This yearlong endeavor looks at how four farmers are evaluating technology and agronomic information that can boost the productivity of their operations.
An unwanted trio of cloudy, cool, wet conditions defined much of the weather on Jason Luckey's farm, near Humboldt, Tennessee, this spring. As a result, Luckey decided to take a proactive approach to address disease problems in his cotton crop this season.
For several years, he has applied fungicides on wheat and across the board on his soybeans, and has seen a yield increase in both crops. He decided to bump up his fungicide use on cotton this year for that reason and two others: to keep diseases in check and to improve plant health.
Luckey typically uses a fungicide on only a couple hundred cotton acres—those with top–end yield potential. The fungicide–treated fields have produced his best–yielding cotton.
For 2016, Luckey will treat close to 600 acres. "I plan to treat about 300 acres with Priaxor and 200 to 300 acres with Headline to have a good comparison," he says. "Even in tight years, you still need to compare products to make sure you're getting the best return on your dollar. Priaxor is a premium fungicide for target spot and controls other diseases, including verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt. I want to compare it to Headline, which has worked well for me before."
BASF Innovation Specialist Wes Rodgers notes that Priaxor does an excellent job of controlling key foliar diseases such as target spot, which is showing up more often in west Tennessee. Rodgers adds that the fungicide improves plant health and increases high–yield potential.
Luckey says that before last season, he had not even heard of target spot. "Target spot hasn't financially impacted us like it has Georgia growers, but I believe it has robbed us of some yield that we probably weren't aware of," he contends. "In 2015, two of my bottom yielders were susceptible to target spot; they performed well but were off 200 to 300 pounds per acre. I was making 1,300 pounds on everything else.
Luckey deploys several methods to measure the effectiveness of a cotton fungicide. In–season, he looks for visual responses, such as healthy plants and a lack of disease symptoms. During harvest, he uses a yield monitor on his round module picker. "I watch my yield monitor to compare the yield difference between treated and untreated cotton," he says. "I also do a lot of research work with University of Tennessee Extension and sometimes use truck scales. The ultimate measurement is yield response."
Luckey estimates he makes roughly 50 to 75 more pounds per acre with fungicide–treated cotton over untreated cotton, depending on disease pressure. "The fungicide application runs about $14 [per acre], so a 24–pound increase at 60–cent cotton would be breakeven," he says. "The remaining increase in yield is profit."
Luckey planted half of his cotton crop to dicamba–tolerant varieties in 2015. This year, he went 95% dicamba–tolerant varieties. "Those were my best yielders last year," he explains. "DP 1522 B2XF was my top yielder, averaging more than 1,300 pounds per acre. We're still not allowed to spray dicamba over the top, but I like the flexibility of spraying glufosinate or glyphosate over the top."
Luckey also keeps an eye out for disease in his winter wheat. He applied Priaxor fungicide on his wheat crop near the end of February. By late April, he noticed he had missed a corner or two, and those areas were infected with rust. He then came back with a new fungicide, Caramba. "I could definitely tell where I had earlier applied Priaxor," Luckey says. "My consultants told me that applying Caramba would further protect my wheat." Caramba fungicide on wheat controls many diseases, including head scab, blotch and stripe rust."
Staying on top of disease, pests and weeds in his grains and cotton operation is a top priority for Luckey, who operates Rege Luckey and Sons in partnership with his brother, Ken, and nephew, Zac, near Humboldt, Tennessee. "We have a solid production program that we constantly try to improve through innovations," Luckey says.
For example, this year, Luckey tried a new corn herbicide, Armezon PRO, for early postemergence control of weeds, especially glyphosate–resistant pigweed. "We're always looking for ways to keep resistant weeds under control," Luckey says.
Rodgers says Armezon PRO is a new corn postemergence herbicide with multiple modes of action. It provides excellent control of glyphosate–resistant weeds, including Palmer amaranth and marestail.
Luckey farms 1,500 acres each of cotton, corn and soybeans. He also double–crops wheat with some soybeans. The majority of his corn is followed by wheat; some hill farms will go back to cotton.
He mainly farms dryland, though he utilizes one 140–acre pivot that a landlord installed two years ago. "Corn has been under that pivot both years," he adds. "We planted wheat/beans under it in 2016."
This west Tennessee grower also has farmed 100% no–till since 1996. He might smooth out some ruts in the fall, but he basically leaves the ground covered with residue from the previous crop.
While watching his 2016 crop closely, Luckey also keeps an eye on 2017, especially when it comes to marketing. He already has positions on commodities for next year, taking advantage of several price opportunities.
"We do a combination of hedging and cash sales," he says. "We're affiliated with Brock Associates and talk with them about every seven to 10 days about cotton and grains. We typically go with their recommendations, but we also stay on top of the markets and make some of our own calls."
Refinements in his 2017 production program will depend heavily on the results of his 2016 on–farm research trials, Luckey notes. He has developed a solid program that he constantly strives to improve with new products and practices. "Being innovative helps us stay profitable," Luckey explains. "In addition to doing test plots on our farm, we keep up on university and commercial research, and talk with other growers about what's working for them."