Cotton Links

Protecting The Land

Producers Share Their Environmental Success Stories

EDITOR’S NOTE – Cotton producers across the Belt have always known the importance of environmental stewardship. However, their actions aren’t always appreciated by the general public. In the following story, four producers – in their own words – share their experiences on how they continue to protect the land.

Harris Armour – Somerville, Tenn.

• 575 cotton acres • 1,000 soybean acres • 460 corn acres • 300 wheat acres

We have always known the importance of protecting the environment on our farm and using the right kind of management practices.

Through the years, we’ve gradually adopted more things as we’ve learned about new stewardship practices. I’d like to think that farmers have a good story to tell. We just have to become committed to telling our story.

The first thing we did was adopt no-till, and now about 95 percent of our acres are no-tilled. We’ve also put out filter strips on some of our conveyance ditches.

These aren’t the only things we do to protect the environment. On our farm, we also use a lot of variable rate fertilizer applications, and we’ve also planted 80 acres of crimson clover as a cover crop.

A Win-Win Situation

I’ve learned that if we can reduce the amount of chemicals we put on our crops, it can be a win-win situation. We’ve already reduced our nitrogen applications.

I have an interesting advantage in that I’ve been a Soil Conservation District supervisor for many years. That allows me to be closer to the latest techniques for protecting the environment.

Of all the practices that I’ve implemented, I’d have to say that variable rate technology is something that can have the most impact on the environment.

When you can spray only that part of the field that needs spraying, you’re not wasting money. You’re saving money and not overlapping certain parts of that field. I’d call that effective environmental stewardship.

I don’t mind telling you that I’m from the old school in many respects. I’m 59, but the future belongs to our younger generation of farmers. My son farms with me, and he’s 33 years old. It’s his generation that will really take environmental stewardship to the next level.

My son isn’t afraid of technology, and he does his homework as far as utilizing new technology that will help the environment. That’s the difference between my generation and his. He was exposed to computers and that kind of technology. In the end, that will benefit our farm and the environment.

We can’t be complacent and expect somebody else to tell our story to the public. All of us have to get on board and be willing to tell the general public that we’re taking care of the land.

Educating Urban Population

Sometimes it frustrates me when I think of folks in the city who over-fertilize their front yards. Then it rains, and that water runs off and over the asphalt and down a drain and eventually into our streams and rivers.

I’m not trying to antagonize anybody, but our city friends might be the ones who need some education on being environmental stewards. I just don’t think they’re aware of what they’re doing.

Along that same line, I farm in a part of West Tennessee where some of my neighbors are folks from the city who have moved to our area. They probably don’t understand the importance of farming, but we’re doing our best to educate them.

I try to be as patient as possible in telling them what we do on the farm. It’s a challenge, but we’re making progress.

Contact Harris Armour in Somerville, TN, at harmouriii@aol.com.

Jimmy Webb – Leary, Ga.

• 1,200 cotton acres • 800 peanut acres • 1,000 corn acres

Everybody knows about the drought situation we have faced in the Southeast for the last few years. For that reason, water conservation is very important to us.

In fact, I would say that preserving water might be at the top of the list of what we do to protect the environment. About 10 or 15 years ago, we started converting all of our irrigation systems from diesel to electric. We did this before the diesel prices got so high, and I’m glad we did.

We actually made the switch from diesel because we didn’t want to worry about hauling it long distances. Using electricity in our systems makes a lot more sense. You have less pollution, and it’s more efficient.

All of our irrigation systems are now low pressure. I definitely think we’re recapturing most of the moisture we lose through evaporation. So, when you add everything up, there’s no question that we’re more efficient with our water.

Government Incentives

We’ve also taken advantage of some effective government programs that reward farmers for implementing programs that protect the environment. The EQIP program is very popular in our area, and we’ve taken advantage of it as much as possible. This is a program that really gives a farmer some additional incentives for practicing good environmental stewardship.

We’ve taken advantage of technology as another way to protect the environment while improving our own operation. Before Bt cotton came along in 1996, we had developed a real problem with the bollworm. We were spraying as many as 18 times a year to control this pest. After Bt was introduced, we reduced that number to about two sprayings a year.

Now we’re dealing with another insect problem in plant bugs and stinkbugs. Once again, we’re trying to find a strategy that will work, and I’m confident that we can deal with this problem just as we did against bollworms.

Telling The Story

I agree with my colleagues about having a good story to tell the public. Why in the world would a farmer hurt the environment when his very livelihood depends on protecting the land?

We have wells on our land, and we drink the water in those wells. For that reason, I am going to do everything in my power to protect that water and keep it clean. It doesn’t make any sense that people would think that I might use too many chemicals and hurt the environment. I have to drink the water out of that well, and so does my family. Why would I hurt the water?

