Is the Missouri Bootheel’s cotton the best kept secret in the Belt? It might be, according to many industry experts. But the secret isn’t much of a secret anymore. The word now is that this five-county region in the southeastern part of the state consistently delivers some of the best cotton quality in the country.
If a farmer lived in another region of the Belt, he might not be aware of this fact. But for anyone in the Mid-South, it is widely known that this Missouri cotton production region has the perfect combination for farming – excellent soil, plentiful water supply and seed varieties suited to this northernmost part of the Cotton Belt. Some resistance to plant bugs does exist, but the region’s scouts work diligently to control this insect pressure.
Even during years when untimely weather conditions can cause a replanting of the crop – such as the 2009 season – the region can still deliver staple length in the 36 to 37 range.
Perhaps nowhere is this commitment to cotton quality more evident than in second-generation producer Jeff Hux’s farm near Sikeston. He learned how to farm from his father John, who is still a part of the daily family operation.
The Hux family farm has 65 percent cotton, 25 percent corn and the remainder in soybeans.
Hux agrees with the idea that Missouri cotton quality is gaining a reputation across the country.
“I think we are definitely overlooked sometimes – especially with regard to our quality,” he says. “A lot of factors play a part in our being able to deliver such excellent cotton, including the ability to manipulate the crop and having varieties suited to our region.”
Partnership With Gins Crucial In Missouri
Plentiful Water Supply
As important as all of those factors are to Missouri producers, the water supply might rank near the top. Hux says most farmers irrigate their crops in his region, and that practice is made simpler by the easily accessible aquifer in the five-county region.
Some of the wells are 80 feet deep, but water can be found at a depth of between 20 and 25 feet. The fact that the aquifer is so shallow cuts down on pumping costs, and there is no salt contamination.
“There are some farmers in Texas who would love to have this kind of water,” says Hux. “By far, this is our No. 1 advantage in growing cotton in Missouri.”
Stable Production Levels
Cotton production in the Missouri Bootheel this year is concentrated on 350,000 acres. Many years ago, that figure was 490,000 acres. Still, production levels have remained steady for several years, according to Hux.
One of the most important statistics for all Missouri cotton producers is the fact that during the last five years two of the five Bootheel counties ranked among the top counties in the country in terms of yield and quality.
“More and more, we are starting to receive feedback from other regions in the Belt,” Hux says. “I think folks now realize that we have learned how to raise some pretty good cotton here.”
While water is the key factor in how producers in this region successfully grow cotton, it still takes varieties suited to a short season.
For example, Hux says there was a time when Missouri producers simply had to find a way to make any kind of variety work for their region. Now, that situation has changed, and cotton breeders are delivering varieties that fit well with the Missouri Bootheel’s soil and growing season.
Hux and many other Missouri producers now diversify and plant varieties that mature at different times during the season. Hux plants 40 percent of his cotton to an early maturing variety, another 40 percent to a mid-season variety and 20 percent to a later season variety.
Some of the popular varieties being planted by Hux and his producer friends this year include:
DP 0912 B2RF
DG 2570 B2RF
Hux says the entire region is moving away from early season hairy leaf varieties for a very good reason. When these varieties don’t fully mature, the leaf count grades tend to be higher.
Ideally, Hux would like to plant varieties that are stormproof, but that isn’t a trait currently available. If it were available, it would certainly help protect late maturing cotton against bad weather in September and October.
Crucial Defoliation Timing
Perhaps the final piece of the puzzle for Hux and his fellow Missouri producers is planning a defoliation schedule linked to how many acres can eventually be harvested.
“We try to stagger the schedules so that we don’t have any mature cotton sitting in the field for any length of time,” he says. “As soon as that boll opens, it needs to be in the basket. That’s how you preserve quality.”
As for the future, Hux says he is always looking for ways to maximize efficiency. This year that resulted in the purchase of a new John Deere round bale harvesting machine.
“It’s an expensive piece of equipment to only run a couple of weeks out of the year, but it’s going to help us improve our efficiency, save money and protect our quality,” he says.
Support Of Researchers
As Missouri producers and ginners will readily attest, one of the Bootheel’s major assets is the Delta Center in Portageville. Its excellent reputation for cotton research is a major contributing factor to the region’s record for cotton quality.
Andrea Jones, a Missouri Extension research associate at Portageville for 11 years, is the main contact for cotton producers.
Because of soil variability in different parts of the Bootheel, Jones conducts trials at the station’s Portage-ville test site as well as several cooperators’ farms in Senath, Clarkton and Sikeston. Average yields for the entire region are close to 1,200 pounds per acre, with some varieties topping 1,600 pounds in a specific area.
“I think research is one of the big keys for us here in the Missouri Bootheel,” Jones says. “Lately, we’ve done a lot of work on irrigation scheduling. It’s important to know when to start irrigating.”
She also is enthusiastic about how fertilizer research is helping Missouri producers. Her team has done extensive work on how much fertilizer to apply on gumbo ground as well as observing data from split fertilizer applications.
“I’d like to think we have a unique environment for cotton production,” she adds. “There is a wonderful camaraderie at our field days. You can see it in how our producers share information – whether they’re from the southern part of the Bootheel or all the way to Sikeston.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.