Farming in the hill country of Mississippi presents its own challenges, but Delta winner Coley Bailey Jr., has met those and more. Bailey has shown that you can combine efficiency and a conservation ethic to make cotton work in what many would consider not to be an ideal environment for cotton.

Bailey farms 3,350 acres of cotton with his father, Coley Bailey Sr., in Yalobusha and Grenada counties in central Mississippi. With farmland spread over two counties, reducing picking and handling time is more than just an idle objective.

During harvest, the Bailey’s work to keep picker dumps at a minute or less and to make sure equipment never sits idle for more than a few minutes. The attention to detail helps them to tarp up to 24 cotton modules a day with three pickers, three boll buggies and two module builders.

Because they, like most farmers in the hill country, have little irrigation, they try to make use of every drop of moisture that falls their way. Over the years, Bailey has used a combination of no-till farming, wheat cover crops and other conservation measures to conserve moisture.

Bailey is also taking steps to try to keep herbicide resistance at bay, adding different herbicides and herbicide modes of action to his weed management system. He and his father are also not opposed to using cold steel to remove weeds when necessary.

Southwest Region — Shawn Holladay, Lamesa, Texas

Southwest winner Shawn Holladay has faced a number of challenges during his farming career, but none compare to that posed by the record heat and drought Holladay and other Texas and Oklahoma growers experienced in 2011.

Even with the worst growing conditions most growers have ever seen Holladay’s commitment to stay with his production plan and to keep his land worked and ready to make a crop at all times never wavered.

“Farming tests your will at times,” says Holladay, who received only three-fourths of an inch of rain in 2011. “That’s all the rain we had for the entire season. About half our acreage finished the year without any measurable rainfall.”

Water conservation and irrigation efficiency were sorely tested. With limited rainfall, irrigation provides supplemental water to Southern Plains cotton producers and last year they relied on irrigation for virtually every drop of water the crop got.

Holladay plants mostly reduced-tillage cotton. “It’s an evolving program,” he says. “We have to till at some point, because of pivot tracks and other issues. We never stay with no-till for more than four years.”

His goal is a cropping system that provides organic matter, but doesn’t use a lot of water. Managing cover crops has become more difficult as the need for cover crops and the need to conserve water compete.