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Georgia producer saw yields slowly decrease for about a decade due to increasing populations of the pest. Now he’s found a winning solution.

Georgia cotton-and-peanut producer Stephen Dozier remembers the feeling he had two years ago when he went for a late-season afternoon drive with his wife across the farm.

“It’s not very fun when you look out into the cotton field and see these big areas that are knee-high, yellow, and look like they’re about to die,” Dozier said. “It makes you feel bad when you keep hearing, ‘What’s wrong with your cotton?’”

Dozier knew the answer to the question. After years of a mostly cotton-peanut rotation, nematode populations had exploded in his area. It’s a common problem throughout the Southeast that can start slowly — with minor yield losses often attributed to something else — and then become worse over time.

“We didn’t have this problem 10 to 15 years ago, but we have it now. You can pull up a root and see that it’s nematodes,” Dozier said. “We’ve taken samples, and the counts are high. The majority is reniform, but we also have a few fields with root-knot nematodes.”

After learning about new PhytoGen® W3FE varieties with resistance to both reniform and root-knot nematodes, Dozier planted a few fields to PhytoGen® brand PHY 443 W3FE in 2021. Southeast producers will remember that 2021 was not a good year for cotton, with early season drought in some areas followed by what seemed like continuous rain in August. Yields were down across the board, but his PhytoGen brand varieties ended up on top.

Georgia producer Stephen Dozier inspects a healthy cotton root system in a field with known reniform nematode populations. Dozier saw yields slowly decrease for about a decade due to increasing populations of the pest. Now he’s found a winning solution.

“It was a bad cotton year because of the weather, but the fields planted to PHY 443 W3FE averaged 1,254 pounds per acre. That was the very best cotton we had in 2021 in fields with historically lower yields because of nematodes,” Dozier said. “Typically, 1,254 pounds isn’t something to get excited about, but that was a high yield in 2021 when competitive varieties were producing 600 to 800 pounds per acre.”

Surprising benefit with peanuts

Although reniform resistance first drew Dozier to PhytoGen W3FE varieties, he quickly discovered another benefit for in-season management: the Enlist® weed control system. He previously planted cotton varieties with dicamba-based herbicide systems, but he had apprehensions about using dicamba near peanuts.

“I never really liked spraying dicamba because it doesn’t fit well with peanuts. Why would you want to spray something on your cotton that will kill your peanuts? And that goes the other way too,” Dozier said. “With PhytoGen W3FE varieties and peanuts, we can spray 2,4-D products on both crops — it’s a perfect fit.”

PhytoGen W3FE varieties have the Enlist® cotton trait for labeled applications of Enlist One® and Enlist Duo® herbicides with 2,4-D choline. Peanuts have inherent tolerance to 2,4-Db, a common herbicide used across peanut acres in the Southeast. Because both peanuts and PhytoGen W3FE varieties utilize 2,4-D-based herbicides, there are distinct synergies when planting near one another.

“You can plant peanuts adjacent to PhytoGen W3FE varieties and spray Enlist herbicides in your cotton without an impact on peanuts due to their inherent tolerance to 2,4-D,” said PhytoGen Cotton Development Specialist Russell Nuti, Ph.D. “The benefit goes the other way too. When you apply 2,4-Db on peanuts, PhytoGen W3FE varieties are protected from drift because they can metabolize 2,4-Db without damage to the cotton plants.”

Dozier said those benefits made his weed control program more timely and flexible. He recalled one day his peanut sprayer was applying 2,4-Db in a peanut field while his cotton sprayer applied Enlist One in an adjacent field of PHY 443 W3FE. In that situation, he was safe to spray whichever way the wind blew because of compatibility between the surrounding crops.

PhytoGen Cotton Development Specialist Russell Nuti, Ph.D., (left) uses a drone to capture photos of a field farmed by Stephen Dozier of Arlington, Georgia. Dozier frequently saw yellow, wilted areas in his cotton fields due to nematode populations, but he’s seen a dramatic improvement with PhytoGen® W3FE varieties.

Incredible early season vigor

If he wasn’t convinced by the reniform resistance and weed control compatibility, the early season vigor with PhytoGen® cottonseed closed the deal in his mind. He said the vigor outpaces the competition so much that he had to reduce planting rates by 4,500 seeds/A. His historical seeding rate with competitive varieties was about 32,000 seeds/A, but he’s reduced to 27,500 seeds/A with PhytoGen cottonseed because of the strong emergence and vigor.

At those seeding rates, he’s planting 1.17 more acres with each bag of seed and plants 20 fewer bags per 1,000 acres. Lowering input costs helps his bottom line, and the benefits continue after planting.

“Early season vigor gets everything out of the ground at the same time and helps it stay uniform throughout the year, from plant management all the way through defoliation,” Dozier said. “And you don’t want to replant acres — you want to get planted and be done. I didn’t have to replant any PhytoGen cottonseed because of low vigor.”

With all these benefits, Dozier planted 100% of his cotton acres to PhytoGen brand varieties in 2022. As he went through a preplant checklist, it became obvious that each field would gain from the benefits of PhytoGen brand varieties.

“I started thinking about the fields I farm, considering what varieties to plant. The first place that came to mind has reniform nematodes, and the neighbor sprays 2,4-Db on his peanuts — so I’ve got to plant PhytoGen,” Dozier said. “I next thought about a dryland field where it can be hard to get the crop up — plus there are peanuts beside it. So PhytoGen was the answer. Then I thought about some rented land that’s full of nematodes and next to peanuts — another one for PhytoGen. After I went down the list, it was obvious I needed to go 100% PhytoGen.” 

Results from 2022 season

Dozier said he was extremely happy with that decision, yielding a triple-digit improvement over the previous year’s farm average. On fields with heavy reniform nematodes, he made several hundred more pounds per acre compared to competitive varieties. He said PhytoGen® brand PHY 443 W3FE and PhytoGen brand PHY 411 W3FE were both excellent yielders, with PHY 411 W3FE better suited to acres with higher fertility and lighter soils.

“The average across my farm is higher than it’s ever been," Dozier said. "When I showed the results to my banker, he said, ‘Wow, what did you do differently this year?’ Planting 100% PhytoGen is one of the best decisions I have made in years, and I will definitely plant 100% PhytoGen again next season.”

As he looks to the 2023 season, he’s looking at adding other PhytoGen brand varieties to the mix and refining his herbicide program to get the most out of the Enlist system. But overall, he’s excited about new opportunities to increase production on his farm.

“Two years ago, our nematodes kept getting worse and worse, and some fields were unbelievably bad. I’m talking 600-pound irrigated cotton — that will put you out of business,” Dozier said. “With PhytoGen, the cotton looks healthy like it did 10 years ago before the nematodes. Our average yields are higher, our plant populations lower, and our weed control is easier. That’s why I’m planting PhytoGen.