by Tucker Miller III, Miller Entomological Service, Inc. Drew, Miss.
I grew up on a farm near Drew in the Mississippi Delta. My dad, H.T. Miller, Jr. sent me to a scouting school when I was 15 years old. During the summer months, I checked cotton for local farmers, then went on to study agriculture at Mississippi State University.
The 2013 cotton crop was one of the best ever. Most of our cotton averaged three bales per acre, with some going more than three. The main factor that contributed to these yields was the weather. After a late spring, weather conditions were perfect, insect pressure was lower, and we were able to take advantage of Transform, a new plant bug material.
This year, we did get some cotton planted early, but had to replant several fields due to cold, wet conditions and crusting problems. Most of our cotton was planted the first week of May under ideal conditions. Rain activated the preemergent herbicides, so we are off to a good start. At this time, farmers are very busy finishing up planting, fertilizing corn and spraying corn and beans. They also are promoting cotton at the National Cotton Council Farm Bill meetings in Washington, D.C.
Pigweed – the driver weed – did not emerge early this year due to the cold weather. However, pigweed, along with other problem weeds, will still be with us. Almost all cotton farmers use residuals to help out in this battle. As for insect pests, I predict this will be a bollworm year. I have already seen them in the whorls of sweet corn and alternate hosts. Plant bugs remain our main pest. We will integrate Transform insecticide into our program, spray on threshold and use Diamond along with all of the other best management practices.
When setting up a fertility program for each farming operation, my goals are to maximize efficiency, consider soil type in determining fertilizer rates, use variable-rate applications where they fit and consider what type of irrigation method is being used.
Although acres have been down, I think cotton will come back in the mix as a good rotation crop with corn and peanuts. With the late corn crop, farmers are reconsidering cotton as the near-term price has increased, and fundamentals may continue to improve. Most of the producers that I consult for are innovators and leaders in the industry. They are very knowledgeable about Farm Bill policy and marketing. Today, they are more business- minded; timely in all that they do as far as planting, spraying and harvesting; and diversified to maximize their potential. These growers also are optimistic and not afraid to take on challenges. In fact, I still have a producer planting non-Bt cotton and making it profitable.
As their consultant, my growers expect me to help decide the best mix of varieties that matches their management style and keep them abreast of the crop situation as it progresses. I also keep up with new technology related to things like varieties, traits, herbicides and insecticides, to name a few. I then make sure that I am able to communicate what all of this technology means in terms of how it may affect the bottom line of each individual operation.