It's been said that what you can measure you can change. Perhaps there's no better place to test that theory than in a cotton field.
Managing the cotton-growing cycle is so complex that the industry uses an analogy: While growing certain crops is more like doing algebra, growing cotton is like doing calculus. In addition, cotton producers serve an extremely diverse customer base which often desires visibility into the production system in service of sustainability goals.
While cotton producers are working through those equations, John Deere is providing technology, best-in-class equipment, and data tools that enable the sustainable outcomes growers and their customers desire.
When a cotton plant emerges, it starts growing bolls close to the stalk. Every day or two, another new boll emerges and it becomes a bigger and bigger plant. However, if the plant grows too tall and wide, it won't produce a meaningful cotton crop. Therefore, a grower must constantly manage its growth pattern.
To effectively "manage" a cotton field, growers must apply nutrients and chemicals throughout the growing season including herbicides, plant-growth regulators, insecticides, and fertilizers. In total, a typical growing season involves 11 nutrient and chemical passes per field, which is both expensive and environmentally impactful.
This is where John Deere See & Spray™ system comes in. John Deere's upcoming in-season version of See & Spray can significantly reduce the amount of contact herbicides applied in cotton production using targeted spraying.1 Deere sees this as just the beginning of the journey to develop "sense-and-act" technology in the field. While four passes in a cotton-growing season involve herbicides, there is tremendous opportunity for future technology to deliver sustainable and economic outcomes that address the remaining seven passes.
Deere's current technology stack is already saving cotton producers an estimated nearly $50 an acre through innovations like ExactApply™ sprayer system, section control, and AutoTrac™ guidance.2 With the addition of See & Spray Ultimate system, and its targeted broadcast-spray technology, this figure could climb even higher. Contact herbicides — those that are applied directly to the plants — represent a significant expense item on a grower's financials, costing nearly $50 per acre. John Deere's in-season See & Spray technology is expected to provide savings of this line item of more than two-thirds, resulting in additional per-acre savings of over $30.1,3 This is good for our growers' businesses, and good for the environment.
At the same time, John Deere continues to deliver better and more efficient machine forms to meet customer needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, John Deere launched the C770 Cotton Harvesters, which are the culmination of more than a decade-long journey that started in 2009 to revolutionize cotton harvesting.
The benefits of the C770 include an impressive 20-percent fuel savings through efficient engine technology and machine design — reducing fuel costs for the customer and lowering greenhouse gas emissions for the environment — and a completely redesigned baler system. During the cotton harvesting process, each bale is wrapped in plastic to enable transport. The C770 packs more cotton into each bale, and reduces the amount of wrap required per pound by eight percent on cotton pickers and 12 percent on cotton strippers.4
More cotton per bale also means more cotton per load hauled to production sites — called gins — where cotton fibers are separated from their seeds. That translates into fewer trips from field to gin, additional fuel and time savings, and an extension of safety beyond the farm by reducing traffic on rural roadways.
In addition to completing the hard work in the field, John Deere "connected machines" — those connected to the John Deere Operations Center through JDLink™ telematics system — are also constantly capturing and transmitting data. Capturing this in-field information informs innovation and helps make production systems more efficient and sustainable.
Deere customer Trey Davis, owner of Davis Family Farms in Doerun, Georgia, operates 4,500 acres of cotton, 2,500 acres of peanuts, and 600 acres of corn annually uses John Deere Operations Center data to help with its sustainability journey by identifying underperforming acres that can be repurposed. For example, he recently converted 20 acres of land into a pollinator plot, which is a more economic and sustainable use of that land.
Deere is also working to enable our customers to leverage their data to access additional value associated with their sustainable practices and sustainable crops. One example involves the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol (U.S. CTP).
Cotton buyers are increasingly demanding more sustainably grown cotton and more visibility into the practices used to grow that cotton. Established in 2020, U.S. CTP wants to build a coalition of sustainable cotton growers to meet these demands. To qualify for U.S. CTP, growers must complete a sustainability analysis, which evaluates the sustainability of the customer's production practices using the Field to Market® Fieldprint® calculator. Backed by the National Cotton Council and Cotton Incorporated, U.S. CTP then shares that aggregate information with cotton buyers — like clothing retailers — who can use this information to meet their own commitments related to sustainable products.
One of the key barriers to participation for growers is the hours it takes to enter manual data into relevant forms. This is where the John Deere Operations Center comes in. The John Deere innovation team is working to enable Operations Center customers to quickly import information and complete 60 percent of the form with the click of a button. And the remainder can be completed through a more streamlined process, eliminating most of the manual-entry requirements.
By building trust through providing visibility into the sustainable practices utilized by cotton growers, U.S. CTP can serve the growing demand by retailers for sustainably grown cotton. By eliminating the documentation hurdle required for participation, Deere can enable its customers to easily get real, tangible value from their sustainable growing practices. In this case, that value is access to markets for their cotton they may not have had before.