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Long Season Nears Crucial Midpoint

FLORIDA: David Wright

It is very important to protect bolls that are being set in July as 90 percent of the yield is often set during this month. Plant bugs and stink bugs have become more of a problem with corn being grown in the rotation. Most of the stink bugs will come out of corn as it starts drying down, and this is normally in late July in the Deep South, but much of the corn is about two weeks later than normal due to later planting and cooler weather early in the season. Most producers have to spray very little except for the sucking pests since most cotton varieties are protected by Bt proteins. Good scouting is important for managing growth, weeds and insects and can result in high yields if managed properly. Keeping cotton growth under control has advantages for controlling insects and in defoliation. There is potential for high yields this year, and that will be very important with prices where they are. wright@ufl.edu

ALABAMA: Dale Monks

Our family farmed vegetables, soybeans and burley tobacco in southern middle Tennessee all through my “growing up” years. We saw droughts, floods and everything in between. I have heard Ron Smith mention on several occasions that he has never seen two years alike. Ron has a lifetime devoted to cotton and understands a lot more about the crop than I ever will. Back on our farm in Skinem, Tenn., my dad used to say that he had rather try to “work out a crop” in a wet year than during a drought. That seems to be the sentiment at Society Hill (“The Hill”) where we gather several mornings each week at Walters’ Gas and Grill to discuss farming and philosophy, and to solve world problems. In our community we don’t complain about rain in June and July because we have seen too many seasons dry up early. This year’s early rains pushed cotton planting later a couple of weeks and forced producers into other options. Low areas of some fields that we were accustomed to planting were left unplanted because the soil stayed saturated for so many weeks. The 2013 crop went through heavy rains, cooler temperatures and delays but turned out excellent yields because of good weather at the end. We hope that this year will turn out well with the sunshine and excellent soil moisture that we had in June. Follow us on Twitter at “AU Crop Specialists” or online at www.alabamacrops.com. monkscd@auburn.edu

MISSOURI: Mike Milam

The Missouri cotton crop is doing better than I expected with all of our rainfall during the planting season. According to the Crop Progress and Condition Report for the week ending June 9, 35 percent of the crop is considered fair, 51 percent good and seven percent excellent. Since much of our cotton was planted after the optimal planting date, it is surprising that we have 11 percent squared compared with the five-year average of six percent. The Southeast region has 34 percent of our soils with surplus moisture. It would be nice if we could just hang on to this moisture until the usual July and August drought phases. Since May 1, the Cardwell weather station has had 11.02 inches of rainfall. Last year, during the same period, we had slightly more than eight inches of rain. With the alternating wet and dry conditions, it has caused some problems with activation of herbicides. This morning, I saw cotton that was recovering from standing water in a low end of the field. We have had a few problems with thrips, and it seems that spray drift is increasing. It will be interesting to see how the remainder of the year plays out. Insect numbers weren’t bad during the early season but could rebound. Resistant pigweed will continue to be a problem, so producers will need to make timely sprays. milammr@missouri.edu

NORTH CAROLINA: Keith Edmisten

The crop appears to be ahead when you consider last year, but much of the crop is behind when you look at long-term averages. Cool nights and dry weather have contributed to this. Producers will be facing growth regulator decisions in July and the potential response to growth regulators. Dry weather in June makes the lower internodes on the plant shorter. This is fairly common for us in North Carolina and is one of the reasons we don’t rely so much on height-to-node ratios or total plant height in making growth regulator application decisions. Looking at the last fully expanded internode gives us a much better idea of the current growth potential and is not influenced by earlier plant growth. The internode of interest is the largest of the internode above or below the fourth mainstem leaf down from the top on the plant. If this measurement is averaging more than 2.5 inches, the plant is showing growth potential that may need to be slowed down with growth regulators. The N.C. Cotton Field Day this year will be held at the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station at Rocky Mount on Sept. 10. The schedule will be different than in past years. We plan to start at the East Carolina Ag & Education Center (1175 Kingsboro Road) where the National Cotton Council will make a presentation on the Farm Bill. We will then move to the station for lunch and tours following lunch. keith_edmisten@ncsu.edu

LOUISIANA: Dan Fromme

Although a little behind, the Louisiana cotton crop is looking very promising. Since planting was initiated, temperatures have been fairly moderate. DD60s accumulated for the past 60 days are about 14 percent below the average of the previous six years. Most of the cotton is beyond being susceptible to thrips. Soil moisture is very good in most parts of the state. As of June 13, most of the cotton fields are squaring. PGR applications will be going out to manage plant height and excess vegetative growth. Earlier planted fields in central Louisiana will be approaching first bloom in about 10 to 14 days. Since squaring began, insect pressure from aphids, fleahoppers and plant bugs has been low throughout most parts of the state. Square set is looking very good with fields having 80 to 85 percent square retention or higher. dfromme@ext.msstate.edu

