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  Blog Archives  04/08/21 9:17:35 AM

Burndown Now or Wait?

Sunny and warm weather through Thursday will provide us with a good run at getting some burndown applied on cotton land.  It is not urgent at this point as we are three weeks away from the beginning of a late April planting window and 4 weeks away from Early May.  All options are outside the herbicide waiting periods so you can spray anything you want this week.

Roundup Equivalency Rates & Formulations
Roundup Original - 32 to 48 ounces
PowerMax 2        - 22 to 32 ounces
PowerMax 3         - 20 to 30 ounces

Waiting Periods
By next week, we will need to pay a little bit more attention.  Here are a few reminders on the waiting periods:

  • 2,4-D has a 3-week waiting period representing the longest waiting period for varieties that are not tolerant to 2,4-D. (Enlist varieties by Phytogen are tolerant and there is no waiting period with 2,4-D for Enlist.)
  • Dicamba’s waiting period is about a week less than 2,4-D for varieties that are not tolerant to dicamba.  (Xtend varieties are tolerant to dicamba and have no waiting period for planting.
  • Valor has a 10-day waiting period for strip-till/planting, but for no-till, you need more time and rainfall on all varieties.
  • NON-Auxin varieties are ST4550 & ST5471
 Using these rules, you can calculate that spraying 2,4-D next week would prevent any April planting of varieties except for Enlist, while you could use dicamba next week and still be safe for all varieties planting the end of April.
My personal preference is to leave green cover on the ground until closer to planting when possible.  This takes more management but leaves more protection for sandblasting after emergence.  We also need to use either dicamba or 2,4-D in the burndown.  This leaves us 3 options:
  1. Use 2 trips.  Spray (2,4-D or dicamba plus Valor) now when you have a waiting period to deal with.  Then come back with roundup to kill the small grain cover closer to planting.
  2. Just wait till closer to planting and match up the variety to the auxin for a once over trip.  If you get withing 10 days of planting, you cannot use Valor with this strategy.
  3. Just use one trip and spray early enough to meet all waiting periods.  You will not have any herbicide concerns, but there will not be much cover if it we have a lot of blowing conditions after emergence.

In-Furrow & Seed Treatment Review.

Dr. Sally Taylor put in a good reminder for us on her blog about how the formulation for Velum has changed this year.  Basically, Velum used to have premixed imidacloprid (AdmirePro) in it called Velum Total and controlled nematodes and thrips.  The new formulation is just Velum as a single ingredient, and we will have to add imidacloprid to the tank for thrips (i.e., Velum is not a stand-alone product).  This is a good thing for me because it did not have quite enough imidacloprid to give us the 9.2 ounces for Cotton.  More farmers are also adding AgLogic back to their program and some of the companies offer us a 2-Way seed treatment as well as Base and 3-way.  5 years ago, everybody just used 3-Way treated seed on every acre, but now there are at least 6 different programs that make sense.  I thought I would summarize how I see putting these options together, hopefully to remove some confusion.
There are 3 options to consider when ordering seed.

  • 3-Way ($85-$100/bag) is the most popular for folks who use nothing else in furrow.  This offers fungicide, insecticide, and a low performance nematicide. (in-furrow nematicides are high performance)
  • 2-Way ($35-$40/bag) or Standard has been offered by Deltapine for 2 years and is catching on for folks who do not find a benefit from using the weak low effective nematicide or have nematode genes in their variety.  There is a little room for research on this $10/acre decision.  Retail outlets that treat seed locally can also make a 2-way treatment for any manufacturer.
  • 1-way ($0) or Base seed is only treated with fungicide.  It is what we used to use back in the day with Temik and works well for folks using in-furrow liquid or AgLogic.
A couple of questions could be:
  • What is the best program?  I think the best was Temik and now is AgLogic on base seed.  Lasts longest, best on thrips and nematodes, better cotton grow-off, higher yield and probably won’t need any Orthene so your first spray will be driven by weed control.  A close second is in-furrow imidacloprid with Velum as an optional addition. Also 3-way treated with timely Orthene will be a close second.
  • Should I still use treated seed if I am using imidacloprid in furrow?  In my opinion, imidacloprid in furrow on base seed is better than seed treatment only because it lasts longer.  If I had not ordered seed yet, I would be comfortable with base seed and save some money for Velum if I had a nematode concern.  If I had treated seed already, I would use in-furrow imidacloprid if I thought I might have trouble getting back with Orthene at 1st true leaf.
  • If I only have one set of tanks, would starter fertilizer be better or in-furrow liquid?  I would call this a coin toss; they both help with healthy grow off and can have a beneficial impact often and yield advantage sometimes.

Burndown Blog.  Much more flexibility.

