Sneak preview

Published 11:59 pm Monday, September 28, 2009

Covington County farmers got a look at what next year’s cotton might look like at one of four stops made during their annual farm tour, for which Congressman Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) was a special guest.

Among the stops on this year’s tour was a test plot of 20 cotton varieties Tommy Thompson has planted near Carolina.

William Birdsong, who works with cotton farmers in southeast Alabama through the Cooperative Extension Service’s Wiregrass Research and Extension Center, worked with Thompson and with seed companies to establish the test plot, one of seven he’s watching in the Wiregrass.

Birdsong explained that it’s important to spread the test plots out, because weather patterns vary slightly from county to county. But he also tries to place the test plots with farmers who are interested in the data he will collect about cotton.

Thompson said planting the 15-acre test plot is labor intensive.

“You have to clean out the bin after each variety,” he explained. But the knowledge he gains is worth it, he said.

In Covington County, farmers don’t irrigate cotton. It’s important for him and others in agriculture to watch how new varieties grow without the extra water.

“We manage this plot just like all of the other ones,” said Thompson, who has 1,400 acres in cotton this year.

That’s another criteria Birdsong seeks when looking for farmers with whom to partner, he said.

“The only variable here is in the variety itself,” Birdsong said. “That’s the data we need.”

When the cotton is harvested, he explained, he’ll be on hand to record the yield. With the data, he’ll produce a report for local farmers showing which varieties had the greatest yield here. He’ll also record the strength of the fibers, based on USDA guidelines, he said.

Farmers also visited two of Joey Holt’s peanut fields and the Wiggins’ cattle farm.

Holt, who also grows cotton, said the rain hasn’t hurt peanuts, but he anticipates the moisture may affect cotton yields by as much as 40 percent.

While many farmers now take advantage of modern technology — specifically GPS — to track their crops, GPS doesn’t work in the most rural areas of the county, Holt said. He further explained that he often plants a taller variety of peanuts in specific places to help him track his crops.

“Technology’s coming, it’s just not out here yet,” he said.

Hal Noble, a veterinarian who also runs a stockyard in Frisco City, talked with farmers about ways to improve the profitability of cattle operations.