I think it’s like being an attorney. You wouldn’t try to get a deposition from someone if you didn’t need it. For the same reason, I’m not going to hurt the environment when it’s such an important part of farming. That may sound like an oversimplified explanation of the situation, but I think it perfectly illustrates what we’re trying to do as farmers.

Contact Jimmy Webb in Leary, Ga., at jlw1963@bellsouth.net.

Danny May – Port Lavaca, Texas

• 400 cotton acres • 1,000 corn acres • 300 soybean acres

We’ve done a number of things on our farm that would be classified as environmentally friendly. And that gives me a lot of pride, because there are folks in the city who might not be aware of this.

I’ve done a lot of work on laser ditching to make the water run in the right direction to prevent standing water or puddles. This can help in preventing soil erosion, and that’s important for any farm.

We’ve also reduced the number of trips we take across the field, and that’s because we’ve gone to a minimum tillage approach. We’re leaving stubble and residue on the fields, and that preserves the soil and maintains organic matter.

Every time the diesel prices go up, we put more of our land into minimum tillage.

This may sound like a small thing for us to do on environmental issues, but we have an active community outreach program in our area. We bring third-graders onto the farm and show them all aspects of farm life. The impression you make on a youngster can go a long way toward getting our message communicated about how we’re being environmentally friendly.

Rebutting False Reports

I really get frustrated with the mainstream media who like to portray farmers in such a bad way. Those folks actually think anything that has the word “organic” attached to it is wonderful.

Not surprisingly, those same persons always seem amazed when we tell them about the effective environmental practices we have on our farm. We don’t use gallons of chemicals on the land. We use ounces. There’s a big difference. That’s the message I’d like to convey to anybody who will listen.

Is this a serious situation for U.S. agriculture? Yes it is. We have to make some headway in telling this story to the world if we hope to make any progress in maintaining agriculture as we know it today.

Contact Danny May in Port Lavaca, Texas, at dmay@tisd.net.

Ted Sheely – Lemoore, Calif.

• 9,000 total crop acres • 2,500 cotton acres

I could talk about a lot of things that farmers in California are doing to protect the environment. But let me focus on some practices that we do on our farm.

Perhaps it was out of necessity because of the water situation in the state or the overall regulatory pressure we receive here, but we’ve changed a lot of things in the past 10 years.

Before we implemented our variable rate applications, we might put out 150 pounds of nitrogen and run the water all the time. That was standard practice.

Now that we’ve gone to variable rate N applications, we can save money and do more soil testing. We can actually break the field into seven or eight different zones and deliver what is necessary for each one.

By taking this approach, we are saving money and creating a better investment in our nitrogen. We are definitely not overloading the ground.

We’ve also adopted a subsurface drip irrigation on our row crops. It’s really a win-win situation. We don’t get any surface evaporation, and the top of the plant stays dry.

The plant receives exactly what it needs in terms of soil nutrients.

The water savings from this system are real. Despite the cuts we’re receiving from our water allocations, this system helps us stretch that last application.

On the chemical front, we’re using less because of our ability to put PGRs in the tank and go through the field and apply it to areas that need it. The bottom line is that we’re getting a bigger benefit at a lower cost and more savings.

Cultivating Relationships

Believe it or not, I have actually received some awards from various environmental groups for the management practices that we use on our farm. From my vantage point, it was a case of using common sense. If I’m going to invest a dollar in a program, I better make at least a dollar on the back end – otherwise it’s a bad investment.

I don’t think any of the environmentalists would expect us to implement a program that didn’t make financial sense.

When I told the EPA here in California what we wanted to do, they were very accepting of our ideas. This is a clear way to solve the adversarial relationship that might have existed in the past.

It’s always better to work together as opposed to working against each other.

Contact Ted Sheely in Lemoore, Calif., at tsheely@cottoninc.com.

Cotton Incorporated To Conduct Online Environmental Survey

As part of its ongoing effort to publicize the environmental stewardship efforts of cotton producers, Cotton Incorporated will conduct an anonymous online Natural Resource Survey.

The survey will take only 15 minutes of a producer’s time, but its findings will be used as a benchmark to guide future efforts of the Cotton Research & Promotion Program.

“Results from the survey will literally form the foundation for the development of our research and promotion projects over the next several years,” says Kater Hake, vice president, Agricultural Research, Cotton Incorporated.

The survey will be conducted between July 15 and July 30. The information submitted will be used to develop an accurate summary of the many environmental stewardship gains that producers have achieved during the last few decades.

There is no log-in to participate in the survey because individual responses are not being tracked. However, Hake asks producers to take the survey only once.

Those who are directly responsible for a cotton production operation will receive a letter in the mail with the link to the survey. If you are responsible for a cotton production operation and do not receive a letter, or if you have questions about the Natural Resource Survey, please contact Cotton Incorporated’s staff by going online at www.AgSurvey@cottoninc.com.


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