Texas Brothers Focus On Water-Use Efficiency And High- Performing Varieties
By Carroll Smith
Vast open land meets the horizon in the Permian Basin — breathtaking and Texas big. The landscape is interrupted only by oil wells and the occasional home with two or three trees in the yard to provide shade from the summer sun. In early April, wheat stubble graces the row middles of empty fields. In the fall, these same fields are covered with cotton awaiting harvest.
The Eggemeyer brothers, Russ and Bo, are sixth-generation farmers dedicated to growing white gold. They take advantage of new technology to get the most out of available water and plant varieties bred for high yields and quality.
The brothers’ farm 3,500 acres of cotton, as well as some corn and winter wheat as rotation crops, in Reagan and Upton counties. Because this area has a semi-arid climate and typically receives about 14 inches of rain per year, Russ and Bo put a lot of effort into improving water-use efficiency.
Subsurface Drip Irrigation
The Eggemeyers installed subsurface drip irrigation on 1,700 acres to minimize water evaporation and runoff and fertigate their cotton crop.
“We use technology to better understand how the water works underground,” Russ says.
For the past few years, we have installed soil moisture probes that measure water-holding capacity and electrical conductivity, which provides data on soil variability within our fields.
“The water table is falling so we want to pinpoint how much irrigation water we should use and how frequently to apply it. Our goal is to maximize water-use efficiency without giving up yield and quality.”
“The new SDI system we installed has automatic valves, which watered the cotton every two days instead of every eight days. The cotton that was watered on the automatic valve system made about 0.4 bale an acre more than the manual system. We are going to look at the data again this year to see what happens. We also want to determine if the cotton plants are taking up the nitrogen we put out through fertigation. We have a pump we can turn on remotely to monitor our fertilizer and see how much we are using.”
Russ and Bo remotely control and manage their SDI system with Eco-Drip’s EC III Pro. This precision irrigation tool can be installed on a desktop computer, tablet or even a smartphone. It also adapts to deficit irrigation.
“It’s amazing we can do things like schedule irrigation, set fertigation pumps and view soil moisture sensors on our phones,” Bo says. “The EC III Pro also shows total flow. We can tell when a pump goes off because the gallons of water per minute go down. So we can see exactly what we would see at the drip house. And when we do need to go there, we know what we are walking into. There are no surprises.”
Furrow Diker, Cover Crops
The Texas farmers use a furrow diker that runs behind the plow to capture precious rainwater.
“This implement has either two or three paddles that mechanically scoop up dirt and form a bowl-like indention in the soil,” Bo says. “When it rains, water stays in the middle of the rows and doesn’t run off the field. It’s a highly effective, low-tech way to capture water.”
Russ and Bo are planting a mixed cover crop on a few acres this year to see if it’s a viable practice for their farm.
“We hope it will help retain moisture and prevent the sun from baking the ground all summer long,” Russ says. “We realize our cotton benefits from the corn and wheat rotation and want to take it a step further by planting a cover crop. We’re also trying some strip-till this year to manage residue.”
In 2016, the Eggemeyer brothers planted FM 2334GLT, FM 1944GLB2 and FM 1830GLT on their irrigated acres for seed production. Dryland acres were planted to
Russ and Bo are members of the FiberMax One Ton Club for the second year in a row. To qualify, farmers must meet the required 2,000 pounds per acre or higher. In 2016, the average in Texas was 720 pounds per acre, and the national average was 855 pounds per acre. Last year, the Eggemeyers made yields more than double the state and national averages with FM 2334GLT.
This medium maturity variety has excellent yield potential complemented by high gin turnout and a good fiber package, according to Bayer CropScience. It also is tolerant to Liberty and glyphosate herbicides and has TwinLink two-gene Bt protection.
“Our yields were good, and the the quality turned out really well,” Russ says. “The loan value on most of our cotton was 57 cents. This year, we will again plant FM 2334, FM 1944 and FM 1830. We’re also adding FM 1953GLTP and ST 4946GLB2 to see how they perform on our farm.”
Because the climate is so dry, the Eggemeyers haven’t had a lot of weed issues in the past. Last year was the first time they saw glyphosate-resistant pigweed on their farm.
“All of our varieties are tolerant to Liberty herbicide so we can apply it over the top if we need to spray for pigweed,” Russ says. “Farmers have been good stewards in our area. If the label calls for a certain rate, we spray that rate. This practice, along with plowing, has kept the weeds out for a long time. But we may have to spray for pigweed this year.”
Russ and Bo have also been fortunate when it comes to insect pressure. “Since we’ve been farming, we’ve never had to spray for an insect,” Russ says. “Stink bugs move in occasionally, but they are spotty and never hit the threshold.”
Protecting Their Product
If weeds and insects are not much of a problem, then what do the Eggemeyers consider their primary challenges?
“Water is No. 1,” Russ says. “We also face contamination issues from trash, such as plastic bags, water bottles and debris in general. We attribute this trash to the recent oil boom in the area because it wasn’t here before. When oil prices dropped, there wasn’t much activity. Today, it’s hard to move equipment with all the 18-wheelers on the road. To put it in perspective, there are 100 registered voters in Midkiff. Now I estimate there are 10,000 people out here in the general area, and a lot of trash is being thrown out. It’s frustrating and slows down the work flow when we have to clean up our fields before harvesting.”
As the 2017 season gets underway, the Eggemeyers continue to fine-tune water-use and fertilizer efficiency across their farm.
“Technology has contributed a lot to our operation in terms of high-performing varieties and precision planting,” Russ says.
“Our goal now is to be more precise with water use and fertilizer to help the crop reach its full potential.”