“Shep” Morris of Shorter cultivates 1,500 acres of conventional cotton, combined with biotech varieties of corn and soybeans
by Jillian Stephens
Agriculture is a progressive industry; therefore, farmers must also be progressive. However, looking at Alabama’s 2010 Farmer of the Year, it is obvious sometimes the best management practices involve blending a little of the old with a little of the new.
Alabama’s Farmer of the Year, Roy "Shep" Morris of Shorter, is doing just that—combining proven practices with innovative technology. As owner and operator of Morris and Morris Farms, he cultivates approximately 1,500 acres of cotton, 600 acres of soybeans and 900 acres of corn in Montgomery and Macon Counties. Growing conventional cotton in rotation with biotech varieties of corn and soybeans, Morris has sacrificed a little more time, because he must spray his crops more often in order to gain more staple length and better fiber quality which are products of conventional cotton varieties.
In the late 1990s, after experimenting with newer cotton varieties and trying to balance rising input costs, Morris decided to take a different route.
"If you’re familiar with agriculture in Alabama, there have been a lot of people who abandoned cotton because of low prices and rising inputs. Instead of abandoning cotton, we threw the book away—we reduced our nitrogen from 100 units to 50 and upped our seeding rate because of the conventional cotton. We really haven’t given up anything on our yields. We are also using a stripper harvester that operates a lot cheaper than a picker.
"It takes timeliness and better management; you can’t come in and blanket the field," Morris said. "But we’ve bypassed something else—we really don’t have resistant pigweed since we are gearing up for it to start with because we are rotating our chemistries."
Conventional cotton, a rarity in the market these days, differs from the majority of other cotton varieties because of what it lacks—herbicide and pest resistance genes. The absence of these genes requires Morris to monitor his fields more intensely for pest and weed pressure.
By taking the "unconventional" route and planting a conventional variety, Morris has been able to lower costs. However, one may wonder how that is affecting the soil. Surely with multiple sprayings field compaction must be a problem? Wrong.
"We put out most of our herbicides by air. That alleviates compaction—saving trips over the field," said Morris, whose father began working in aerial application in the 1950s and later opened his own business.
Morris, a supervisor with the Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District, also implements conservation practices by rotating crops. He plants corn because it leaves large amounts of residue after harvest which increases soil organic matter. He also plants using a combination of no-till and ridge-till techniques which improve soil tilth instead of continually disturbing the soil through traditional tillage methods.
For information about programs offered through the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and soil and water conservation districts, visit: www.al.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.
Jillian Stephens is a communications specialist for USDA-NRCS.