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Charles Parkerís Goal ó
Best Cotton Quality

By Tommy Horton
Editor

 
It’s one thing for a farmer to say he’s committed to growing cotton. It’s something else to see that “commitment” in action every year no matter how attractive grain prices become. Such is the scenario you’ll encounter if you’re in the Missouri Bootheel and drive anywhere close to the small town of Senath.

That’s where you’ll find veteran producer Charles Parker and his partner Alan Jones doing what they do best...growing high quality cotton and nothing else.

Forget about the temptation to grow other crops such as corn or soybeans. The Missouri Bootheel is cotton country, and always will be, according to Parker who is preparing to plant his 46th crop.

Much like he’s done every year since 1964, Parker is getting ready for the new season with a long checklist. He’s meticulously preparing land, spraying fields and doing maintenance on his planters. By April 27, those planters will roll, and they won’t stop until all 3,600 acres are planted.

“Some of our land has been in continuous cotton for 100 years,” says Parker. “It’s pretty much what we’ve been doing since 1985 when we got rid of our grain equipment. It doesn’t matter how attractive corn prices might appear. It just doesn’t make any economic sense to us.”

Investing In Cotton

Parker doesn’t begrudge any farmer who moves cotton acreage into corn or soybeans for economic reasons. But when a farmer has made such significant investments in cotton and continues to produce such high quality each year, it’s easier to understand Parker’s reasoning.
What kind of quality does the Parker-Jones farm produce? In 2008, the yields averaged better than 2.5 bales per acre. Average staple was 36.60, while average strength was 30.66.

While parts of the Delta and Southeast dealt with untimely rains and drought in 2008, the Missouri Bootheel received just enough rainfall to help Parker’s dryland acres average 1,150 pounds. Of the 3,600 acres on the farm, only 300 acres are dryland. The rest are either furrow irrigated or have center pivots.

Most of Parker’s friends and fellow farmers say there really isn’t a big secret to his farm’s success. He simply embraces technology such as RTK AutoSteer, GPS, minimum tillage and makes smart choices on seed varieties. And then there is his use of the John Deere on-board module harvester. The ‘09 season will be his third to use the new harvester, which eliminates the need for boll buggies and module builders and saves on labor costs.

The farm also participates in the highly popular Conservation Security Program (200 acres) and Wetlands Reserve Program (110 acres).

Strategy Pays Off

Parker and Jones believe in a simple philosophy: Be vigilant in recordkeeping and management practices.

“Alan and I have a very good partnership,” says Parker. “We sit down and make decisions together and decide what we’ll do. For example, we ordered our seed back in December, but we recently changed that order. That’s how we do things.”

The partnership is enhanced by the fact that Alan is married to one of Parker’s daughters (Melinda). She pays the bills and keeps the books for the farm. Ironically, Parker’s other daughter Paula is married to Jeff Johnson, a trader with Allenberg Cotton in Memphis.

Parker’s wife Phyllis does her part for the farm by helping in any way she can. Through the years that has often meant preparing lunches and dinners for the farm workers.

Viewed from any angle, the Parker-Jones operation is a family business where everyone is flexible enough to handle numerous assignments.

“I think it’s a case of all of us having the kind of work ethic to get the job done,” says Jones, who became Parker’s farming partner in 1989.

“We communicate well and know how to back each other up. That’s important for any partnership.”

Another key to the Parker-Jones overall success is preparation, and that occurs between harvest and planting. That’s when they use a “one-trip plow” to chop and bury stalks. A cover crop (wheat) is planted in the middles. An application of Clarity and Harmony also is eventually put out to control broadleaf weeds.

This kind of management practice means that Parker and Jones rarely have to do any kind of major burndown applications during the season.

Between late fall and February, they also study numerous cottonseed variety trials to help with purchasing decisions. It isn’t just a case of reading reports from Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee. They collect data from research plots on their own farm and several other farms. In short, any kind of information helps.

Last year the workhorse varieties were FM 1740B2F, ST 4554B2RF, ST 4498B2RF, ST 4427B2RF and ST 5458B2RF.

“Most of our varieties are Stoneville and FiberMax, and we’ve been extremely pleased at the yields and quality,” says Parker. “We really like the way 1740 has performed for us.”

