When Ron Howard started farming cotton in the early 1990s, he began with 17.5 acres as a part-time job. More than 30 years later, R. G. Howard Farms has grown to 4,300 acres of mostly Pima and Upland cotton.
Ron’s son JR Howard now works with his father, managing the farm in the Gila Valley near Thatcher, Arizona.
“When I tell people Dad started this with 17.5 acres, they wonder why we mention the half acre,” Howard said. “But back then, half an acre was a lot to us.”
To grow those acres, JR says they have always looked for varieties that produce high yields and excellent fiber quality, but they also emphasize the importance of consistent performance. That’s a primary reason they plant PhytoGen® brand Pima varieties.
“I like PhytoGen Pima varieties because they have great yield and are very consistent across our acres,” Howard said. “On our farm, whatever type of ground you plant them in, they always yield within a quarter bale of each other.”
There are many variables across the Gila Valley, such as temperature swings and unpredictable weather. Much is beyond a grower’s control, so it’s important to focus on things that can stabilize production.
“Consistency with varieties is important because it’s one of the few things we can control. If you can plant consistent varieties, then you have a better idea of what you’re going to harvest,” Howard said. “That’s a big deal. If you can look at your farm history and estimate yield, that helps you borrow from the bank and plan for the future.”
Howard said they’ve had success with many PhytoGen brand Pima varieties, but PhytoGen® brand PHY 881 RF is a recent standout.
“PHY 881 RF has been one of our favorites. The yield is really high for our soil,” Howard said. “Other PhytoGen Pima varieties may yield higher on other farms, but that one has been a really good yielder for us.”
One reason for consistent yields is the excellent seedling vigor that helps establish a stand in their varying soils. Before planting PhytoGen® brand varieties, the Howards sometimes had trouble getting seed to germinate and come up. Now they don’t have to spend as much time calibrating the planting depth between fields.
“PhytoGen cottonseed will come up. It doesn’t have a problem getting out of the ground,” Howard said. “With other varieties, we would have to change the planting depth depending on if we were going into sandy soils or clay. But the PhytoGen varieties come right through and never stop growing.”
In addition to consistent yields and vigor, Howard said, the fiber quality is excellent year in and year out. They aim for a high staple length — around 50 to 52 — to keep the lint value up, and they hit that goal most seasons.
“With these PhytoGen varieties, the fiber quality is as good as it can get. It’s excellent,” Howard said. “Even this past year when it was really too hot, the quality is as good or better than it’s ever been.”