Virginia Cotton: New Technology… Is There a Profit Lag?

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For me the short answer is yes, a lot of the time. Everything that comes out does not work. However, in time, the best technology will become adopted. I guess I am starting to remind myself of the seasoned agricultural professionals that were in their prime when I was getting started as they moved more cautiously to the newer ideas than I did. When I was right out of college, I was ready to jump on every new thing right out of the gate. My mentors were more cautious as they saw the value of patience.

It’s not that they thought the new thing wasn’t going to be a better way down the road, they just saw the value of letting somebody else get the bugs out of it before they adopted the newer technology. You know how your dad always said, “don’t get that first year of the new generation automobile”… I’m talking about the same thing.

For agriculture, and specifically cotton, I see this principle in cotton varieties. For the purposes of making the point, the 3-gene Bt traits are the “newest technology” and all of the companies still have better yield from their older technology, 2-gene products. That doesn’t mean that there are not some good three gene varieties, it’s just that the highest yielding varieties for each company are their 2-gene option. (Stoneville may have the only exception).

I am sure that is going to change quickly, and for Virginia where we have less of a bollworm apocalypse, the worm issue is second anyway to the herbicide genes which are driving our decisions probably more, along with yield.

Another technology I think may be a little more seasoned and has rapidly moved towards adaptation is related to GPS. The best fit appears to be components that are more of a one-time expense with not so high of an annual fee. The more marginal application of ‘precision farming’ is related to precision fertilizing. It seems best for lime and phosphorus as these materials are stable in our soils.

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Even though nitrogen is not as stable, I could get excited if the equipment and software were developed that could dial in soil type, yield goals, and residual nitrogen on an affordable scale for our size of family farming, and that we could buy and own. I just don’t know of anybody doing this yet.

Potassium is the hang-up for me with precision fertilizer application. The main disconnect is the way it is implemented. It occurs pre-plant, and we have leaching concerns with the highest amounts used on the lower yielding, coarser soils. Sometimes with 100% preplant potassium application, I still see potassium symptoms following heavy rain on these light soils.

I believe variable rate preplant application is helpful when it helps you detect good soils with high residual K levels and low leaching risk to reduce over-application, but timing using splits to keep K rates in line with plant use is more important on these light soils because of leaching.

The newest frontier is unclear to me because I do not understand the full impact. That is “THE CLOUD.” At the surface, it seems wonderful and I have finally submitted to Google as someone younger than me convinced me that google already had all my information. Some of the new offerings like weather type apps that show individual conditions on a field by field basis seem remarkable.

On the paying side, we are asked to give all of our information, which to be sure, has much value to the asker. I am wondering if it is good, but I sure don’t know why we have to pay to offer it. Sorry, I guess I am skeptical.

Even today, because I get so excited about agricultural advancement, I have to remind myself to let improved profit or improved lifestyle be the driving motive for technology adaptation (I never had a BlackBerry). Hey, the old stuff still works and it is paid for. And how many of you still use a flip phone and don’t even open emails? (Actually you’re not reading this are you? Unless your wife or children printed it and are giving it to you.) HOWEVER, when they want to imbed chips into my body, I’m drawing the line.


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