Get to Know Our 2022 Thriving in Cotton Farmers


January 2022 – Louis Heckmann

Hardy Variety Exceeds Expectations In 2021

Texas farmers Louis Heckmann and his wife, Debbie, pose in one of their fields of PhytoGen® brand PHY 400 W3FE.

Texas farmers Louis Heckmann and his wife, Debbie, pose in one of their fields of PhytoGen® brand PHY 400 W3FE.

Louis Heckmann and his wife, Debbie, farm 1,100 acres of dryland cotton they rotate with corn and milo in Fort Bend County, Texas.

Historically, they grew a high-yielding competitive variety, but in 2020 they decided to try PhytoGen® brand PHY 400 W3FE.

“We thought PHY 400 W3FE was good enough to compete yield wise with the other high-yielding variety we had grown for years, and we were right,” he says. “We made a good decision in changing over.”

Louis says PHY 400 W3FE has good vigor, a strong root system, bacterial blight resistance, WideStrike® 3 Insect Protection, and the Enlist® weed control system to fight resistant waterhemp.

“Our cotton is managed for 3.5 bales per acre, which is now a possibility in the Texas Upper Gulf Coast region with the newvarieties when the weather is right. In 2020, our average yield was3.25 bales per acre.

“We need rain because we are dryland, and the varieties we have now will stack a lot of fruit quickly. You must have nutrients available relatively early compared to the older varieties.”

PHY 400 W3FE Thrives Despite Bad Weather

In 2021, Mother Nature stepped up and threw a curve ball, starting with excessive rain in May.

“Our cotton started off dry,” Louis says. “Then the rain began after we had some of the crop set on the bottom, so a lot of the bottom crop had boll rot. We started trying to regrow the cotton to make more fruit. This was difficult to do because it was raining in the flowers. When this happens, cotton sometimes is not able to pollinate, so it sheds that piece of fruit.

“With more than a month of rain, we ended up growing a top crop and a crop farther out on the limbs of the plant. That’s where most of our yield came from in 2021.”

And after a long, drawn-out growing season with a lot ofwater on heavy ground that doesn’t drain well, more nitrogen was needed. The nitrogen just wasn’t available.

“We had to sidedress most of our cotton twice with nitrogen,” Louis says. “We had never done that before. But PHY 400 W3FE responded well to the added nitrogen and kept putting on fruit. It was like the plant didn’t want to quit. Because we’ve had years like this in the past, that’s what I look for in a variety — one that will come back and put on more fruit if it has enough nutrients.”

In mid-September, Hurricane Nicholas came through followed by a front that produced strong northern winds.

“PHY 400 W3FE stayed in the burr well even though the hurricane loosened up the cotton,” Louis says.

“We had a really good crop last year, even though we lost some of it to the hurricane. With all the early rains and the late season storm, our average yield was still 2.75 bales per acre.”

Outstanding Fiber Quality Package

Although high mic is common in this area because of rain, heat, boll load and fertility, Louis says he has seen very little high mic withPHY 400 W3FE.

“We also have to plant varieties with good staple length,” he says. “Long, cotton buyers come looking for you. Short, they won’t look at you.”

And even though PHY 400 W3FE got hit with its share ofadverse weather, Louis says about 75% of their cotton waspremium grade.

“PhytoGen has some of the top varieties out there,” he says. “The breeding has gotten so much better. Right now, our best bet is to grow PHY 400 W3FE.

“We also are interested in trying PHY 411 W3FE that was just released for 2022. It’s supposed to yield even better thanPHY 400 W3FE and has the same package as PHY 332 W3FE with both root-knot and reniform resistance.”

A True Family Farm

Louis and Debbie have been married 36 years and have four grown kids and two “grands.” Debbie, son Louis Jr. and daughters Kaley and Heather are actively involved in the family farming operation. The daughters scout cotton in-season and Louis Jr. is a full-time employee. Everyone pitches in to keep the family and crews well fed during harvest.

February 2022 – Walt Corcoran

Alabama Family Farm Sets High Standards For Success

In Barbour County, Alabama, Walt Corcoran (left) and his son-in-law, Cody Young, grow cotton, peanuts and corn.

Walt Corcoran grows cotton, peanuts and corn with his son-in-law, Cody Young, at Liikatchka Plantation near Eufaula, Alabama. The Barbour County operation is a family farm that not only nurtures the crops but also the people who appreciate the lifestyle it provides.

“My daddy, Sonny Corcoran, moved here when he was 13, and I grew up scouting cotton and working with him on the farm,” Corcoran says. “After graduating from Auburn University with a degree in agronomy, I came back in 1983 and have been farming here ever since. Today, Liikatchka Plantation operates as a family partnership.”

Young came on board a few years after he married Corcoran’s daughter and says he enjoys the diversity each new day brings.

“Farming changes all the time, so you have to love it, or you will get left behind,” Young says. “It’s as simple as that.”

Well-Rounded Variety Choices

In 2021, several PhytoGen® brand varieties made up the roster for the farm’s 3,000 acres of mostly dryland cotton.
All the PhytoGen W3FE varieties are resistant to bacterial blight and have WideStrike® 3 Insect Protection. They also are tolerant to Enlist® herbicides, glufosinate and glyphosate for flexible, effective weed control options. 

“When choosing varieties, we are looking for yield and quality,” Corcoran says. “We also look at the way a variety comes up and the way it grows.

