What do the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 have in common? In each of these years, Tennessee’s most productive cotton ground will be planted to soybeans. Not by choice this year, but by necessity. If you are not familiar with Tennessee’s Delta (Mississippi River bottoms), you might be surprised to learn that we do not have levee protection in Lauderdale, Tipton and parts of Shelby counties. The reason for this is that in the 90-mile stretch from Memphis to Dyersburg there are five rivers flowing west, emptying into the Great River.
This area frequently fills with backwater as the Mississippi rises in the spring. We constantly keep an eye on the river stage at Cairo, Ill., for depth approaching 45 feet as an indicator that the water will start to rise. In 2010, May 1-2 saw record rainfall across most of West and Middle Tennessee. Some areas had as little as six inches, while other areas had totals approaching 22 inches.
Most everyone saw the devastation that occurred in Nashville. Most cotton industry folks are familiar with the Opryland Hotel from the numerous Beltwide Cotton Conferences held there. Opryland Hotel had as much as eight feet of water from the Cumberland River inside the entire complex. All this water, plus what falls across much of the Midwest eventually flows into the Mississippi, flooding our Delta areas to near record levels.
Why is this important to the cotton industry? Because in a non-flood year, the Tennessee Delta can be home to nearly 100,000 acres of our best cotton ground. This translates into roughly 250,000 bales of cotton or roughly one-third of our annual bale production. This is only a very small percentage of production across the Cotton Belt, but can have a dramatic impact on the local producers and local economies driven by farming.
Thankfully, soybean prices are at a level to help support the local economy, but many “dyed-in-the-lint” cotton farmers are planting soybeans for the third year. Total estimated loss in cotton acres due to the flooding could reach as high as 60,000 acres. There was much optimism for a larger than expected cotton crop in Tennessee this year, but perhaps prices will remain high, and Mother Nature will be more cooperative in 2011.
We hope to see everyone at the 26th Milan No-Till Field Day in Milan, Tenn., on July 22, beginning at 7 a.m. Please visit the Research and Education Center at Milan’s Web site for more details at http://milan.tennessee.edu/.
We are in better shape as far as planting than we were last year. The Missouri Crop Progress and Condition Report for the week ending on May 9 shows we are about 51 percent planted. This is up 35 points from the previous week and is considered about normal for Missouri. Although we are expecting some rain for the next week, we do have a lot of wind, and the temperatures are warmer, which will speed up drying.
It seems that we have a “blackberry winter” around the end of April or the first of May. This was certainly the case this season. In my opinion, the biggest problem for those who planted early was the cooler soil temperatures and the potential for chilling injury. We have ideal temperatures forecast during the next 10 days. In Southeast Missouri, we are blessed with the soil and water resources that we have.
As a result, more producers are putting in center pivots. Several of the NRCS and state programs for soil and water conservation include pivot re-nozzling for cost-share since it increases efficiency.
The month of May was feast and famine for our producers across Alabama where rainfall was concerned. After delaying planting for several days, we finally received enough rainfall to get the planters into the field and rolling. Unfortunately, areas to the north in Tennessee took a pounding from that storm system.
After a couple of weeks of good soil moisture and warmer temperatures, cotton began to emerge and grow in most fields with additional moisture needed by the middle of the month. Most of the crop acreage in our state is considered dryland and is dependent solely on rainfall for successful crops. There has been a great deal of work for many years in most cotton states dealing with this issue.
The historical weather and yield data from the “Old Rotation” and “Cullars Rotation” studies that are conducted by Drs. Charles Mitchell and Dennis Delaney have indicated that June rainfall is perhaps the most critical when it comes to high cotton yields. While cotton can certainly be resilient and overcome early season stresses, the move from conventional to conservation tillage has gone a long way to help alleviate low rainfall periods.
High winds throughout much of south and central Texas has induced stress on young cotton plants and delayed timely herbicide applications in late April and early May. However, overall the cotton crop in south and central Texas is progressing nicely, and adequate soil moisture is present for good crop growth.
Cotton fields in the Rio Grande Valley were in the half-grown square stage; the Coastal Bend cotton was in the early squaring stage; and the Blacklands were at the one- to four-leaf stage. Cotton planting in the Rolling Plains began this week (May 10), but many producers were waiting on additional precipitation before planting large acreage.
