Central Alabama Soil Quality Improvement for Cotton Growers
The utilization and late termination (burndown) of small grain (wheat) cover crops did not influence plant density (plants/row foot) and only slightly increased cotton lint yields in a severe drought at planting and fruiting seasons.
The paratill did break the traffic pans under the row and those treatments did exhibit a taller and larger plant throughout the growing season, however only a slight yield advantage was recorded at harvest.
More on farm testing is needed to document the value of these conservation tillage practices.
Approximately 80% of the cotton acres in Autauga, Chilton and Elmore Counties, which I serve as a multi-county agronomy extension agent have switched from conventional to conservation tillage in the past 5 years. New conservation tillage acres are being added each year by growers. A 2001 survey with 68 fields sampled from these counties showed that 62% of the fields have hard (traffic) pans in the top 12 inches of the soil profile. Only 15% of the fields surveyed had winter cover crops and the organic matter in the top 2 inches of the soil is only .6 of 1% and 55% of the samples had organic matter contents of .4% of 1% or less. When winter cover crops are utilized, they are “burned down” before they are mature enough to provide adequate mulch and carbon for improvement with organic matter and moisture retention benefits.
Cotton farmers with conservation tillage have been afraid of delaying cover crop termination due to affording the vegetation more opportunity to compete with the cotton germination and seedlings. There was no significant difference in stand density when measured as plants/row foot and the skip index for the fallow, cover crop early kill and cover crop late killed. Organic matter increased from approximately 10-30% in the cover crop late killed versus the early killed cover crop and fallow treatments measured after harvest.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Conservation Tillage is established in Central Alabama with 85 plus % adoption. Research with our on-farm survey has shown a need for improved organic matter, moisture retention and yield enhancement for profitability and conservation that will have also have Farm Bill payment opportunities and compliance.
The test reports were given to cotton growers at the Central Alabama Cotton Workshop in January. These tests will support management changes with conservation tillage locally. At least one or more year’s test results are needed with a “good” growing season included to better represent these practices.
686 Gannt Road
Deatsville, AL 36022
Office Phone: 3345693323
502 Co Rd 133
Autaugaville, AL 36003
Office Phone: 3343651393
Verbena, AL 36091
Office Phone: 2057558193