Mike Harris had a suspicion that something big was in the making.
In five decades, Harris has seen his fair share of good crops, as well as tough ones. But he witnessed something in 2022 that he never expected to see in Roper, North Carolina: 5-bale/A dryland cotton.
You don’t have to tell Harris that sounds like a stretch — he’d be hard pressed to believe it himself, if he didn’t see it with his own eyes.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘There’s something different about that cotton.’ It was full of bolls, loaded up and bowed out so that you couldn't see the furrow,” Harris said. “You couldn’t see anything but cotton.”
Like many areas of the Cotton Belt, the North Carolina Blacklands received less-than-average rainfall last season. That makes it even harder to imagine, if it weren’t for the exceptional moisture-holding capacity of the rich Blackland soils. Those fields often make better yields in drier years, assuming a little rain comes at the right times.
“It was a dry year. We had some soybeans that died, and others that really weren’t worth harvesting,” Harris said. “But that cotton got a little rain at just the right time. The good Lord lined everything up. I’ve got to give credit to the soil, the season, our farm crew and Sam.”
Sam Winslow is farm manager at Harris Farms, and he said the 5-bale/A field was the last cotton they planted — on May 20. As the season progressed, people began talking about the crop, but Winslow didn’t think much of it. Until he received the phone call.
“The farm crew called when they got the cotton picker in the field and told me I needed to come out there,” Winslow said. “I rode to the field and just watched them line up round bales. I can tell you this: You’re in good-looking cotton when it’s yielding 2,500 pounds an acre.”
Winslow said they used 80 pounds of nitrogen and planted a new variety for 2022, PhytoGen® brand PHY 411 W3FE. Harris Farms has planted PhytoGen brand varieties for many years, and Winslow said there’s a lot to like about their performance. They also had good yields in 2022 with PhytoGen brand PHY 400 W3FE and PHY 390 W3FE.
“PhytoGen varieties are generally easily managed plants so you don’t have to apply as much PGR. And I really like the Enlist weed control system — it’s been a key part of our weed control,” Winslow said. “At the end of the day, PhytoGen varieties hold good weight at gin-out.”
Harris said he’s planted PhytoGen brand varieties for many years, relying on the early season vigor to get the crop up fast and accumulate heat units early. A good start helps squeeze what you can from whatever the season brings.
“You need early vigor to get it up as fast as it can. When it’s soaking up heat units — flowering, squaring, putting on bolls — that’s where your money is,” Harris said. “We like the PhytoGen varieties because they gin out more cotton at the end of the year. That’s what we’re selling, pounds of lint.”
While hitting the 5-bale mark is exciting, Harris said that’s an extraordinary situation, when everything lines up perfectly. He’s more interested in making consistently high yields, season after season, to see what Harris Farms can do in the next 50 years.
“I never imagined this when I formed Harris Farms in 1973,” Harris said. “Every year brings something different. We’ll plant cotton again next year and see what the season brings.”