Land’s History Is Important

While outsiders might understand why the Parker-Jones farm only plants cotton because of the money invested in equipment, others often wonder how a monoculture farm can avoid problems such as nematodes and soil nutrient deficiencies. Parker says it’s all about understanding his land’s history and constantly monitoring it for any changes that occur.

“We really don’t worry about the continuous cotton that we plant,” he says. “We can control any potential nematode problem, and we certainly try to deal with resistant marestail and pigweed.

“Would we have yield increases if we rotated to corn? I think we would. Would it be significant? I don’t know. All I can say is that we’re totally committed to cotton now and into the future. This crop has been good to us. That’s just the way we like it.”

Spirit Of Cooperation

For the past 10 years, no one has had a better view of the Parker-Jones farm than Andrea Jones, senior research specialist at the University of Missouri’s Delta Center in Portageville. She coordinates seed variety trials at the farm and receives total cooperation from Parker in her work.

“Charles is one of those unusual persons who will meet us in the fields to make sure everything goes smoothly,” she says. “We’re on a four-row planter, and he has a 12-row planter, so he makes his marks for us. That helps us stay in line with what he’s already done. Not everybody is like that.”

She also appreciates the fact that Parker will call once a week to give a progress report on her research plots. That kind of communication saves her from having to make a special trip to Senath to view the crop’s progress.

In addition, Parker calls to alert her when he’s about to irrigate his fields or when he’s making a spray application.

“What can I say?” says Jones. “We’re very fortunate to have a cooperator like Charles. A researcher is always very fortunate to have a farmer willing to help out like that.”

Jones says the important key to the Parker-Jones farm is how technology is embraced in every facet of the operation.

“Charles is looking for more than just yields,” she says. “He’s looking for fiber quality and anything that will improve profitability. He is truly dedicated to cotton.”

Maybe Parker’s greatest talent as a farmer is how he remains steadfast in his management style. Once he and his son-in-law make a decision, they aren’t swayed or distracted, and they are constantly looking for new technology to give themselves a competitive edge.

Battling The Elements

Even a historic icestorm in late January didn’t deter Parker and Jones as they prepared for the 2009 season. The storm hit on Jan. 27 and devastated the Missouri Bootheel with widespread power outages. In some areas, the power was off for three weeks.

Then, on Feb. 28, the area was blanketed with eight inches of snow. To say that the weather has kept Parker and Jones out of the field might be an understatement.

“The icestorm was as bad as anything we’ve encountered here,” says Parker. “I heard reports that the power outage in Missouri was worse than what happened in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. The utility company practically had to re-build the power grid for the entire Bootheel.”

Barring anything unusual, Parker and Jones plan to start planting on April 27. And, yes, you’ll find Parker driving equipment and doing his share of physical labor on the farm even though he’s 66 years old. However, even Parker admits that it’s better to let his son-in-law Alan, age 45, do more of the heavy lifting.

“People keep asking if I’ll ever retire,” says Parker. “What would I do if I retired? As long as I’m healthy, I’ll always be farming. And, if Alan can put up with me, I’ll always be here.”

Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or thorton@onegrower.com.


Plentiful Water Supply Helps Missouri Farmers

For several years, the quality of Missouri cotton might have been the best kept secret across the Belt. Not anymore.

Because of its reliable water supply, soil profile, lack of serious insect and weed problems and the work of innovative producers, the word is out. If mill customers want longer and stronger cotton, they know they can find it in Missouri.

That’s the message from Missouri county Extension agent Mike Milam in Kennett.

“We have plenty of groundwater and a lot more irrigation than other parts of the Belt,” he says. “We also have excellent alluvial soils. And don’t forget that most of our cotton is grown in large blocks on flat ground.”

Milam also points to an absence of major insect or weed problems. Plant bugs, marestail and pigweed exist, but not to the extent that is found in other regions.

Parker-Jones Farm In Senath, Mo.

• 3,600 acres of cotton.
• Partners are Charles Parker and Alan Jones.
• Part owners of Farmers Union Gin.
• 28 center pivots.
• FiberMax and Stoneville varieties.
• ‘08 average staple: 36.60.
• ‘08 average strength: 30.66.
• ‘08 average yield: More than 2.5 bales.
• Minimum till.
• Utilizes precision ag technology.



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