Grower Perspective

Texas producers lean on life lessons, consistent varieties

South Texas cotton producers persevered through a dry 2022 season with the help of some good advice and tough, reliable varieties.

From the baseball field to the cotton field, South Texas producer Shannon Ledwik pulled from life lessons to weather the drought in 2022.

When Ledwik played baseball for the Atlanta Braves system during the 90s, he worked with a sports psychologist to prepare for the pressures of professional competition. He learned a valuable lesson in those years that he applies to farming — especially during challenging times.

“Whether you're playing ball or farming, you can't take the pressure home with you or it will eat you up,” Ledwik said. “When I played professionally, they taught us to hear the latch 'click' at the ballpark gate and leave everything on the field. Now, when I hear the pickup door shut, I leave everything in the field and come back to it the next day.”

Even with good weather, there's always a new challenge on Ledwik's 12,000-acre operation near Ganado, Texas. He utilizes a cotton-corn rotation and planted 8,700 acres to cotton in 2022. The crop rotation paid even bigger dividends when rain was scarce this season.

“The cotton-corn rotation helps us make good yields when we have adequate rainfall, but the difference really stands out in a dry year,” Ledwik said. “This year, our cotton acres planted behind corn yielded 200 to 250 pounds/A more than cotton behind cotton.”

To further maximize yield, Ledwik plants 100% of his cotton acres to PhytoGen® brand varieties. PhytoGen brand PHY 400 W3FE and PHY 480 W3FE are two favorites for their early season vigor and yield.

“Our PhytoGen varieties have yielded really well across the board compared to the competitive varieties,” Ledwik said. “With PhytoGen, you get good stands that come up growing. Some of the other cottonseed is slower, and it's a gamble when you plant. PhytoGen starts growing and doesn't stop.”

For weed control, Ledwik uses the Enlist® weed control system and Enlist Duo® herbicide to control his main problem weeds: careless weed, morning glory and grasses. The system fits his operation and allows him to keep cotton weed free.

“When you hit weeds with Enlist Duo, it does a good job,” Ledwik said. “You're going to keep your fields clean.”

Producer Shannon Ledwik said his experience as a professional baseball player help him handle the challenges of farming in unpredictable South Texas weather. His game plan includes PhytoGen® W3FE varieties for early season vigor, strong yields and better weed control options. 

Counting on consistency

Josh Marek is another South Texas cotton producer who pushed through a tough 2022 season when some fields only got 6 inches of rain. He farms 2,100 acres of cotton and corn around Wharton County, and he knew early on it would be a challenging year.

“We had good soil moisture going into planting, but we did not get a rain from May to July,” Marek said. “And the heat was horrible. I've never seen it hit 100 degrees so many days in May. It was hard on the cotton and really impacted corn pollination.”

Even with heat and low rainfall, Marek said his irrigated cotton yielded well, and his dryland acres performed better than expected. Marek looks for consistent-performing cotton varieties that will produce in unpredictable weather conditions. PhytoGen brand PHY 400 W3FE has been his No. 1 choice for yield stability for several seasons.

“PHY 400 W3FE has been very consistent over the past three years. This year, we had an extreme drought. Last year, we had an extremely wet year with 30-40 inches in two months, and 2020 was a normal year. In all three years, PHY 400 W3FE was a top yielder.”

This season, Marek said his furrow irrigated PHY 400 W3FE averaged 1,800 pounds/A with some areas topping 4 bales/A. Under pivot irrigation, PHY 400 W3FE yielded up to 1,600 pounds/A — a very strong yield given the extreme heat and minimal moisture. This consistent yield potential is one of the reasons PHY 400 W3FE is the No. 1 planted variety in Texas.1

“I can't control the environment, fertilizer prices or commodity prices,” Marek said. “With all of that out of my control, it relieves a lot of stress to know I can count on a variety producing. It is one less thing to worry about when I have a variety that yields in different circumstances.”

In 2022, Marek planted a new variety, PHY 411 W3FE, that performed well in his on-farm trial the previous season. Variety trials help him plan for the future so he can see what new varieties and technologies are coming. PHY 411 W3FE also yielded well in 2022, producing 1,700 pounds/A under pivot irrigation with good dryland corners.

“PHY 411 W3FE is another variety that works well in our area. I was very pleased with the yield, and it has a good grade package,” Marek said. “I want something that will yield well and grade with a long staple and good color. I market my own cotton, and cotton buyers want high-quality fiber.”

In his irrigated on-farm trial, the three top-yielding varieties were PHY 400 W3FE, PHY 411 W3FE and PHY 545 W3FE with an average yield of 1,943 pounds/A. Compared to competitive varieties, Marek said newer PhytoGen varieties offer the yield and quality he needs to keep pushing for more, despite the challenges each season brings.

“I'm always looking for the next thing that can improve my operation. With water and effort, I’m looking for higher yields and premium fiber — that’s where I want to be,” Marek said. “That’s why I plant PhytoGen cottonseed, so I can get better profits at the end of the day.”