- A plaque in the kitchen of Johnny Little’s boyhood home succinctly states his father’s formula for cotton production: “Pray for a good harvest — but continue to hoe.”
JOHNNY LITTLE enjoys producing cotton, but it’s getting tougher with high input costs and low cotton prices relative to grains.
Stewardship is synonymous with efficiency on the Little farm, and there’s no better example of this relationship than his commitment to no-till. The practice was first adopted10 years ago, and it has proven to reduce labor requirements significantly while enriching the soil’s tilth.
“Back when Dad was in his prime, we had 11 tractors out here, and we were breaking up the ground and making it look like a garden,” Little says. “Keeping that many people as a labor force is just about impossible these days, which is one reason we went no till and 12-row equipment. That’s why Josh and I are able to keep doing what we’re doing.”
The change to no-till did result in the usual generational gap, he says. “Dad called it ‘ugly farming’. Even when he passed away, I think his mind still wasn’t changed. His favorite question was, ‘You aren’t going to do it that way, are you Johnny?’ He understood the situation — but he loved digging in the dirt.”
Little sees something of the same generational gap between him and Coffman, who at 32, has been quick to catch on to precision agriculture systems. With Coffman’s help, Little has added GPS guidance on all tractors and yield monitors on his combine and cotton picker, and they’ve seen the benefits.
GPS and computer software have led to increased efficiency with the adoption of variable-rate fertilizer applications, a practice started two years ago.
“It has showed us some things,” Little says. “We found that we could really save on lime. Instead of making a blanket application, we can put it in spots where we really need it, and cut back in some of the other places. It has been a real money-saver for us.”
He also makes variable-rate potassium and phosphorus applications with the help of Crop Production Services at Grenada, Miss. “Bill Bailey is my CPS representative,” he says. “We have a good relationship, going back about 25 years.”
Last year, CPS grid sampled the farm and wrote variable-rate prescriptions, which Little applied. This fall, CPS will run a Veris rig (soil electrical conductivity mapping cart), at an initial cost of $10.50 per acre, to establish management zones.
“We’ll know exactly how much we’ve mined out of the soil, so we'll know how much to put back in,” he says.
He believes the best benefit of variable rate versus blanket applications is the ability to increase productivity on his best soil types, rather than pushing yield on tougher ground.