000 acres - replanting and crop injury from the wind and blowing sand were minimal. Where he didn't go with that program, replanting and crop injury were frequent, and costly.

This coming season, Wildy plans on expanding the practice to 4,000 acres. In ridge-till, the seedbed is the only part of the field that is disturbed at planting. Wheat is often planted in the middles in a ridge-till system to provide protection from the elements.

After harvest, Wildy will put out phosphate and potash fertilizer. "We've done more of that as we've converted to more of a minimum or ridge-till situation."

Fall tillage is next, pulling a V-ripper at a 45-degree angle to the row. "We'll come back behind that, hip and sow the wheat with a Gandy air-seeder. We do that on as many acres as we can until it starts raining."

In the spring, Wildy will apply a phenoxy herbicide early for broadleaf weeds. "Then we'll come back with our Roundup Ultra to kill the wheat and other weeds that have come back. One key is to not kill the wheat too early. It will lay down and not give you the protection."

Wildy will knock down the beds - sometimes shortly before planting, sometimes at planting. He'll spray an insecticide behind the presswheel for cutworms.

From there, Wildy's weed control program differs according to seed technology. DPL 5111, a conventional variety, goes on a big percentage of his acreage. Others include Phytogen PSC 355, "which seems to be one of our highest yielding varieties," BXN 47, DPL 451BR, ST 4892 BR and DPL 425RR.

On Roundup Ready varieties, no other herbicides are put down at planting. If it's a conventional variety, Wildy will apply Cotoran at planting. "On all our varieties, we'll apply Temik in-furrow and an in-furrow fungicide. If we don't do that, there are some years we get caught, being in the north Delta. Rhizoctonia and Pythium are our main problems."

After he gets a stand, Wildy puts out all his nitrogen and will do some foliar feeding when necessary.

Later on, with the Roundup varieties, Wildy will make two Roundup applications before fourth true leaf, come back with a directed Roundup application, then layby with Direx/Roundup, "to hold us for the rest of the season."

Conventional varieties will receive an application of Staple over the top to provide a height differential. Buctril will be applied over the top of BXN varieties. "On BXN and conventional varieties, we'll come back in with a Caparol/MSMA directed spray and then lay by with Direx."

As the cotton comes up, Wildy starts scouting for pests. "This year, we had a big problem with thrips. Part of the problem was that we had some western flower thrips which were a little more tolerant to the Temik."

All but 200 acres of Wildy's cotton ground is irrigated, most under 38 center pivots. About 750 acres are furrow-irrigated, including quite a bit of surge irrigation. "My dad started doing landforming and irrigation back in the late-50s," Wildy said. "We see the need for land leveling, drop pipes, and the use of surge valves to do a better job of using water. We have a good supply of water and a good recharge of that supply. But there's no use wasting it."

In that vein, Wildy is adding drop nozzles on the center pivots to reduce drift and evaporation.

Wildy goes with a two-step defoliation program, DEF or Folex and ethephon, then a very low rate of DEF or Folex with a high rate of ethephon for boll opening. Rates are dictated by weather.

Wildy runs four, John Deere six-row pickers at harvest. "We've had six-row pickers since they came out," Wildy said. "They've done a real good job. With four six-rows versus six, four-rows, we do save personnel and that's a big issue. I don't know that it's saving us money, but labor has become a real issue on the farm. I've got good labor, but it's becoming more of a problem to attract good labor and keep it."

Wildy says cotton yields have leveled off since the early 90s, " when we were on a real upswing. After 1994, things began to stagnate, prices went lower and Mother Nature and the agricultural economy has humbled us somewhat. It's told us we still have a whole lot to learn."

Wildy believes the rush to release new transgenic cotton varieties may be part of the problem. "Varieties don't seem to be coping as well with stress. It's time for us to put our nose to the grindstone and address some of these problems before the cotton producer goes out of business."

This section of northeast Arkansas has taken some criticism for not yet approving a boll weevil eradication program. Wildy stresses, "We're not against eradication. We see the need for it. The people who have boll weevil problems, I feel for them. We had some boll weevils this year and eventually we are going to be forced to move it on through and clean them up.

"But I have about 10 years of data on weevil applications and we'll average about a half an application a year for them. That doesn't mean that by the woodline, we don't spray four or five times. But there is a lot of acreage out here that we never have to spray for weevils."