GEORGIA: Guy Collins

As I write this on June 9, Georgia’s window for late-planted cotton will be ending in just a few days (June 15). Some areas experienced warmer and drier weather during early June. However, rainfall has generally been sufficient in getting this crop off to a good start. All in all, the 2014 crop is in pretty good shape, with some cotton recently emerged, while earlier planted cotton is now squaring. A few replants were necessary in areas that received intense packing rains early on. However, most fields resulted in decent stands. The big wave of thrips appeared to be later than normal this year. This pest is very consistent for Georgia producers and is expected in most years. For earlier planted cotton that has begun squaring or is approaching this stage, PGR decisions will likely be on most producers’ minds, as well as irrigation decisions. Regarding PGR management, producers should keep in mind that final plant height should be tall enough to support a decent boll load but short enough so that the likelihood of severe fruit shed and delays in maturity are reduced. Look for signs of vigorous growth and apply rates that are appropriate for the plant size, variety and environment (irrigated versus dryland). Field history, especially in irrigated fields, can be useful when determining the likelihood of excessive growth. guyc@uga.edu

TEXAS: Gaylon Morgan

The cotton crop across the state is much improved over last month’s article with some very timely rains across most of the major cotton production regions. The Rio Grande Valley’s dryland cotton crop looks better than it has in many years despite the crop being seven to 14 days behind average maturity. Rains from the Coastal Bend up through the Blacklands in late May completely turned the cotton crop around following a dry spring and erratic temperatures. Cotton began flowering in the Coastal Bend during the first week of June, and cotton throughout South Texas remains behind normal in maturity. The potential for a dryland cotton crop in the Rolling Plains was looking bleak last month. Now, with multiple rain events in late May and early June, producers have had good planting moisture and have been pushing hard to get their crops planted ahead of planting date deadlines. Statewide, cotton planted acres jumped more than 750,000 acres, from 62 percent to 85 percent between June 1 and June 8, according to USDA-NASS. Regarding management, we can expect some increased early season weed pressure in the Rolling Plains. For those producers who did not use pre-plant incorporated or preemergence herbicides to reduce the early season weed pressure, it will be even more important to use multiple mode-of-action postemergence herbicide programs to prevent and manage glyphosate resistant weeds. gmorgan@ag.tamu.edu

ARKANSAS: Bill Robertson

As costs continue to increase, the key to remaining profitable is to improve efficiency continuously. An example of increasing costs was shared with me by a producer comparing current costs to those from 2008. His nitrogen costs have increased 65 percent, phosphorous and potassium up 78 percent and the same horsepower tractor up 57 percent. Meanwhile, the price received for his cotton increased only 5.5 percent. The 2012 Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators Report, compiled by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, documents the continuous improvements of the industry. U.S. cotton producers use 75 percent less irrigation water to produce a pound of cotton today as compared to 1980. Great improvements are also seen for increasing land-use efficiency and reducing soil erosion, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per pound of cotton produced. Preliminary research presented at the 2014 Beltwide Cotton Conferences sponsored by the National Cotton Council and Cotton Incorporated indicates that producers who were more efficient with these factors were also more efficient with money spent on the crop, producing more pounds of cotton per dollar spent. brobertson@uaex.educ.

CALIFORNIA: Bob Hutmacher

Irrigation water supply problems remain a primary limiting factor that will drive most management decisions and options this year in the San Joaquin Valley. In addition to irrigation district water limitations that restrict the timing and amount of available better quality district water, we have a lot of producers relying on groundwater well pumping as a secondary water source, or in quite a few cases, their only source of irrigation water this year. It is a good thing that cotton is quite a salt-tolerant crop, since a wide range of salinity levels exist in groundwater wells across the valley. Insect pests in the early season this year have not been too major of a problem in most fields I have visited, but high levels of thrips slowed down growth in quite a few upland/acala fields this year, and some limited cases of early aphids and mites have required attention in some fields. With all of our water limitations, there may not be many opportunities to make up for early square and fruit losses by extending the fruiting period into the fall and going for a top crop. The water just may run out and prevent that option. For these reasons, it is an especially good year to be super attentive to identifying and controlling developing populations of lygus that pose significant threats to fruit retention. As of the second week of June, first post-planting irrigations have been made in many fields during the past two to three weeks, and that puts us on a little earlier than normal schedule. This reflects the warm weather we have been having and also is related to some “kick-start” from irrigation water. Most producers likely put the first of their splits of nitrogen fertilizer on prior to this most recent irrigation, with perhaps one more application before the next irrigation. No one wants nitrogen to be the yield-limiting factor in your fields, but if irrigation water limitations are one of your production problems this year, it can be important to try and reduce applied N since you may not have the water to go for a really long fruiting cycle with growth extending well into the fall. It is not generally a productive practice to use water and fertilizer to “build” a relatively large plant in the hope of lots of fruiting sites, and then short it for water, stressing it hard during the flowering and boll loading period. Many producers with water limitations are using every row or alternate row for drip irrigation this year and are deficit irrigating their cotton (applying less water than full crop water needs for high growth rates and high yields). These producers should plan even more than ever to “spoon feed” nitrogen to their plants to maintain acceptable N supply while not encouraging excessive vegetative growth that they cannot sustain. rbhutmacher@ucdavis.edu

