JEFFREY KITTEN AND HIS THREE BROTHERS EMPLOY NO TILL TO REDUCE SAND FIGHTING & CONTROL WEEDS.
“There’s probably about $9,000 dollars worth of cotton seed in those boxes,” Jeffrey Kitten says as he’s loading cotton seed into his planter.
“Well, now it’s closer to $10,000” as he and his hand put the covers back on the seed planter boxes.
I stand back and watch them unfold the wings on their planter, a new Case IH 16 row planter they recently purchased.
“This is the first time I’ve used this planter and so far, it’s working pretty good. I was a little nervous switching to a red planter but I felt like it was a better option for our farms,” he says watching his hand begin planting.
The Kittens plant 100% of their farm in cotton. If it gets hailed or washed out, they’ll come back and plant another crop like sorghum or corn but their primary focus is growing high quality cotton.
The Kitten’s farm is sixty percent irrigated land and about two-thirds of that irrigation comes in the form of sub-surface drip. The remaining irrigated land is all under pivots.
Every acre of the Kitten’s farm is no-till farm land. I stand back and watch his farm hand turn the green JD tractor around to make another pass. It’s a process they began three years ago with a plan to cut tractor hours and fuel.
By no-tilling their farms, they also remove sandfighting which, “can drive a person mad,” Jeffrey exclaims. “We’d try and get out there and fight the blowing sand and with so much acreage, it just didn’t work. Sometimes it would be too wet to get in the field or we’d really need to be on a sprayer instead of sandfighting, we just felt like this would be a better way for us to go.”
In order for the Kittens to go to no-till land, they had to make a few changes on the farm.
After harvest every year, they “sling” wheat in the field in front of a tractor and allow the wheat to grow all winter. At the beginning of March, they’ll spray a herbicide to kill the wheat before the plant begins to head out. The wheat, which uses very little nutrients before boot, will act as a form of wind protection to prevent the tiny cotton plants from being damaged by the blowing sand.
“It doesn’t look like much cover out there,” he explains of the dead brown wheat in his field. “But that’s just enough cover to protect those tiny cotton plants when they are the most vulnerable in the Spring.”
Now that the Kitten’s aren’t sandfighting these days, they can spend more time on the sprayer, tackling weeds when they are small. As any farmer knows, timing is everything in effective weed control.
He and his brothers spray Liberty on their fields during the growing season as their primary form of weed control. “Liberty in the past was pretty expensive, but this last year, the price has gone down quite a bit. It’s a lot more affordable and works really well when applied correctly.”
Jeffrey said the only way to make Liberty work is to hit those weeds when they are small. Small plants are easy to kill but those bigger plants become a challenge.
“Sometimes, we’ll spray Liberty twice in a month, to eliminate small weeds and come back in a few weeks and get the ones that sprouted up later on,” he says. His primary goal is to be 100% weed free and by eliminating sand fighting, he can focus all of his efforts on weed control.
By no-tilling their land, they are also creating a field full or organic matter. “I could take a shovel to that ground right there,” as Jeffrey points to a specific part of the field, “and pull out a dozen earthworms. If I put a disc in the ground, I’d ruin the health of that soil. Tillage just destroys the soil.”
In addition to the decomposing wheat and cotton stalks in their fields, each year, they purchase composted cattle manure and will spread it out over their fields.
They usually put out about 3000lbs to the acre which is organically, a fertilizer mix of 30/30/30. They even buy some manure from a dairy just down the road and will apply some of it to their fields as well.
With cotton prices at an all time low, their goal is to produce the highest quality cotton in hopes of receiving the best possible price when it’s ginned. And by removing sand fighting, they reduce hours on a tractor and reduce their fuel bill as well.