Project Summaries

07-944GA  Project Manager: J. M. Reeves

CONSERVATION, PROFITABILITY, AND POLICY

Donald Shurley, University of Georgia

This project had three areas of major objectives: profitability and production, policy and outlook analysis, and risk management. The plan of work to accomplish these objectives was a combination of publications, professional papers, county and state Extension meetings, and computerized (spreadsheet) decision aids. The Crop Comparison Tool (CCT) for 2012 was revised and updated periodically as market price expectations and costs changed. Both the budgets and the CCT are available in PDF and spreadsheet format. Cotton enterprise budget estimates were prepared annually and available to producers in print and spreadsheet formats. These budgets were available on the Web, presented at county Extension meetings, and county Extension agents worked with producers and the spreadsheet budgets to modify University of Georgia estimates to fit their operation. A spreadsheet, Crop Comparison Tool, was also developed and used to allow producers to modify and then compare net returns of various crops side-by-side.

One of the studies conducted as part of this project dealt with irrigation. It is estimated that approximately 45% of Georgia's cotton acreage is irrigated. The vast majority of this acreage is irrigated with center pivot irrigation. Although non-irrigated production is risky, compared to other crops in Georgia, cotton is considered relatively more drought tolerant. University of Georgia crop enterprise budget estimates assume an expected yield of 700 pounds per acre for non-irrigated production compared to 1,200 pounds per acre for irrigated. In general, fields in row crop production even on large farms can be small and/or irregular sized. This means it is not uncommon for some fields to be able to accommodate only a relatively small to medium size pivot or for the pivot to not operate a full circle. This increases the investment and fixed costs per acre and thus the yield increase needed to make the system profitable.

There is increased producer and research interest in subsurface drip irrigation (SSDI) - perhaps as an alternative to pivot/overhead irrigation in small-field situations or to irrigate non-irrigated portions of a field that a pivot is unable to reach. There are many factors determining the economics of SSDI and questions from a producer standpoint that need to be addressed before making a decision. These questions include: 1) How do costs compare to center pivot systems?; 2) Where and how would SSDI fit in my farming operation?; 3) Is SSDI application reliable?; 4) Will SSDI yield be comparable with pivot irrigation?; 5) Is SSDI compatible with different crop row spacing?; 6) Is SSDI compatible with my desired crop rotations?; and 7) What are the implications for tillage practices?

Three on-farm scenarios were identified that were believed to be representative of situations where SSDI might be considered and the types of decisions cotton producers would have to make. Economic analysis (budgeting) of each of these scenarios suggest that SSDI can be profitable to reach adjacent areas not reached by an already existing center pivot but profitability depends on the distance and cost of reaching the non-irrigated area and the amount of area to be irrigated. Analysis also suggests that SSDI could be a profitable alternative in a situation where a pivot cannot operate a full circle due to field size or shape. In the situation budgeted in this study, the advantage for SSDI was much less than anticipated, however. Every farm situation will vary and economies of scale come into play. SSDI was also compared to non-irrigated production where a pivot is not feasible. SSDI provided increased net income.

Depending on yield, price, costs, and economies of scale, SSDI can be profitable. Success with SSDI, however, may have as much to do with management as it does with economics. Questions still exist concerning proper depth of the drip tape - 2 inches may be too shallow and 12 inches may be too deep depending on soil type (texture, depth to B horizon, etc.), slope or erodibility of the field, and other crops in rotation with cotton. How is the feasibility and profitability of SSDI impacted by different row spacings, various crop rotations, and different tillage systems? SSDI may also require use of GPS and auto steer.

Numerous county meetings and other conferences and workshop presentations were made on cotton outlook and marketing strategies/risk management. Conferences were held and presentations made on conservation practices and policy. In-service training for county Extension agents was held on land rental arrangements and crop insurance. This project will continue in 2013.

 

Project Year: 2012
 

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