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Pushing Cotton to the Limit With Pivot Irrigation

Pushing Cotton to the Limit With Pivot Irrigation

Missouri cotton grower Alan Jones makes maximum use of pivot irrigation to boost yields, reduce labor costs and improve soil fertility on his 3,800-acre (1,538 ha) cotton farm.

“Cotton prices have generally been good recently and we are seeing more pivots going up in our area,” Jones says.

Jones farms in partnership with his father-in-law, Charles Parker, near Senath in the “bootheel” of southeast Missouri. Parker and Jones Farms has been raising cotton on cotton for many years and continues to see increased yields thanks to pivot irrigation and the latest cotton varieties and agronomic practices.

“With pivot irrigation, our goal is to keep the cotton plant going 100 percent, especially through fruiting and boll fill. Depending on how dry it is, we will start irrigating at planting time and continue watering until the cotton bolls open. Our goal is not to stress the cotton plant and to keep the soil fertility just right.”

Cotton Drought-Tolerant

According to Lindsay’s Blake Onken, PhD, CPSS, effective water management is important at each stage of cotton growth.

“Cotton is considered a drought-tolerant crop, yet it responds well to sufficient water,” Onken says. “Water stress at any stage of growth will have a particular impact on plant growth and development, which will ultimately translate to decreased fiber quality and lower yields.”

During peak growth stages, Jones will run his pivots on the cotton two to three complete circles per week, and apply .75 to 1 inch (1.9-2.54 cm) of water per circle.

Labor Savings

“Pivot irrigation is more timely. When we are ready to water our cotton, we just turn it on. It has been a big labor savings for us,” Jones says. “With the pivots, we can water right now and don’t have to lay out pipe like furrow irrigation.”

During the 2010 growing season – a dry year for his area – Jones’ irrigated cotton out-yielded his dryland cotton by nearly a bale per acre. Each bale contains 500 pounds (227 kg) of cotton lint.

Most of his pivots have drop nozzles on them so the water is applied close to the soil surface to minimize evaporation.

This past fall, Jones even used his pivots after the cotton was harvested. That’s because the topsoil was so dry that fall tillage couldn’t be done properly. After adding moisture to the soil with his pivots, he was able to properly prepare the soil bed for the next year’s crop and for planting wheat as a cover crop.

Jones is now experimenting with applying fertilizer to his cotton crop via his pivot.

In addition to several other Zimmatic pivots, Jones recently purchased a MAXfield Custom corner system from his local Zimmatic dealer, Mike Cain, owner of C & C Irrigation, Osceola, Ark.

“The MAXfield Custom is on an irregular shaped field and allowed us to put an additional 35 cotton acres (14 ha) into irrigated production,” he says. “It’s been very reliable.”

Cotton Gin

Jones and several other local farmers are owners of a cotton gin which they use to gin their cotton and that of several other neighbors – about 70,000 to 80,000 bales annually. The ginned cotton is sold to a broker and eventually used to make cotton products worldwide.

Visit our Zimmatic literature page for more on irrigation and cotton productivity.