Minimumtill From no way to a better way

Mike Nugent, another Coffee County cotton and oat grower, says his minimum-till system has increased his cotton yields by half — to about 1,250 pounds of cotton lint per acre. Nugent plants an oat cover crop in late fall, lets his cattle graze it for a few months in winter and still harvests 80 bushels of certified oat seed per acre in spring. He irrigates about 40 percent less than the county's conventional farmers and saves $30 to $40 an acre on insecticides, not including application costs.

"If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be farming no-till, I would have laughed at you and said there was no way in the world that would work," says Nugent.

However, when he began easing into his new system seven years ago, he was struck by how many more beneficials inhabited his cover crop than his still-conventional fields. It's been three years now since Nugent last sprayed his cotton for budworms or bollworms. He uses herbicides in his Roundup Ready® cotton and treats his seed with fungicides, but he relies on scouting to manage his insect pests.

"You have to watch what you're doing," he says. "If they ever get out of hand, we'll have to spray them. But we let the populations get to a certain point, because the beneficials won't stay without anything to eat." Even when pest populations reach threshold levels, Nugent keeps scouting for another few days. "I've seen lots of times, when you wait one day and scout again, the population comes down — and once it comes down, it will keep coming down every day."

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