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Improve soil health, weed management

SHELLEY HEINRICH SLATON, TEXAS

By Shelley Heinrich
Slaton, Texas

In June of this year, Dr. Gaylon Morgan joined the Agricultural & Environment Research Division at Cotton Incorporated. His area of expertise includes weed management, soil health, nutrient research and producer outreach. The addition of Morgan’s knowledge and experience is a win for U.S. cotton producers as weed pressure is an ever-present concern and future herbicide options are uncertain.

Before joining Cotton Incorporated, Morgan was a professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. He has a master of science in agronomy from Texas A&M and holds a doctorate of philosophy in horticulture/plant pathology from the University of Wisconsin.

Texas producers know him well as their former state Extension cotton specialist. While he will often have his boots in Texas soil in his new role, Morgan will expand his depth and breadth of knowledge to support cotton producers across the Cotton Belt. He will also manage the State Support Committees for Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

I had the privilege of traveling for four days through Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas with Morgan as he was starting his new position. We talked a lot about farming. Looking forward to the 2020 crop year, Morgan provided information on what cotton producers can focus on to address soil health and weed management.

ROI And Nitrogen

Managing soil to provide the best return on investment is critical for short-term and long-term financial sustainability. Morgan says the best method for determining available soil nutrients is through sampling and analysis.

“Unpredictable weather over the years has caused highly variable crop yields,” he says. “It is critical for producers to understand the soil nutrient levels in their fields to maximize ROI. Nitrogen is one of the biggest expenses, and yet it is very common for applied nitrogen to exceed the actual nitrogen needs of the cotton or rotational crop.

“Prior research across Texas and the Cotton Belt showed the application of nitrogen (40-120 pounds per acre) did not increase yields at over half of the locations.* Cotton is a perennial plant and is really good at reallocating nutrients from the leaves to the fruit at the end of the season.

As a result, excessively green cotton plants at the end of the season mean too much money was spent on nitrogen and additional money will likely need to be spent on harvest-aid and regrowth suppression.”

Residue And Tillage

gaylon morgan

Dr. Gaylon Morgan

Another soil management approach recommended by Morgan is increasing crop residue with reduced post-harvest tillage and the use of cover crops. Both practices are complex and depend on soil type, machinery and growers’ production practices.

However, the many benefits to increasing surface residue include protecting young cotton seedlings in the spring, improving soil water infiltration, reducing soil water loss and possibly suppressing weeds.

Still, changing to higher residue systems could present some challenges. “Before diving into the higher residue systems, please seek advice from fellow successful farmers, read and watch videos on this topic, and attend conferences focused on reduced tillage and cover crop systems,” Morgan says.

Weed Management

Weeds continue to be one of the biggest challenges and economic threats in cotton. However, with the quick development of herbicide resistance, Morgan says he believes we cannot afford to be complacent or become overly dependent on single herbicides. We must use multiple herbicides with different modes of action to extend the life of these technologies.

“In diseases and insects, we are constantly talking about breaking the life cycle of these pests,” he says. “However, we typically do not apply the same concept to weeds. Late-season weed management is critically important.

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“In many cases, any weeds still in the field late season have survived multiple herbicide applications. They are the most likely to be resistant to herbicides and contribute to herbicide-resistant seeds in fields. In this situation, destroying those weeds before they can produce more seeds can be a great investment for a producer’s bottom line.”

Source For More Information

As you look forward to the 2020 crop year, opportunities and decisions such as cover crops, nitrogen and weeds can be vast and overwhelming. Cotton Incorporated and its experts, such as Morgan, invest in production research on your behalf to guide your production decisions.

Check out the website — https://cottoncultivated.cottoninc.com — for topics and research. You’ll be amazed at the research and information available on production practices throughout the season.

As we say around our place, “Make good decisions,” and I’ll see you in the field!

Shelley Heinrich is the Cotton Board Southern Plains regional communication manager. Contact her via email at sheinrich@cottonboard.org