When it is all added up, double-row cotton acreage could easily total 5,000 acres or more in California and Arizona this season. It was seeded in every cotton-producing area in both states under almost ideal conditions — some of the best planting weather in recent years.
There are at least 17 Arizona farmers growing cotton planted two-rows per bed, and probably 20 or more California producers are trying it, many for the first time. That is a clear sign that farmers are hoping to accomplish what Northern San Joaquin Valley producer Daniel Burns of Dos Palos, Calif., and University of California Cotton Farm Advisor Bill Weir in Merced County have: reduced growing costs of $25 to $70 per acre and yield increases averaging 10 percent.
The concept is going by many names: California ultra narrow-row; twin-row cotton; double row 30-inch cotton, and double seed line cotton.
Regardless of what it's called, the idea is the same; plant a pair of cotton rows roughly 7.5 inches apart on 30-inch cotton beds, thereby increasing plant populations and getting more cotton.
The concept is not unlike ultra narrow-row (UNR) flat planted in seven to 10-inch seed rows tried elsewhere in the U.S. Cotton Belt with one big difference. In the West, twin-row cotton is spindle picked where UNR elsewhere is typically stripper picked.
The big breakthrough in getting Western farmers to try the twin-row cotton was the introduction of precision planters to singulate seed. One brand is Monoseem, which is what Burns tried and liked last year. He used it to plant 500 aces this year at his San Juan Ranch operation and more than 100 acres for other growers in his area. He had calls to truck it to the Sacramento Valley where one grower wanted to plant 200 acres of double row 30-inch cotton.
University of Arizona Crops Advisor Steve Husman used a Monsoseem to plant the 17 trials in Arizona, which totaled about 600 acres. This included growers who used the planter to seed more than Husman's trial plots on their farms.
Planters from another Midwest company, Great Plains Manufacturing, Salina, Kan., were used for the first time in California this season to plant twin-row cotton and corn. Before those metered planters arrived in California, the only way to plant California UNR was with offset plate planters on a tool bar.
Great Plains introduced its metered precision planting systems to California at World Ag Expo in February in Tulare, and Bruce Shannon, Great Plains territory manager based in Visalia, Calif., said “frankly, we were overwhelmed and not prepared for the response we received.”
Burns and Weir's success with double-row cotton fueled the interest, according to Shannon, and it was bolstered by corn growers who wanted to grow twin-row silage and grain corn to increase yields.
Great Plains demonstrated three planters this spring in California, and Great Plains sales manager estimated they planted about 2,000 acres of cotton.
One grower to try the precision planter that looks like a grain drill was Gil Replogle who farms near Visalia, Calif. The young producer is a cooperator with University of California farm advisor for Tulare County, Steve Wright. Replogle has recorded a significant yield increase in going from 38- to 30-inch cotton and wanted to take it a step farther planting, two rows on a 30-inch bed.
Wright said a varietal switch to Phytogen 72 was a factor in Replogle picking up almost a bale per acre from 38- to 30-inch cotton, but more aggressive Pix management and the 30-inch rows also contributed.
“I wanted to work with Steve and Bob Hutmacher (UC state cotton specialist) in looking at this twin row cotton,” he said. Hutmacher coordinated twin-row trials throughout the valley.
Itching to plant
“It became very hectic because weather conditions were ideal early for planting and everyone wanted to plant now,” said Hutmacher. “The planters were about a week late getting to California.”
Replogle will farm about 600 acres of cotton this season and virtually all of it will be Phytogen 72, including an extensive twin-row plant population trial Wright planted where he also will test an array of Pix applications.
This is significant because most of the work Burns and Weir have done has been with herbicide-resistant cotton.
“If this twin-row cotton system is going to work, it has to work with high-yielding, non-herbicide resistant varieties,” said Wright.
Replogle doesn't expect that to be a major challenge because his fields are already clean due to his aggressive weed management program. This is despite the fact that dairy manure is spread on most of the ground he rents each year.
He uses Treflan and Caparol at planting and can come back with another shot of Caparol at layby. “We also have Staple and the overtop grass herbicides if we need them,” said Wright.
And with more plants in 30-inch rows, the cotton will close over the rows quicker and shade out weeds.
More per acre
Replogle is not expecting to save money with twin-row cotton. “I will spend more for nitrogen and Pix because there are more plants, and I don't think my weed management bill will be any less,” he said. He is pinning his hopes on getting more cotton per acre to not only cover his costs, but to increase profit.
In Husman's trials, he let cooperating producers select seed varieties and many chose non-herbicide-resistant types. “With over-the-top herbicides like Staple, growers believe they can avoid the (herbicide-resistant) tech fee and still get good weed control,” he said.
And, as Husman expected, many growers selected varieties with high micronaire tendencies but high yield potential. Husman found in tests last year that high plant populations reduced micronaire readings drop.
“I am excited about what we have planted. We are off to one of our earliest starts ever in Arizona, and these trials should yield some good information,” he said. Husman is not managing the cotton, but allowing growers to use systems they normally employ.
“I am fully expecting a mixed bag. We will have bad stands and other problems. There will be a shakeout from all the trials we planted. However, it will definitely be a good commercial test of double row cotton under a variety of conditions,” Husman said.