When the cotton market took a turn for the worse a few years ago, a lot of the momentum that had been achieved for precision technology use among growers was lost. But with the world cotton price going up recently, interest is again turning toward technology that will boost yield and efficiency at the farm.
Despite the twisting and turning markets Cotton Incorporated has stayed the course in technology research, building on long-standing projects and moving on some new ones. Today there are three key initiatives that the organization is dedicating resources to in an effort to improve best farming practices for efficiency, yield and stewardship.
Heading the list of projects this year is the development of case studies that describe the benefits of using yield monitor technology in cotton production. A recently conducted Cotton Incorporated grower survey indicated that barely 10% of growers currently employ yield monitors, a number that seems to indicate that “growers are missing some real opportunities in collecting and analyzing yield data,” says Dr. Ed Barnes, Director, Agricultural and Environmental Research Division of Cotton Incorporated.
The goal is to help growers understand the economic, agronomic, and engineering aspects of using yield monitors, and how year-over-year data can provide clear benefits. While overall adoption has been slow, those who have used yield monitors have some great stories to tell, and by year’s end Barnes is working with university experts across the country to compile several grower case studies to illustrate the value of yield monitors in cotton production.
The second project is a continuation of five years of work on equipment-mounted, real-time sensors in cotton production. The two long-time sensors in the testing project, Greenseeker from Trimble and OptRx from Ag Leader have been joined by CropSpec from Topcon Precision.
Research is focused on developing algorithms for sidedressing nitrogen in highly variable fields and fields with little variability. In highly variable soil type fields such as coastal areas in the Southeast and the Mississippi Delta, the approach is identifying field zones based on yield potential, and varying nitrogen rate accordingly.
In areas of low variability, a more ‘Midwest’ approach is being tested using a nitrogen-rich area of the field as a calibrator for on-the-go nitrogen application across a field. Based on the ‘greenness’ of the nitrogen-rich calibration zone, the equipment-mounted sensors gauge plant health as they pass through the field and apply nitrogen at varying levels to help achieve maximum yield while reducing over-application.
The third, relatively new initiative is focused on gauging the benefits of using technology to monitor soil moisture and improve the management of irrigation systems in irrigated cotton fields. Barnes says that recently released technology that allows for the remote collection of moisture data is increasing interest in soil moisture monitoring technology.
“We’ve experienced the grower’s tendency with irrigation systems to pray for rain rather than turn on a pivot, so when they do finally give in and open up the spigot, some yield potential has been lost,” says Barnes. Cotton Incorporated is testing the idea of creating a sort of ‘distant early warning’ for growers by placing a moisture sensor into the most challenged moisture areas of fields. The hope is that if growers act when the driest field areas start showing stress, then less yield potential will be lost on the top performing field areas. It’s both practical and economical to focus on setting up just one station, which has the potential to provide substantial benefit for the least possible investment.
For more information on these and other technology initiatives, visit www.cottoninc.com.