The forecast this week calls for some rain again, although, we seem to be moving into more typical weather for the time of year.  After some rain on Tuesday and again at the end of the week, we are supposed to see a good week next week to continue to get those winter and early spring jobs caught up.  I think the first thing we are going to face that might be changing a little bit will be how we tie in burndown programs and preemergence programs for managing weeds.  One rule that we have for cotton is to start clean, meaning that you do not want any living (uncontrollable) weeds in the field prior to cotton emergence.  What has changed is the auxin technology on our seed offers us the opportunity to delay or eliminate some of the more aggressive burndown programs that we used to do such as splitting burndown trips to get the resistant horse weed early with 2,4-D along with using a high rate of Valor to keep them from coming back.  The label said to apply 2,4-D a month before planting so we did not hurt the cotton (although we learned that we could cheat a little bit on that interval without adding risk).  Some folks would split apply burndown because we did not want to kill all the cover so early that there was nothing left at planting time to protect us from sandstorms.  Now with Enlist (24D burndown) and Xtend (dicamba burndown) varieties, there is no waiting interval before planting so its safe to delay burndown till much closer to planting.  This delay also offers some flexibility on the Valor use which can be eliminated if you are planning on going behind the planter with some Reflex or Cotoran when you are planting close to burndown timing.  For folks using non-auxin varieties (ST4550 & ST5471 are the main two) I would stick to the older approach of earlier burndown of dicamba a couple weeks before planting.  Valor will still make sense for this strategy to keep it clean.  If splitting this trip, go out with dicamba/Valor early and come back with Roundup or Liberty.  I would probably pick Roundup for the burndown cleaning up grass and save the Liberty for the first trip after emergence.  I also do not like mixing Roundup with Liberty because there is so much antagonism with the Roundup greatly reducing its benefit.  

Don't forget that if you use 2,4-D and plant Xtend, then you still have the waiting period jsut like with 4550. Dicamba is a little more forgiving with the waiting interval when used before 4550 or enlist varieties and better (although slower) on horseweed.

FSA & Insurance Office - PLC or ARC or STAX What makes the most sense? 

The reason we can say it is all good with cotton is because if the bad thing happens, the safety net/farm program makes it a good thing anyway.  The decision of how to participate in the farm program for 2021 is not as cut and dry as it has been for the last several years.  But it is not that hard either.  First the easy part is that peanut base still looks like a PLC no brainer and Soybeans will be ARC since the reference price is a good bit lower than historical prices.  Cotton is the one that might need looking at more intensely.  There are three options: PLC, ARC, or STAX. 

  • If your farm does not have any base, or just a little bit of base on that has a good amount of cotton, you should sign up for STAX for a safety net.  You cannot sign up for PLC or ARC on a farm that has STAX, but STAX essentially offers a similar floor for farms with little to no base at between $700 and $800 per acre depending on which county.  STAX signup is at the insurance office.  STAX calculations also line up better with the crop year with price discovery occurring during harvest.  PLC price discovery occurs during the winter and spring of the following year.  
  • For farms with a base similar to or greater than the acreage of cotton that will be planted on them, the decision is between PLC and ARC.  Signup for these programs is at the FSA office.  PLC is what we have been doing which has a specific yield per farm that does not change and triggers on the reference price for seed cotton (price of lint plus seed).  This is part of what turned 2019 and 2020 into the good thing in the end.  This year ARC looks better than it did before because both price and yield have been increasing from 10 years ago which is when PLC yield was determined.   One way ARC differs from PLC in that it is a revenue trigger (price and/or Yield), while PLC has a price only trigger.  Also for PLC, the support level does not change where ARC follows recent history.  I like ARC a lot for 2021 and some farms could benefit from switching, but PLC can still make sense in some scenarios.  Plus, if prices and yield stay good, neither will pay.  
  • By County, this is the Revenue floor projected in 2021 for ARC after the 86% is applied:
    • Southampton - $809, IOW - $774, Surry - $713, Sussex - $732, Suffolk - $703
  • PLC payments are specific for farm and not county when there is a price trigger.  Operations with high farm yield relative to the county might see more value to the PLC system.
  • Be sure and let both FSA and Insurance no what you are doing and in some cases, you could have some farms in a cotton base program and other farms in a STAX program.  Both agencies need to know.

It is all about risk management.  Booking cotton is a good way to manage price risk.  Not booking might be risky but we can hedge some of this risk with insurance and the farm program decisions above which are low cost to no cost hedges.  Options are an expensive way to manage this risk, so I like spending some time looking at these Farm Program and Insurance options which are much cheaper.  
In Summary, people that do not book very much, or people that only insure in the 70% range could look at the STAX, PLC, ARC decision differently than people who insure at higher levels or book a high percentage.

Weed decisions match up with Variety Choice

Making pre-season management decisions for cotton with regards to weeds requires consideration of variety, herbicide choices, location of other plants, crops and trees that could be sensitive to some products, and just overall trip management planning purposes.  All our varieties are tolerant to both Liberty applications and Roundup and similar response to residual herbicides.  Here are some points to consider when picking fields or making herbicide plans.

