By Tommy Horton
Georgia cotton producers have dealt with their fair share of challenges in the past decade. You name it, and they’ve seen it. Drought problems, resistant pigweed, stinkbugs, the loss of a popular cotton seed variety, hurricanes and tropical storms are just a few of the issues that have confronted them while growing cotton.
However, in the small town of Adel, just 22 miles south of Tifton on Interstate 75 is where you’ll find the Rountree family farm – home of some innovative producers who find a way to make cotton thrive in their area.
In many cases, today’s successful farm spans several generations of a family. Such is the case with the Rountrees, who are a fifth-generation operation. Father Chip and sons Clint and Luke comprise the heart of this farm, which includes cotton, corn, peanuts and wheat in the crop mix.
Regardless of market trends and volatile prices, the Rountrees have managed to maintain a consistent connection to cotton, and they are convinced it will always be this way. For 2013, the acreage breakdown will consist of corn (200 acres), cotton (2,000 acres) and wheat (200 acres). Decisions on peanuts and soybeans have yet to be determined.
“To us, cotton is as good as anything else,” says Clint. “We also grow peanuts, but, at the same time, we’re geared to grow more cotton. This crop has always been there for us.”
That comment pretty much typifies the feeling that the Rountrees have about cotton. Even during the post-DP 555 era, they never got too far away from this crop.
Bright Future For Cotton
Through some innovative farming practices and the introduction of new varieties, the future looks promising for consistent cotton production.
That newfound optimism is due to the success of several varieties – DP 1050 B2RF, DP 1137 B2RF and DP 1252 B2RF. DP 1050 yielded 1,800 pounds/acre in 2012 and DP 1137 has shown excellent consistency on irrigated sandy fields. Meanwhile, DP 1252 hit 2,000 pounds three straight years (twice in the Rountrees’ Deltapine New Product Evaluator fields).
“It’s all about yield with DP 1252,” says Clint. “It did well on some dryland acres the first year, and then it took off the next year. It is the kind of variety that just hangs in there and delivers. And the quality has been excellent with staple of 36 and above.”
Valuable Water Supplies
This part of south Georgia hasn’t been hit by drought the way other parts of the state have. For instance, if the USDA Drought Monitor is studied, parts of western and north-central Georgia have continued to be in high drought zones. Whereas, timely rains have occurred more frequently in extreme southern Georgia.
“There is no question that it would have been more difficult if we didn’t have access to good water and not had these timely rains,” says Clint. “Keep in mind that the majority of our acreage is dryland. However, we have increased our irrigated acreage each year.”
The Rountree family gives high marks to Deltapine’s NPE program that allows producers a valuable opportunity to grow new varieties on large acreage plots before they are evaluated and eventually cleared for commercial launch.
The key, according to Clint, is finding varieties that are a good fit for the red clay and sandy loam soils of south Georgia.
“This program gives us a chance to see how a variety will perform before it is eventually ready to be sold on the market,” he says.
Another part of the Rountree operation that probably sets it apart from other Georgia farmers is its approach to battling resistant pigweed. Besides pulling weeds from the field and implementing a residual herbicide program, the Rountrees have started planting ryegrass into cotton fields.
This procedure involves letting the ryegrass grow to a height of more than seven feet and then spraying Roundup to kill it. The ryegrass “cover crop” is then matted down, and cotton is planted into it. This helps preserve soil moisture while preventing direct sunlight from germinating any pigweed seeds. A residual herbicide program follows involving Valor, Reflex, Staple and Diuron. This is followed by a layby application of Roundup, Diuron and Reflex.
Clint says weed protection costs have been reduced 50 percent by using this technique. For many years, the Rountrees were conventional tillage farmers, but about four years ago they switched to strip-till and also started planting the ryegrass.
This strategy for controlling resistant pigweed has been a recent recommendation from University of Georgia Extension agronomist Stanley Cul-pepper. It works for the Rountrees because they grow their own ryegrass seed, which helps reduce overall weed control costs.
Value Of Timely Harvest
Another part of the Rountree approach to cotton farming has also paid dividends. For many years, Georgia farmers who grew cotton and peanuts always faced a dilemma each fall when it was time to harvest both crops.
Peanuts usually had to be harvested first, and that occasionally meant open-boll cotton had to wait before it was picked.
That problem has been solved two ways. First, the planting schedules for peanuts and cotton are now staggered so that harvest doesn’t occur simultaneously on both crops. Second, extra crews are brought in to harvest each crop.
“We have more cotton acreage so that probably is why we don’t have the problem,” says Clint. “However, we do try to stagger our planting so that we’ll be finished with peanut harvest before we even start on the cotton.”
The situation is also helped by new cotton varieties that are allowing the Rountrees to plant earlier.
Family Farming Operation
Rountree Farm in Adel, Ga.:
• Fifth generation family operation.
• Father Chip and sons Clint and Luke.
• Crops include cotton, corn, wheat, peanut and soybeans.
• Three Deltapine varieties for cotton.
• Irrigated and dryland acreage.
• Residual herbicides and ryegrass used to control pigweed.
The foundation of the Rountree farm is the fact that father Chip and sons Clint and Luke work well as a team. Luke and Chip do most of the planting on all crops, while Clint takes care of the intricate spraying schedule for cotton. But, whenever an unexpected problem occurs, any of the three can take care of it.
When Luke and Clint were youngsters, they learned from their father and grandfather, so they have absorbed a wealth of information through the years.
Luke worked in the business world for a couple of years before returning to work on the farm. It’s a decision he has never regretted.
“I love farming, and there is some real satisfaction when the entire family is involved,” he says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
With that kind of backdrop, it’s easy to see why the Rountree family looks ahead to 2013 with such optimism. They acknowledge that there aremajor challenges such as price volatility, global issues, farm legislation and grain competition.
But, they have weathered storms in the past, and they seem prepared for whatever lies ahead.
“We’ve had five straight good crop seasons,” says Clint. “Farmers are supposed to be optimistic, and that’s how we feel about 2013.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rountrees’ Ginner/Consultant Gives Family High Marks
Steve Bullard has known the Rountree family for many years and is both a farm advisor (consultant) and ginner.
It is unusual that a ginner also works as a consultant but that is precisely what Bullard does. When he isn’t running the BCT Gin in Quitman, Ga., he is working as a consultant to many of the gin’s farm customers. Doing double-duty gives him a rare insight into the problems and challenges that cotton producers in his area face.
“The Rountree family is hard working, and they do an excellent job,” says Bullard. “They don’t have a lot of extra manpower or employees. They do most of the work themselves.”
Bullard has worked for the Rountrees for nearly 10 years. After ginning season is completed, you won’t find him in the gin that much. That’s when he is usually out in the fields checking his customers’ crops.
The BCT Gin manager says the gin is committed to having an effective relationship with its customers. Bullard’s job as a consultant gives him a rare opportunity to help the Rountrees’ cotton during the growing season and later at the gin.
“Clint, Luke and Chip are serious farmers who are open minded and have good ideas,” says Bullard. “They aren’t afraid of technology and are motivated to deliver a high-quality crop.”
The friendship is a mutual one for all parties. Clint says it’s obvious that Bullard is committed to doing whatever it takes to help the Rountrees’ cotton production.
“I can call Steve just about anytime, and he’ll make a quick trip to our farm if we have a question on anything,” he says. “It’s definitely a special relationship.”