Study Shows Biotech is Key Factor in Move to Conservation Tillage in Cotton

The availability of herbicide-tolerant cotton has allowed and encouraged cotton growers to adopt conservation tillage practices, according to a study conducted for the NCC.

January 8, 2003
Contact: Marjory Walker
(901) 274-9030

NASHVILLE, TN - The availability of herbicide-tolerant cotton has allowed and encouraged cotton growers to adopt conservation tillage practices, according to a study conducted for the National Cotton Council (NCC). Conservation tillage methods, including no-till and reduced-till, protect farmland from wind and rain erosion.

The study, supported by The Cotton Foundation, found that reduced-till and no-till cotton acres have increased to 59 percent of total cotton acres since herbicide-tolerant transgenic cottons became widely available in 1997.

No-till acres have nearly doubled, to 29 percent of total cotton acres, while reduced-till acres have more than doubled, to account for 30 percent of cotton acres. The change is most prevalent in the Mid-South, where 66 percent of the farmers reported an increase in conservation tillage acres over the last five years. As a result, growers in the Mid-South said that 74 percent of their 2002 cotton acres were in no-till or reduced-till.

Conservation tillage is least prevalent in the West, where 17 percent of growers surveyed have increased con-till acres over the past five years, and just 18 percent of the 2002 cotton acres were in no-till or reduced-till.

The introduction of herbicide-tolerant varieties, especially with Roundup Ready technology, was cited as the enabling factor by 79 percent of those who have moved to conservation tillage in the last five years. Roundup Ready cotton acres have tripled since 1997 and now account for 77 percent of total cotton acres grown in 2002.

"This new study merely confirms what most of us suspected,” said Dr. Andrew Jordan, director of the NCC’s Technical Services Department. “Weed control is critical for a good cotton crop and biotechnology is giving growers another weed control tool while allowing them to move to more cost-effective, environmentally sound methods of cotton production.”

Growers in the survey indicated, on average, that conservation tillage results in a $20.13 savings for fuel and labor when compared to conventional acres. The study was conducted by Doane Market Research, Inc., a firm nationally recognized for its expertise in conducting agricultural research involving farmers.

Doane interviewed a random sample of 369 growers, each with at least 250 acres of cotton, across the Cotton Belt. Sample quotas were established based on the proportion of cotton acres in a state to the total cotton acres in the 13 cotton-producing states. The study showed that 52 percent of respondents increased their no-till cotton acres during the period between 1997 and 2002.

Eighty percent are making fewer tillage passes in cotton and 75 percent are leaving more crop residue on the soil surface. About 64 percent of the conventional till cotton growers surveyed indicated they have considered trying reduced or no-till cotton, but haven’t made the move.

The price/availability of equipment is seen as the primary obstacle, followed by ground and weather conditions. While the move to no-till and reduced till has been dramatic, during the same period, cotton acres planted in ultra-narrow (7 – 10 inches) or narrow rows (11 – 29 inches) have increased only by a fraction of a percent to account for slightly under two percent of the total, the study found.

With no-till farming, the ground is not plowed at all and the cotton crop is planted right through the organic matter left from the previous crop. Residue is allowed to build up to protect the soil. Reduced tillage means the ground is disturbed less than it would be with conventional tillage methods.

“Cotton producers work hard to grow cotton in the best ways possible,“ Jordan said. We’re always looking for new tools, like biotechnology, to help us work smarter and more cost-effectively. Being good stewards of the soil must be basic to cotton production.”

The NCC’s mission is to ensure the ability of all U.S. cotton industry segments to compete effectively and profitably in the raw cotton, oilseed and manufactured product markets at home and abroad.