  • If Palmer is your target weed for management, dicamba has been good when sprayed with Roundup.  24-D has not been quite as good.  Therefore in Enlist systems with palmer, better control is observed if you mix Liberty with Enlist One than using Roundup with Enlist one or Duo.
  • One point to consider could be tank mix partners when using Liberty on Extend varieties (Delta Pine, NexGen, and Dynagrow and some Stoneville).  See the label for tank-mix partners.  Mixing Dual with Liberty on Extend varieties does cause significantly more leaf scorch on Extend varieties than it does on Phytogen or Liberty Link Stoneville (4550 or 5471)
  • Using either Cotoran or Reflex behind the planter is desirable for all cotton systems.  However, when using non-auxin varieties (basically ST 4550 & 5471) using Cotoran or Reflex preemergence is a must if you have palmer.  It is also a big help if you have ragweed but not as critical.
  • You already know, but keep in mind that non-Extend soybeans and peanuts have more sensitivity to Dicamba drift and non-Enlist Cotton has more sensitivity to 2,4-D drift.
  • Use an Auxin plus Roundup or Liberty for your first post weed trip (usually the thrips spray time).  Do not use Roundup by itself first if the field has any resistant weeds.

Some Fertilizer Prices Spiking - Some Adjustments Make Sense

Some of the ingredients we use for fertilizing our crops are on a price roll just like the commodities we plant.  For cotton, we have some options that will insulate us from this.  Some good news is that potassium and some of the nitrogen sources have not changed much at this point.  One of the ingredients going high is Urea for nitrogen blends and is currently over 50 cent per unit compared to 44 cents for liquid.  Urea used to be the economical ‘N’ ingredient, but this year it is one of the highest.  Urea is also the most environmentally sensitive ingredient that we use, plus we also spend money on safeners which adds more cost.  I think last year, even with the safeners we lost some urea nitrogen where there was no rainfall longer than 10 to 14 days after application.  The other ingredient is phosphorus and the price on that is even more extreme at 63 cents currently.  This is a problem for crops like the grains and produce, but not so much for cotton which is planted in warm soil compared to corn and wheat that spend a good amount of time in cool soil.  At least cotton also does not need much P and our soils are charged with residual P levels that give us a lot of wiggle room in any given year.  In fact, in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, they say our soils have too much P.  Banded phosphorus (starter fertilizer) has a strong efficiency coefficient that allows for rate reduction.  Dr. Frame did Phosphorus research in Southampton county in 2019 and got no yield response from adding phosphorus on LOW P soils, so we can definately have confidence on soils testing in the medium levels or better.  Organic animal waste is super charged with P and builds P.

My fertility recommendations are going to use these points to make some low-risk fertility adjustments this year that account for these facts.   I am excited about the 2021 cotton success. 

Price Surge is a Game Changer. (edited 2/19)

With the way the ground and the forecast are, we have more time to sit at the computer or with a piece of paper and pencil and to some figuring.  The recent price moves in the commodity market appear to be a game changer in our analysis.  When I put in the prices today verses last month a couple of things are standing out.  One is that the commodities are no longer equal in net profit with average yields.  At current prices, profit from 1000-pound cotton equals 4400 pound peanuts.  Here are ideas ideas to think about that we might not have thought of a month ago:

  • Being able to lock in cotton in the 70’s takes care of a lot of market risk, however, locking in cotton in the 80’s prior to planting is a game changer as far as creating financial wholeness.  (Commonwealth Gin's contract is rated amoung the best in the region for allowing for premiums in good years, however in bad years, it shines offering the ‘ups’ on off color cotton that you get from long staple.)   
  • The current run of cotton futures in the 80’s will also manage a lot of risk by locking in a strong insurance safety net.  This price run could not come at a better time.  It essentially creates a profitable floor for price and/or yield loss and if we get a bad year (hopefully not), nothing will touch cotton. 
  • Over the years I have provided intensive management budget side by side with a base line budget.  Anytime cotton is in the 70’s or lower, the base line production system provides the most opportunity for profit.  However, as we move through 80 cents, the more intensive cotton management system shows more profit.  I am sure that I will share some thoughts of how intensively managed cotton can add income, but also expose some potential risks.  Management strategies need tweaking because when you change one input, it changes the characteristics of cotton growth and other aspects of cotton production.   
  • Take some time on these rainy days to consider a knifing/injection rig for Cotton which will allow you to either use less nitrogen or increase nitrogen performance without using more.  These rigs are like a turbo boost on your engine.  This is an offensive strategy
  • Consider in-furrow AgLogic (Temik), AdmirePro only, or Velum plus AdmirePro as a premium pest management tool at planting.  The primary advantage of the premium products is longer protection, and AgLogic provides overall yield advantage.  These 3 premium in-furrow options take pest management to the next level and allow for going back to base seed like we did in the Temik days.  Another option to consider is two-way seed treatments for less than half the cost of a three-way treatment to help offset costs of these premium options.  The push for this decision is because we not only have a variety decision but also a seed treatment decision.  Keep in mind that base treated seed still has the fungicide benefit.  This is an offensive strategy
  • Take a look at wider rows particularly if you are in 30's.  Yields are better and costs are lower and cotton is more forgiving of wet or dry weather events.  36 all the way to 42" is common in the south.  Wider rows are defensive, not really adding to yield but reducing loss and cost.

