Unique cotton research program featured at Manila field daySept. 15, 2014
By Fred Miller, Division of Agriculture Communications
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The dominant soil around Manila and surrounding farm communities favors cotton above all other crops, said Ray Benson, staff chair of the Mississippi County Extension Office.
“Sandy loam is the stronghold of cotton production in northeast Arkansas,” Benson said. “Its internal drainage is good. Cotton doesn’t do well if it stays saturated.”
A University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture field day Sept. 9 highlighted research projects at the Manila location. Benson said area cotton growers and agricultural consultants wanted to see more research in their area, so they joined with the city of Manila and offered a field near the municipal airport for test plots.
“This soil, so dominant in cotton production in much of northeast Arkansas, is not represented on any of our other stations,” said Fred Bourland, director of the Northeast Research and Extension Center at Keiser.
Bourland said this partnership with the city of Manila and area growers offers the Division of Agriculture opportunities to conduct research that will benefit the northern cotton-growing areas of the state.
Cotton grower Todd Edwards of Leachville said this was the only field day he has attended this year. He was drawn by the research done in the soil he works in.
“I think the work at this location will be much more beneficial to those of us here where cotton is the main crop,” Edwards said.
Edwards farms 3,800 acres between Leachville and Manila, with about 2,700 acres planted in cotton.
“We can’t go by the tests at Keiser because we have different soil,” Edwards said. “Having cotton trials here, so close to where we farm, is going to be much more applicable to us.”
Benson demonstrated his research on irrigation and discussed how sandy loam’s relationship with water presents some challenges for irrigation.
On the one hand, the rate at which water moves through the soil prevents oversaturation of the cotton plant. On the other hand, the water moves through so quickly that irrigation water doesn’t have time to soak down to the plant’s roots.
“We used soil moisture sensors at varying depths,” Benson said, “and we found that irrigation water doesn’t penetrate even six inches.” The water runs right through the field into the ditches without getting down to the roots, he said.
“This year’s tests taught us that we have to develop methods that slow the water enough to give it time to penetrate down to the roots,” Benson said. He suggested that cover crops or tillage practices may be keys to accomplishing that goal.
Bourland discussed his experiences running cotton variety tests in the Manila fields this year and also learned he would have to adjust his methodology.
“We found a lot more soil variation throughout the plots than we expected,” Bourland said.
“Next year, we’ll likely move the test plots to a different part of the field where there’s less variability in the soil structure,” he said.
Bourland and Benson said the field day — the first at the Manila site — was very successful. Bourland said there were about 150 visitors, including many growers and cotton consultants.
“That represents a lot of cotton-growing acres,” Bourland said.
Bourland said the Manila research site is the result of a grassroots effort by farmers who wanted more research information relevant to their growing environment. “They came to the field day because they wanted to see what we’ve been doing,” he said.
Benson said something happened after this field day that he had never experienced before.
“A lot of growers in the area missed the field day because they were harvesting corn,” Benson said. “They called me afterward to apologize for missing the field day and asked about the presentations.”
In addition to supporting research by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Benson said the site has projects by scientists from Arkansas State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.