“We’ve hardly had to replant anything in the past several years since we’ve been growing PhytoGen. We like PhytoGen’s early season vigor. If you don’t have that, you are not going to have the yields. It’s all tied together.”

In fields where Corcoran and Young have high levels of root-knot nematode, they grew PhytoGen varieties with root-knot nematode resistance.

“The technology worked really well in those bad nematode fields,” Corcoran says.

PHY 411 W3FE Advances In 2022

As PhytoGen Horizon Network collaborators, Corcoran and Young trialed the new PHY 411 W3FE in 2021. The widely
adapted, mid-season variety is commercially available for
the 2022 season. It features PhytoGen Breeding Traits for
bacterial blight resistance and both root-knot nematode and reniform nematode resistance.

“PHY 411 W3FE grew well, had good vigor and didn’t give up,” Young says. “We had a little spell of boll rot during the season, and this variety didn’t seem to be affected by it too much. I like that about it. PHY 411 W3FE yielded well, and the quality appeared to be good although I don’t have all the bale data back yet.”

Enlist Weed Control System

Corcoran and Young were early adopters of the Enlist weed control system and have successfully used it for several years. 

“The main thing we like about the Enlist system is how well it fits with our peanut crop,” Corcoran says. “We don’t have to worry about cross contamination on our cotton crop from the 2,4-DB herbicides sprayed on peanuts, and Enlist is easy to wash out of the tank.”

Young says pigweed is the primary pest they target with the Enlist system.

“We make an Enlist application with the hi-boy when the weeds are less than four inches high, and then follow up a week to 10 days later with an application of glufosinate, which is a contact herbicide,” Young says.

A Plan For The Future

Corcoran and Young say they like to plant several cotton varieties to avoid putting “all of their eggs in one basket.”

“Four hundred acres is the max we will plant to a new variety,” Young says. “If it does well, we can expand those acres the next year. This year, we will grow PHY 580 W3FE, PHY 411 W3FE, PHY 390 W3FE and some PHY 443 W3FE.”

Both men agree it’s important to make the farm better for the next generation. 

“That’s what it’s all about,” Corcoran says. “We want to be profitable so the family can continue to have this way of life.”

March 2022 – Stacy Smith

Farming For The Future In West Texas

Stacy Smith primarily farms cotton in Lynn County, Texas, where he says PhytoGen® W3FE varieties provide what he needs to thrive in West Texas.

My grandfather, Will Harris, originally farmed cotton in East Texas,” says West Texas cotton producer Stacy Smith. “He eventually moved to the New Home, Texas, area and farmed the land I live on today. After receiving a marketing degree from Texas Tech University, I had the opportunity to come home and farm on my own. Also, my father-in-law is from a multi-generational farm family. After he retired, I had the privilege of stepping into his operation that furthered mine.” 

Today, Smith and his wife operate as S&A Smith Farms in Lynn County, Texas. They primarily grow cotton but also raise grain sorghum, corn and wheat. The cotton acres are about 50-50 dryland to irrigated.

Variety Selection Includes The ‘Entire Package’

In 2021, they planted PhytoGen® brand varieties that included PHY 332 W3FE and PHY 443 W3FE. This season, the West Texas farmer says he will plant these same two varieties and also is considering the new PHY 411 W3FE.

“When making variety choices, I look at the benefits of the entire package,” Smith says. “Vigor is very important, especially in West Texas. We need a strong, early start to endure some of the weather conditions we have at that time of year.

“The biggest challenge in my area is reniform nematode, so I am looking for reniform resistance in a variety. This trait allows me to continue growing cotton in upcoming years and reduce my nematode populations, too.

“I strongly believe in crop rotation for soil health. But on some of our drip irrigated fields, reniform-resistant varieties allow me to plant cotton in successive years.”

Smith says the PhytoGen team helps with his variety choices at the beginning of the season, and they also follow up with him throughout the year to answer questions and provide tips for maximum production.

“The PhytoGen team follows up with me multiple times during the season. It’s encouraging that they come walk the fields with me. We’ll also check on the test plot. They care about how the new varieties perform on my farm.”

Sustainability And The Benefits Of Science

In terms of sustainability, Smith says farmers want to make their farms better and preserve the land for future generations. The key to solving some of the issues that he faces today is the new traits and the science behind them that allows cotton farmers to go forward, he adds.

“On my operation, for example, the primary focus has been the reniform nematode, and PhytoGen was on the forefront of that,” Smith says. “The bacterial blight resistance, root-knot nematode resistance and Verticillium wilt tolerance are also important. I can’t stress enough the science that is behind all this. Because of the traits in the PhytoGen varieties, I have acres that will continue to be in cotton that otherwise would have gone to other crops.”

Water availability is another concern in West Texas. Farmers depend on rainfall for their dryland acres and source their irrigation water from the Ogallala Aquifer and private wells. 

“We are becoming more efficient with our water in the best ways we can,” Smith says. “It’s important in West Texas to consider how we can go forward with the irrigation water that we have.”

Looking To The Future

When asked what keeps him motivated every day, Smith says farming is his passion. 

“The key is to love farming enough to do it for free during a devasting year and then look forward to doing it again,” he says. “I believe American farmers are doing everything they can to keep the land available and sustainable for the children who want to do it as well.”

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