The best way to describe the 2011 growing season in many areas of the Mid-South is a wild, unpredictable ride with floods, cool temperatures and extreme heat and drought.
John McKee, whose operation is located near Friars Point, Miss., farms a good bit of land over the levee. In 1951, his grandfather built a private levee around it, which never broke and was never overtopped even in 1973 and 1997. Although it’s a high piece of land, 2011 was a different story.
“The land behind the big levee is some of our best land,” McKee says. “I lost some corn and wheat to the flood and didn’t get to plant the cotton that I wanted to plant. On a gamble, I did plant some cotton behind the flood on June 8. The gamble paid off with one of the early varieties, but another variety that wasn’t as early got nipped by frost, which hit the yield pretty hard.”
Tornados, Seep Water & Deer
Not only did the flood affect McKee’s late-planted cotton, it also was detrimental on the east side of the big levee due to seep water.
“Every acre of cotton that I had along the protected side of the big levee was adversely affected by seep water,” he says. “On top of that, deer from the neighboring hunting lands seeking a dry place to go ate 80 acres of my cotton twice. Once they bite into the tender cotyledon leaves, that is it.
“Although the land behind the levee flooded last year, from an environmental standpoint, the private levee usually serves as a refuge for the animals when the water comes up,” McKee adds. “That is a good thing.”
To add insult to injury, an April tornado hit McKee’s shop for the third time and tore up two of his pivots – a double whammy.
When asked if what he experienced in 2011 would affect his plans for 2012, McKee says he will treat the land over the levee just like he treats the rest of his farm.
“We don’t know if the river will come up again this year or not, but I am going to try to do everything I normally would and hope for the best,” he says. “This is all part of farming; we’ll get over it.”
Dryland Cotton In Question
Arkansas farmer Brian McDaniel also faced high-water challenges in 2011. Although he normally starts planting in the middle of April, persistent wet conditions forced him to begin planting on his high ground in the first week of May.
“We were planning to plant between 3,700 and 3,800 acres of cotton, but we were only able to plant 1,100 acres at that time,” he says. “Everything else was under water.
“It was getting late, but we had cotton booked so we had to try to plant enough to make our booking no matter how late it was,” McDaniel adds. “As the water began to recede, we started planting again on May 26 or 27 and finished on June 6. In a normal year, I wouldn’t think about planting cotton that late. In the end, we were able to plant about 2,900 acres.”
Although he did get some decent weather during the growing season and the crop looked beautiful, McDaniel says he was surprised when his yields ranged from 700 pounds per acre to 1,400 – a big variance that he primarily attributes to planting date.
But despite the challenges he faced in 2011, including the flood and extreme heat during the growing season, McDaniel is determined to carry on business as usual in 2012.
“We’ve been growing cotton along the St. Francis River for a long time, and I plan to plant our normal amount of cotton acreage this year,” he says. “The only thing I may change is not plant any dryland cotton unless prices improve or the price of some major inputs like fertilizer goes down. Instead, we may plant the dryland acres to a crop that doesn’t require such high input costs.”
In Mississippi, Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds says many producers were worried about how their cotton crops were going to pick at harvest given the extreme temperatures to which they were subjected.
“As it turned out,” he says, “we picked a pretty respectable crop. One of the main things that held true in 2011 is that cotton tends to hold on better than some of the other crops in extreme heat situations.”
Dodds also points out that 80 percent of the cotton acres got sprayed for thrips last year. Even though a seed treatment may have been used, when the weather turned cold and the seed stayed in the ground for so long, he says the seed treatments probably became less effective over time. Thus, farmers had to spray for thrips.
“I wouldn’t put a cotton seed in the ground without a seed treatment on it,” Dodds says. “However, you have to take the weather into consideration. If it gets cold early in the season like it did last year, farmers need to be prepared to take care of some of the early season insects such as thrips.”
Another area in which many cotton producers probably gain-ed insight in 2011 pertains to irrigation scheduling.
“Those that had water irrigated quite a bit last year,” Dodds says. “With that in mind, many probably learned a lot about when and how much to irrigate and when and when not to irrigate. Sometimes you actually can irrigate too much. So we probably learned something about that, also.”
Just as cotton has proved to be one of the most resilient crops under adverse conditions, the same can be said for cotton producers. Although last year’s roller coaster ride was terrible weather-wise, Mid-South producers are putting it behind them and moving toward the 2012 season with optimism and a determination to succeed.
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.