Specialists Speaking - December 2008
It’s Time To Choose Varieties
Due to the flooding in Missouri this year, our cotton producers may benefit from the Emergency Water-shed Program (EWP). This money was made available to midwestern states after this year’s flood. Since much of this money was unclaimed, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is being allowed to use some of this money to clean out major drainage ditches in southeast Missouri.
Millions of dollars were made available to clean out Little River Floodway ditches as well as the major drainage ditches in Missouri cotton country. Dredging has already started in many areas, and a number of contracts are awaiting approval from the Missouri NRCS office. Due to erosion, many of these ditches have too much silt and vegetation. As a result, on-farm drainage was often delayed. Having cool and wet soils can cause havoc on emerging seedlings since cotton doesn’t like wet feet.
Missouri cotton producers have an opportunity through their local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) to explore ways to improve drainage on their own farms. Many of the old drainage pipes have rusted out or been damaged and cost-share programs may be available to replace them.
With moneys available for conservation practices through the NRCS, SWCD and the Special Land Area Treatment (SALT) projects in many of the Bootheel counties, producers should see what practices are available for cost-share. I suspect that it will be some time before we see opportunities like this again.
Out of necessity, farmers have to treat their farming operations like any other full-time business. They have to turn a profit, and the land and equipment need to be utilized year-round for maximum efficiency.
Producers often ask if cover crops make a difference in cotton yields since conservation tillage has become more accepted. Research has confirmed that yields can be increased by an average of 10 percent from cover crops versus fallow or bare ground. Much of this has to do with moisture and temperature impacts on cotton during the growing season.
Recent research has shown the value of cattle grazing winter annuals prior to planting cotton. Two years of research comparing oat and rye mixtures as winter grazing show that lint yields for cotton are increased by 200-300 pounds per acre when cattle are grazed versus not grazing.
Even though there is some surface compaction of soil by cattle during the winter in the grazed areas as compared to the ungrazed areas, there is an advantage in more nitrogen being available to the cotton from manure, which shows up in petiole and leaf samples throughout the season.
The cotton harvest in Georgia has proceeded pretty much according to plan, with some good open weather in October. There was a light freeze just before Halloween, but it does not appear that too much of the late-planted cotton was brought to a screeching halt too prematurely.
Rain in early October and again in early November will guarantee that we will still be gathering the crop past Thanksgiving and on toward Christmas. A slightly delayed peanut harvest has also eliminated the possibility of an early cotton harvest.
Variety selection for 2009 will obviously be an important decision for producers to be working on over the winter. Hopefully, they have already started to try out a few new varieties on their farms. Studying Official Variety Trial (OVT) data is also highly recommended.
Switching every cotton acre on your farm from a proven variety to a brand new, unproven variety would not be considered an acceptable transition plan – no matter how good the numbers look.
I actually had a prominent cotton producer in Georgia call and say he would try to grow his crop next year with absolutely no fertilizer. As you can imagine, this made me pretty nervous. So we talked about a good base of P and K fertilizer and split applications of nitrogen and maybe a little boron thrown in for good measure. I think he was pulling my chain, or venting…at least I sure hope so.
Nitrogen prices have become a major expense for cotton producers who often apply extra N to prevent a nutrient deficiency in the event we have a huge crop with a lot of leaching rainfall on our sandy soils in North Carolina.
Having excess N often contributes to ranker cotton and decreased defoliant efficacy, but this is more preferable to the chance of running out of nitrogen.
With the increased cost of nitrogen, many producers will need to make plans to have a more judicious fertilization program. Remember that soil test recommendations are based on soil type and that the recommendations are made to supply a two-bale cotton crop.
A more judicious approach is to limit pre- and side-dress nitrogen applications to recommended limits. Producers can respond to leaching rains and crop status with foliar nitrogen when and where needed.
Normally, this time of year I receive many calls about when the Alabama Cotton Variety Test information will be available. My phone has been noticeably quiet this year. It appears that the cotton crop in Alabama was generally better than we expected, but most farmers are very much undecided on whether they will plant cotton in 2009.
