The differences in farming practices were obvious but the goals were the same for the four cotton producers sitting on the innovative grower panel this year at the Beltwide Cotton Production Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Lemoore, Calif., producer Ted Sheely joined Salemburg, N. C., producer Kent Fann; Belzoni, Miss., grower Willard Jack and Texas Coastal Bend grower Danny May of Port Lavaca, Texas on the panel of producers who are using innovative techniques to improve yields and cut costs.

The topics covered innovative minimum tillage and labor cost reducing irrigation practices to Sheely's high tech remote sensing/variable rate research and development that is producing incredible results.

Sheely, a previous High Cotton award winner, farms 6,000 acres of cotton, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, wheat and pistachios in Kings County, Calif. His farm has become a massive precision ag research trial as part of a NASA program called Ag 20/20.

The goal of a wide array of projects is to use remote sensing and variable rate application techniques to reduce costs by 20 percent and increase yields by 20 percent.

Aerially maps

He aerially maps his fields, using imagery to evaluate saline conditions, nitrogen levels and other variables across fields. He then uses variable rate technology to match application rates with those differences across fields for everything from seeding to gypsum and nitrogen application rates across the field.

And, he has enjoyed considerable success, reducing overall gypsum costs 20 to 30 percent by using variable rate rather than broadcasting the same amount across the entire field.

He used variable rate cotton seeding, planting 10, 15 and 18 pounds of seeds per acre based on the saline levels in the field rather than his normal 15-pounds-fits-all seeding rate. By putting more seed in the higher saline areas and less seed in better soil conditions, he averaged an overall yield increase of 89 pounds per acre.

Perhaps Sheely's most dramatic result was with variable rate anhydrous ammonia application technology. By measuring residual nitrogen in all areas of a 152-acre field and applying nitrogen only where needed, he saved 50 percent on his nitrogen cost — more than $3,000 — for that one field.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com