ARIZONA: Randy Norton

The majority of the crop is now in bloom with some of the western part of the state approaching peak bloom. It appears that the cotton acreage in Arizona increased slightly from last year with about 170,000 planted acres. Approximately 10,000 acres in the state are planted to Pima cotton this year. This is up dramatically from recent years where Pima cotton acreage has hovered around 1,000 to 3,000 acres. Management of Pima cotton takes on a slightly different approach when compared to the upland varieties. Advances have been made over the past 10 to 15 years in breeding Pima varieties that are more determinate than the older varieties that were grown in Arizona during the 1980s and 1990s, but they are still relatively indeterminate when compared to upland varieties. Care should be taken in management of vegetative growth as Pima cotton has a tendency toward more vigorous vegetative growth. Managing the vegetative/reproductive balance through the proper use of plant growth regulators (PGRs) becomes even more critical when growing Pima varieties. Evaluating the crop through collection of height-to-node ratios (HNR) and percent fruit retention (FR) are excellent ways of evaluating the balance between vegetative and reproductive growth. Another easy technique that can serve as a quick indicator is to evaluate the length of the internodes. For more information on this topic and others go to cals.arizona.edu/crops. rnorton@cals.arizona.edu

VIRGINIA: Hunter Frame

Upon taking the position of Virginia’s cotton specialist in 2012, I immediately received questions about foliar feeding cotton during the bloom period with potassium and nitrogen. A key principle to remember in any soil fertility/plant nutrition program, regardless of the crop to be grown, is that the essential plant nutrients are classified in groups based on plant demand. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the primary macronutrients, meaning that plants need these nutrients in the highest quantities. Sulfur, magnesium, and calcium are considered the secondary macronutrients because plants need less of these nutrients than the primary macronutrients but still in greater quantities than the micronutrients. Micronutrients are needed in the smallest quantities but can still limit yield if deficiencies occur. Why is this classification important when discussing foliar feeding? The quantity of nutrients applied is limited when foliar feeding, especially when applying nitrogen and/or potassium. As the nitrogen and potassium application rates increase, the risk for crop injury also increases. A typical foliar feeding program in cotton may include 10 pounds of potassium nitrate (13-0-44) applied in 15 gallons of water. This application supplies 1.3 pounds of nitrogen and 4.4 pounds of potassium per acre. To put this into perspective, cotton during peak bloom has a potassium demand of three to four pounds per acre per day. This foliar application results in enough potassium for a little over a day, assuming 100 percent crop use efficiency. A producer would have to apply this application every other day during the bloom period if using foliar feeding as his primary fertility program component. It is best to start with a solid soil-applied fertility program for the macronutrients and use a foliar program in a supplemental role. Use tissue/petiole sampling to aid in decision making for applying foliar nitrogen and potassium during the bloom period. I recommend applying nitrogen and potassium during the first three weeks of bloom to get the most bang for your buck. whframe@vt.edu

NEW MEXICO: John Idowu

The season started with prolonged cold spells in different parts of New Mexico, which affected germination and emergence of cotton. In some cases, producers had to replant after unexpected cold weather that affected young seedlings. Recently, in the eastern part of the state, severe hailstorms were recorded in many areas, which affected several cotton fields and many other crops. Some farmers who had severe hail damage in eastern New Mexico are in the process of deciding whether to terminate the existing cotton crop for another summer crop. While there have been some rains in the cotton-growing regions in the east, there has been no rain in the southwest, which is another major cotton production region. Farmers had to rely on deep wells for their irrigation needs early in the season, but about two weeks ago, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District released water into canals for Doña Ana County, which is the second largest cotton producing county in New Mexico. Farmers will receive six acre-inches of water for irrigation this year compared to 3.5 acre-inches in 2013. Apart from hail damages in the east, there has been no serious pest or disease problem. Fields in southwestern New Mexico are looking good. jidowu@nmsu.edu

MISSISSIPPI: Darrin Dodds

I have learned in my short career that there is no such thing as a normal year. 2014 has proven that to be true in a number of ways. Much of the Mississippi cotton crop was planted in three to four time frames. These time frames occurred in three- to five-day blocks that were squeezed in between rainfall events. Although the focus of this issue of Cotton Farming is on irrigation, excess water was the story early on in our cotton. Rainfall and other environmental conditions made application of preemergence herbicides difficult in several instances, which has created management headaches for farmers throughout Mississippi. However, as the old saying goes, we are only 10 days away from a drought. By the time you are reading this, we will likely be laying poly pipe and pumping water. darrind@ext.msstate.edu