There are many reasons for the declining interest in cotton but most centers on low price and high input costs. To cover costs, consistent high cotton yields are needed. This is possible with irrigation, but since 95 percent of the cotton in Alabama is not irrigated, cotton has become a high risk crop for many Alabama farmers.
Interest in cotton has declined and returned several times since I have worked in Alabama. This time it will take a combination of higher prices and lower input costs before we see a significant increase in non-irrigated cotton acreage in the state.
The 2008 crop year in the High Plains was a tough one for our producers, with overall higher input costs, including energy, fertilizer and pumping. Weather also provided its challenges and was not as kind to us as 2007.
The spring rainfall came late, and planting was initiated somewhat behind schedule. The first two weeks of June were disastrous, with a collision of final planting dates and hot, windy weather. A large percentage of dryland acreage was lost, and many irrigated acres were under extreme duress during that time. The really shiny cotton was that which was planted into terminated or strip-tilled small grains cover in the sandy areas.
Much of this cotton remained relatively unaffected by the hot, windy conditions. Mid-June rainfall helped out considerably in many areas. July and August were relatively normal, and beneficial rainfall was obtained in some counties.
As we begin to ponder management issues for 2009, many factors should be considered. Reduced tillage to save trips across the field, deep soil sampling to determine residual nitrate-nitrogen and thorough soil sampling for other nutrients should all be seriously considered.
As 2008 draws to a close, several things are probably running through the minds of many folks including (but not limited to): a flock of mallards working into range, a monster buck at 40 yards and what’s under the candy cane wrapping paper.
However, once all of the college football bowl games have concluded, and everyone is in from the hunting grounds, thoughts will return once again to producing a crop in 2009.
As everyone knows, 2009 is the last full season for cotton varieties containing Bollgard I technology. The changeover in variety selection has begun in Mississippi as ST 4554 B2RF replaced DP 555 BG/RR as the No. 1 planted variety in the state in 2008. However, our producers are still planting nearly 60 percent of the acres with varieties containing the Bollgard I technology. I strongly encourage all producers to plant at least a portion of your acres in 2009 to a variety that will be available in 2010.
Finally, I would like to wish everyone a safe and joyous holiday season and a prosperous year in 2009.
There were many changes and improvements in the cotton industry over the years that have truly revolutionized cotton production in the United States.
I would contend that the most significant event or series of events that have transformed how we produce cotton has been the development and introduction of transgenic traits, including herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.
Varieties containing the original Bollgard trait developed by Monsanto that was so effective in terms of lepidopteran pest control will no longer be available for purchase after September 2009. This trait has truly revolutionized pest control in Arizona, particularly with respect to control of the pink bollworm (PBW) and has played a critical role in the current success of our PBW eradication program.
I am encouraged by the new varieties that are available to our Arizona cotton producers both in terms of yield and fiber quality. I also feel confident that progress will continue to be made with new technologies that are being introduced today and with technologies that will be introduced in the future.
This issue of Cotton Farming includes the annual seed guide, which is full of information about new and existing varieties. The seed guide changes every year, but seems to be changing at a faster rate than ever before.
Several companies are now involved in the cotton seed business. But the real factors driving the introduction of new varieties are the transgenic traits and advanced breeding programs.
The need for evaluating new varieties is illustrated acutely by the situation with DP 555 BG/RR. That variety has been a staple in Louisiana for several years and has a proven yield history. However, 2009 will be the final year it will be available for sale because Bollgard will not be re-registered.
On a personal note, this will be my last Specialists Speaking column. I will be leaving the university to be part of a new company focused on independent ag research, consulting and development.
I look forward to supporting the cotton industry in a different capacity. The past several years as cotton specialist in Louisiana have been wonderful for my family and me.
The people in the cotton
industry are the best, hardest working and most innovative in the
world, and it has been an honor to work with them as a state cotton
specialist. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.