Right tools save dollars
Steve Alsabrook meticulously uses inputs that will get the job done for Alsabrook Farms at Haskell, Texas. It could be high-tech tools or a generic pesticide if it works for a particular crop enterprise.
Nearly all of Alsabrook Farms cotton is conventional varieties. But Alsabrook says it is today’s machinery technology that allows him to return to mostly conventional cotton.
Alsabrook hasn’t totally parked his plow, though, and he isn’t afraid to cultivate when it’s needed. “I’d say we are modified-limited tillage,” he allows.
• High-tech machinery helps Steve Alsabrook control weeds effectively.
• Alsabrook Farms uses a variety of cultural practices to fit different crops.
• Learning marketing skills made a big difference for the Haskell, Texas, farmer.
Alsabrook says using RTK — the highest precision of GPS correction on the market — has worked extremely well, allowing him to control weeds mechanically on occasions.
“GPS with RTK avoids wide middles in cotton rows for me,” Alsabrook notes. “That helps keep our cotton clean of weeds.”
In addition, he also recently purchased a high-speed cultivator.
“We can clean a patch of cotton pretty well now,” he says.
Other cultural practices
Alsabrook Farms grows predominantly dryland cotton with limited irrigation.
Alsabrook tried 45 acres of drip line irrigation, but it didn’t work well for him because of root rot prevalence in that part of the Rolling Plains. He likes to have flexibility to turn the soil when cotton root rot is a problem. So he went back to row water.
He attempts to purchase fertilizer at a reasonable price, but also uses cover crops to fix nitrogen. Last year, he grew winter peas to fix N, then came in with cotton on that ground.
Alsabrook figures the big nodules on the winter peas can fix 150 to 200 pounds of N per acre.
He generally will use Direx herbicide in February or March on early weeds, and Direx or Diuron again in order to freshen up the ground and give the soil more residual properties before planting cotton.
Bronco and All-Tex seed varieties are his main conventional cottons.
Alsabrook terminates cotton using various harvest aids that fit a particular growing season. In a year where he can desiccate cotton in one shot, he will use either Cyclone or Aim as a desiccant.
Where wheat fits
Alsabrook grows winter wheat in three ways:
• Wheat dedicated to forage for stocker-cattle grazing is planted during September.
• Wheat grown for grain harvest is sown during October.
• “Cotton stalk” wheat is seeded during early November.
Also, Alsabrook samples the soil and fertilizes wheat accordingly. He typically aims for 150 pounds of total N per acre for forage wheat. For wheat going into grain production, he adjusts that rate down to 100 pounds N.
If it’s a wet season, a new coulter rig lets Alsabrook and son Wesley sidedress N and other fertilizer on crops. His son also has a strip-tillage rig that provides additional flexibility.
Wesley tried sesame behind wheat in 2009 in an exceptionally dry year, and the sesame did well. So in 2010, the elder Alsabrook grew some sesame, too, which he will harvest this fall.
Alsabrook markets cotton through the Autauga Cotton Association and has seen good success.
He typically takes stocker cattle on pounds-of-gain contracts in years where he has forage. Alsabrook also hedges wheat on the board.
“As a farmer, I don’t think speculators are bad,” Alsabrook says. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have a market sometimes.”
Alsabrook credits Carl Anderson, Texas AgriLife Extension professor emeritus and marketing expert, College Station, for helping him greatly hone his skills in marketing his crops, especially wheat and cotton.
“I started going to Dr. Anderson’s classes back in the 1980s,” Alsabrook notes.
Producers like Alsabrook who had an insatiable appetite to learn more — and were eager to take their marketing savvy to a higher level — worked with Anderson and others into what eventually evolved into the Master Marketer schools, one of the most successful and widely acclaimed programs in Texas A&M history.
This article published in the November, 2010 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.