Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Flexible Farming

Farming is all about planning, and then being flexible enough to change that plan in a single day when the weather decides your plan is wrong.

Case in point: we (my fiancĂ©, his father and grandfather) had planted irrigated cotton the beginning of May. That action corresponds well to the usual cotton growing season, the usual Texas Panhandle weather at that time of year, and our farming plan. Have I mentioned the unpredictability of weather in the Texas Panhandle? Over Memorial Day weekend and the two weeks following, we received somewhere between 4 to 7 inches of rain. It was extremely wet (which we are so thankful for) and unseasonably chilly. Little cotton plants, unfortunately, aren't very fond of chilly, damp conditions, so while the corn planted right next to the cotton flourished, the cotton sat not growing and getting sick from some kind of seedling disease*. We also had a hail storm hit a couple of our fields. Oddly enough, cotton seedlings don't like getting beaten to a pulp by hail stones either. Below is a point system that can be used to determine your need of an in-furrow fungicide application. Generally, our point total is 50 points for minimum tillage. This year, we were well over the 200 point recommendation.

Table 1. Point system for determining the need for in-furrow fungicides. This point system is only a guide as to the probability of receiving a benefit from application of an in-furrow fungicide.
Soil Temperature < 65= 75
5 Day Forecast - Colder and wetter= 50
Seed Quality - Cold germ < 59%= 75
Field History - Severe disease= 100
Tillage - Minimum tillage= 50
Row Preparation - Beds absent= 75
Seeding Rate - Less than 3-4/foot of row= 100
Poorly Drained Soil= 50
If total exceeds 200, consider using an in-furrow fungicide
(*Table courtesy of Cotton Seedling Diseases. If you are interested in reading more about cotton seedling diseases, check out this article by Steve Koenning at North Carolina State University: Cotton Seedling Diseases.)

114-day corn hybrid planted on April 20 on left.
96-day corn hybrid planted on July 1 on right.
Looking back, we probably could have done a few things to help our cotton out, but when we were planning, we had no way of knowing or even guessing what the weather was going to do, especially considering we are in the middle of a drought! (See my post "Moisture: Need. More. Moisture.") That's one of the many dangers of farming.

Mid-June rolls around and here we were, with acres of sick, dying cotton that will never recover enough to produce a cotton boll. After discussions with our crop insurance adjustor, we made the decision to abandon the cotton crop and replant those acres to other crops.

On July 1, we planted a 96-day corn hybrid. Here is a picture taken 14 days later, next to our April-planted [114-day] hybrid. Obviously the corn is at very different stages. The April-planted is already pollinating, or beginning the seed reproduction stage, while the July-planted is barely out of the ground. While the July-planted is itty bitty right now, we have hopes that with good water and some good heat units, it will thrive and end up maturing about the same time as the April-planted.

On the other failed cotton acres, we planted grain sorghum, also known as milo, at the end of June and then more after the corn was planted the beginning of July. This is the typical time to plant grain sorghum in our area, and we are hopeful for a productive growing season for it.
Here are some baby sorghum plants. Aren't they cute!?

Despite our crop plan is a bit mixed up for the year, we were able to adapt to the growing season given to us. Hopefully, we will continue to get timely rains, we will miss any more major hail storms, and we will harvest a great crop of corn and sorghum that will go into the food and feed supply. Farming requires flexibility everywhere, but I seriously think Texas Panhandle farmers do yoga on a regular basis because they are super at being flexible on their farm.

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