At this time (May 14-15), widespread precipitation is falling across much of the Blacklands, Upper Gulf Coast, Coastal Bend, Rolling Plains and High Plains, while the Rio Grande Valley missed the rainfall. The timing of this precipitation could not be better for cotton producers across the state.
The Southeast has gone through about 10 years of below normal rainfall with water tables dropping and drinking water wells having to be dug deeper. Late fall of 2009 brought about record rainfall the last three months of the year, which delayed cotton harvest but filled up many ponds and lakes and brought the water table back. With crop production costs continuing to climb as well as technology that producers are accepting with the seed, financial risks have increased making it necessary that high yields are made. Crops grown with irrigation have increased due to these increased production costs, putting more strain on surface and ground water.
Our research has shown that high yields can be maintained even without irrigation if proper rotations are followed. Cotton grown after peanuts that were in bahiagrass for two years has greater rooting depth and higher nitrogen and water uptake, leading to yields as high as irrigated cotton in a continuous peanut/cotton rotation.
When making replant decisions, the first rule is to not make the final judgment on the extent of crop damage too quickly, and it is usually best to delay the final stand evaluation until after the crop is exposed to two or three days of good growing conditions. Plants subjected to long periods of adverse growing conditions are often afflicted with seedling diseases that infect roots, the vascular system and leaves.
During periods of cool, cloudy conditions, the crop may appear relatively normal but will deteriorate rapidly when the weather turns sunny and hot. Historical High Plains data indicate that the lower limits of acceptable population densities for irrigated fields are about 1.5 plants per foot, or around 20,000 plants per acre. At densities less than that, rapid declines in yields of irrigated cotton can be encountered. Poor spacing uniformity may cause significant yield reductions even though
the average number of plants per acre is adequate for optimum production.
Yields tend to decline in proportion to the area without plants when skips exceeding three feet in length are on adjacent rows. As a general rule, if two or more reasonably healthy plants remain per-foot of row (in 40-inch row spacings) and there are not too many long skips, the stand is likely adequate to obtain near optimum yields.
Late replanting can result in lower yield potential, reduced fiber quality (especially lower micronaire), delayed harvest and sometimes increased harvesting and ginning costs. After an assessment has been made of the existing crop and if there is some doubt about whether to replant, it is usually best not to replant.
Cotton has always had a tremendous capacity to recover from adversities.
Timely rainfall across Georgia during late April and early May allowed producers to plant into decent moisture and establish a good stand in most places. According to the USDA-NASS, 27 percent of cotton was planted by May 9, which was a little ahead of last year’s planting and right on schedule when compared to the average of the previous four years. So far, we are off to a good start.
During June, producers should closely monitor the development of their crops. This is the time when several critical irrigation decisions are made that could significantly impact the development of fruit. This is also the time when the first PGR applications are generally made. Monitoring the growth and development of the cotton crop will be more important in making PGR decisions this year compared to years past. We are planting more of our acreage to newer varieties, and most appear to be somewhat less aggressive than DP 555 BR in terms of vegetative growth potential.
While most of the Mid-South recovers from excess rainfall, Louisiana cotton producers are already suffering under a critical drought. Producers in the northern part of the state got most of their cotton planted in the early part of the optimal planting window, and that cotton has emerged and is doing well, for now.
Producers in the central part of the state missed some of the timely rains the northern parishes received, and, as a result, had to cease planting until a good soaking rain comes their way. One large producer near the Mississippi River recently dry-planted his cotton and is furrow-irrigating behind it, hoping to get a good stand. Some fields that were scheduled to be planted in cotton may be switched to soybeans if rain does not come soon.
So far, there have been very few reports of thrips damage, but spider mites were noted in a field that received an excellent burndown. Producers will want to be extra vigilant for insect pressure and other pests if the drought continues to stress and weaken the young cotton crop.
Most of Northern Alabama did not experience the heavy rains that our neighbors in Tennessee experienced in early May. Very little cotton has needed replanting, and although cool nights have the cotton growing slowly, this is common for this time of year. Late May and early June is usually a time of rapid change as temperatures become more consistent and cotton growth jumps.
This is the time to watch cotton closely for anything that is limiting growth. Thrips damage should be watched closely because much of the cotton has been planted over a month, and seed and in-furrow treatments may no longer be effective.
Generally, this is a time when broadcast herbicides may also be needed to control weeds, and farmers should use this spraying time to see if there are any weak areas in the cotton fields. Many are planting cotton for the first time in three years.