Drew Ellis, Ph.D.
Market Development Specialist – Mid South
The weather is usually far from consistent, but for the third year, we have seen a pattern of wet springs that make it difficult for Mid-South cotton growers to plant crops. They are forced to plant when Mother Nature allows between frequent rains. Often, planting conditions are far from ideal; perpetual wetness prevents staggering of plantings. Typically, the majority of cotton fields planted in the South Delta – from around Memphis farther south to the latitude of the Red River Valley in Louisiana – would have been planted by late April. Despite the reduced number of cotton acres throughout the Mid-South this year, the inability to stagger plantings and the timing of fertilizer and insecticide applications coming together simultaneously is making it challenging for growers to manage.
Growing cotton profitably continues to be a challenge for Mid-South producers. Several factors are at play. A giant stockpile of cotton supplies in China has created a soft price in the U.S. market. Specific to different crops, growers are doing their best to manage crop rotations, plant different varieties and alternate herbicide and insecticide programs to manage potential resistance issues better.
Not surprisingly, the No. 1 pest in 2015 is tarnished plant bug. Diligent scouting for this potentially devastating pest is necessary as plant bug infestations typically begin as cotton reaches the reproductive pinhead square stage. Although the bulk of spraying to control tarnished plant bug comes a bit later, growers are getting ready for their first series of tarnished plant bug insecticide applications. This season, we anticipate more severe infestations because there are fewer cotton acres, thus fewer fields where the pest can feed. This is especially true for cotton acres located near other grain crops – corn, soybean and sorghum fields – because there aren’t as many cotton fields available for the pests to invade.
The potential migration of the sugarcane aphid in sorghum fields is another concern we are watching closely this year. In 2013 and 2014, this prolific pest moved farther north, and growers throughout the Mid-South have been dealing with new challenges, especially as many are planting sorghum on acres once used for cotton. As growers plant more sorghum acres farther north, the sugarcane aphid will be of particular concern in northeast Arkansas, western Tennessee and even the Missouri bootheel. Producers throughout the Mid-South are on alert following reports of sugarcane aphids wintering in sorghum refuge and Johnsongrass.
There’s good news for Mid-South growers with the efficacy demonstrated by Transform WG insecticide. Transform is proven effective for controlling tarnished plant bug in cotton at the rate of 1.5 oz./A, and sorghum growers reported excellent coverage of the sugarcane aphid at the rate of 1.0 oz./A. A critical aspect of managing this pest is mimicking scouting techniques used in cotton. Consultants and growers are diligently scouting sorghum fields every four to five days during heavy infestation periods when this potentially devastating pest can multiply by the thousands within just a few days in an optimal environment.