Study: Planting cantaloupes, cotton together can boost profits

02/20/2013 09:55:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

intercropping cantaloupe and cottonBrian Tankersley, University of GeorgiaIntercropping cantaloupes with cotton can reduce input costs, according to a University of Georgia study.Cantaloupes and cotton both begin with C, and on first glance that's about all they share.

But a University of Georgia researcher has found they pair well if planted together, reducing planting time and costs while creating the same, if not more, profit for some farmers, according to a news release.

Brian Tankersley, a Tift County Extension coordinator, has been studying intercropping cotton with cantaloupe or watermelons since 2010 with positive results in some fields.

Management and yields of the melons with cotton are about the same as melons planted alone.

William Dillard, who farms in Excelsior, broached Tankersley about the subject initially after seeing it in another grower's field.

The concept is prep once, harvest twice.

"Once you get through with the melons, it's very hard to get a second crop and get it to where you can get it to grow before frost," Dillard said in the release. "This way you're able to get it planted in a timely manner."

One of his intercropped fields produced 1,200 pounds of cotton without affecting cantaloupe yields, and another produced 800 pounds of cotton with affecting melon yields.

The reason for the yield reduction is Dillard ran out of water in the cotton crop in the second field.

During 2011, five growers participated in field trials comprising 12 fields and 385 acres led by Tankersley.

The participants actually intercropped 1,000 acres but only collected data on 385.

Those acres yielded an average of 1,216 pounds of cotton, or about two and one-half bales, per acre.

That compares to a statewide average yield of 900 to 950 pounds per acre when cotton is grown alone.

In addition, fertilizer costs were reduced because cotton shares the same soil used earlier by cantaloupes or watermelons.

The crops also share the same irrigation system. And because the land has already been tilled for the melon crop, land preparation costs for cotton were eliminated.

But intercropping does have limitations.

It won't work on late cucurbit crops that are harvested in late July. That leaves too short a season to obtain a good cotton yield.

Farmers also should consider the commodity market to determine how grain sorghum and cotton prices compare.

Weeds also are a concern for that long a season, according to the release.

During the 2012 season, about 75 percent of the fields required some weed pulling following the melon harvest.

And probably most importantly, growers should not do anything to jeopardize the cucurbit crop since it is much more expensive to grow than cotton, according to the release.

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