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Agronomic Services — News Release


Wayne County farmer benefits from change in cropping practices

SEVEN SPRINGS — Greg Rouse and his father Kenneth farm nearly 600 acres in the Seven Springs area where Wayne, Duplin and Lenoir counties meet. For the most part, they've raised the standard crops for the area—corn, wheat, soybeans, tobacco and pasture. However, lately they have been switching to other crops—ones that offer better economic and environmental benefits.

Last year, the younger Rouse grew his own tobacco transplants instead of buying them. He was able to plant his entire allotment and sell the remaining transplants for profit. This year, his newest addition will be cotton.

Growing cotton is definitely more profitable than corn, and it offers other benefits as well. Rotating soybeans with cotton helps protect the beans from tiny parasitic worms called nematodes that cause root disease. Also, with cotton, Rouse can use strip-tillage practices that save money and conserve the land.

Rouse has done his homework. He has traveled to workshops and seminars, talked with experts, built a greenhouse, and invested in new equipment. "Greg is not a big farmer," said Kevin Johnson, regional agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, "but he's good at what he does."

Rouse and Johnson have worked together closely over the past year. "Kevin's been a tremendous help to us," Rouse said. "He gives advice and has been helping me take samples and develop a fertilizer program for my new crops."

Rouse started changing gears two years ago by building a 150-foot by 22-foot greenhouse where he could grow tobacco transplants. Ive found that I enjoy producing transplants, he said. "It's amazing how fast they grow. The crop can be ready in 60 days."

Tobacco seeds are planted in Styrofoam trays with 288 tiny cells—one seed is planted per cell. In the greenhouse, 1,200 trays float in four inches of fertilizer solution, producing about 345,000 plants. Rouse needs only half that amount for his acreage and can sell the rest to offset his costs.

Johnson helped Rouse make a smooth transition into transplant production by advising him about fertilizer solutions and making sure he knew how to take solution samples to check the quality of his source water and to monitor the nutrient content of his float beds.

This service, which is available from the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division, costs only $4 per sample and provides valuable information to producers of greenhouse crops or drip-irrigated crops.

Solution reports alert growers to potential problems. For example, source water in eastern North Carolina often has high alkalinity that can interfere with nutrient availability, and in some parts of the state, excessive mineral concentrations can clog irrigation devices or be toxic to plants. Solution analysis provides a measure of insurance for these high-value crops.

For Rouse, tobacco transplant production has been relatively trouble free. He has an efficient assembly-line system for filling trays with nutrient-rich soil and placing a single seed in each cell. Plants grow rapidly and require little maintenance.

Rouse hopes his transition into cotton production will be as smooth, but he recognizes there will be many more factors to consider. Fertilization is one of the things that makes cotton more intensive and challenging.

To optimize yield and quality, growers must closely monitor nitrogen content in leaves and petioles, the stalk by which a leaf is attached to a stem, at regular intervals throughout the season. Rouse has never collected plant tissue samples, but is counting on Johnson to walk him through the process.

"With tissue analysis, a grower has the inside track," Johnson said. "He knows exactly which nutrients the crop needs, how much it needs and when it needs them. For quality cotton production, it is important to maintain correct nitrogen levels in the plant. In cotton, tissue sampling should begin during the early stages of vegetative growth and continue for the next five to six weeks after first bloom."

Growing cotton will also be more interesting because it will be Rouse's first experience with minimum tillage. With a newly purchased strip-tiller, he will plow only a small band where the seed is to be planted, leaving at least 60 percent of the ground unbroken. This practice reduces erosion and loss of fertilizer nutrients. It also qualifies Rouse to receive Cost-Share money from North Carolinas Division of Soil and Water Conservation—$10 for each acre of strip-tilled cotton.

Rouse plans to offset the cost of purchasing the strip-tiller by using it for his soybeans as well. Conventional beans are planted on 7.5-inch rows and require 80 pounds of seed per acre, but strip-tilled beans can be planted with 35 to 40 pounds of seed on 38-inch rows.

Rouse also hopes to boost yields of his soybean crop by rotating it with cotton. Soybeans are vulnerable to several kinds of nematodes, especially soybean cyst nematodes. If beans are grown in the same field year after year, nematode populations increase and yields go down. However, cyst nematodes cannot survive in cotton roots so by alternating soybeans with cotton every other year, Rouse can ward off the buildup of hazardous levels of these pests.

Growers who want to diversify their crops and need help with nutrient or nematode issues are urged to contact Johnson. He has been advising farmers in Harnett, Johnston, Wake, Wayne and Wilson counties as a NCDA&CS regional agronomist since 1998.

The Field Services Section of the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division has 14 regional agronomists located throughout the state. These agronomists are available to visit or consult with growers in their regions who need help taking agronomic samples, adjusting fertilizer programs, pinpointing nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, identifying nematode problems, or interpreting agronomic reports. For more information or the name of the regional agronomist assigned to your area, visit the Agronomic Divisions Field Services Web site at, or call J. Kent Messick at (919) 733-2655.


Last Update February 13, 2013


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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