Cotton Budget and Big Ticket Items.

The cotton Budget is on our web page.  Click here:
I have a dryland budget that represents the best management practices for us.  I added a high input budget for folks that like adding extra inputs.  Some researchers call this ‘throwing the kitchen sink’ at cotton.  I have also added a “cutting the corners’ budget.  Both using extra inputs or cutting corners does not improve cotton profitability over the base budget although if we have an exceptional yield or unique challenges, there could be some additional inputs that improve profitability.  On-the-other-hand, in a low production season, the cut-the-corner budget lowers your break even yield.  Certainly, there is more than one way to skin a cat. The proper use of this budget is to compare your expenses and use it as a tool to ask questions.  Your budget needs to have your numbers. 
Here are some big budget items that I do not have a good hold on compared to you, but I do have some input.
Labor vs Equipment is one of those areas where various operations have either more people resources or equipment resources and it is not uncommon for those to offset.  I tend to just try to be in the middle of both for budgeting purposes.  I do think that this is easier to calculate for labor as it is a direct expense.  The equipment side is a bit trickier due to equity and depreciation.  I usually figure that equipment costs are close to land costs.  The cost of running the equipment is in the variable cost side of the budget.
Land value can be all over the board.  Perhaps the most expensive and rewarding part of farming.  There is value to the security of safety nets that goes with the land.  There is also varying productivity of soils.  There is also productivity outside of the land based on management decisions.  I don’t mean to meddle in the affairs of wizards, but it is essential for us to be on our game and maintain better than average total farm income.  That usually means a high amount of cotton and peanuts which have offered us a generation of stability.  Cotton is probably the leader because it can hit more acres.  Profitability and land value has been helped by cotton by building base and who knows what the future holds.  Peanut money is good money on its acre, but acreage is limited by the rotation requirement.  I am not sure we will maintain bases of crops we don’t plant, but it is a crazy world, and who knows.
Thriving into the future is the name of the game and half of profitability is budgeting.  The other key is productivity of your personal operation. That is where I have seen Commonwealth Gin folks thrive by making better yields (averaging above the state yield) with arguably the most stable commodity for our region.  I am excited and honored to be on your team to help with enhancing farm profits, and I am stoked on the future success of agriculture.  This is going to be a fun year.


It Ain't Over Yet...  

There is likely 7,000 to 10,000 acres of cotton remaining in the field along with beans and spots of corn and peanuts that we cannot find a long enough dry spell to get at this point in time.  Nevertheless, time waits for no man.  While about half of us still have some work to do to finish up with 2020, all of us have to start looking at what 2021 might look like for our farming operations.  One huge difference for last year is found in the commodity markets.  The price of everything we plant is higher than last year.  So maybe 2021 will be the year we have been expecting for a while where all the commodities compete for acres.  Keep in mind that 2020 was setting up for acreage competition last January, only we know how that played out.  It was amazing how the defensive programs and safety nets kicked in when everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong and yet, we are here.  We really are not expecting the POP, PPP,  PLC , CFAP, and MFP to come into play not to mention crop insurance, but there is no doubt these safety nets make a huge difference for us.

That brings me to cotton, and I see a lot of blogs, newsletters, report cards, production strategies, and enterprise analysis to be coming out in the next 3 months.
Cotton was one of the best enterprises for 2020 mainly because of the defensive or safety net payments.  It will be interesting how our region responds in acreage when the rest of the country is cutting back on acres.  If the demand trend continues to increase, then greener pastures are in front of us.

The first job is to tackle variety ideas.  I think the idea that is weighing on my mind is how much we hope to avoid farming conditions that resembles 2020, yet we are going to be tempted to plant about 2 or 3 varieties that have only been tested in 2020 and performed outstanding.  We have always considered planting a variety with only one year or less of data to be quite risky. and perhaps this year, it would be even riskier than ever because the growing conditions from 2020 were extreme, rare and not likely to repeat.  As usually, the bulk of our acreage should come from the 2 and 3 year champions.  Keep one year varieties on low acreage.

The 2021 report card will help sort through this risk in more detail along with identifying the most reliable options for large acreages.


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