PLANTING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER
Although last year had a slow start and we had problems with too much rainfall at mid-season, we did finish strong with an excellent boll opening and harvest season. This winter has been difficult, and our last ice piles are melting in shaded areas. Our cotton production conference was cancelled due to icy roads. It has been that kind of winter, and we are ready for spring time. It’s nice to be outside during this time of year without a jacket, but we really haven’t had much of that. We have plenty of moisture going into planting.
Producers who practice conservation and no-tillage are ready to go. Right now, it is too wet for burndown with ground rigs. Unfortunately, the weeds don’t stop growing to give folks a fighting chance. But we still have options and time.
The unprecedented high yields around the Mid-South in 2013 give us a lot of hope going into this season. With all of our climatic problems this past season, we know why our yields were lower than expected. Our heat units were on par with 2008 when we set our Missouri record of 1,106 pounds per acre. The first yield estimate by USDA was near that, but we knew that we had lost a lot of squares and bolls.
With our increases in irrigation each year, we don’t have to rely as much on rainfall. So with the right weather conditions, we are poised for excellent yields.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT VARIETY
EARLY DECISIONS NEED TO BE MADE
Planting time is on us, and many decisions have already been made for the crop, including variety section, fields to be planted, planting method and various other decisions. Making decisions early and other adjustments throughout the year make for less stress and agony as the season unfolds. Producers are good at this, and it is beneficial to have a division of labors so that each person can concentrate on certain aspects of production without being completely overwhelmed.
Several producers who have children that come into the business talk about the lowered pressure on them when they know that someone else cares about the business. This definitely eases the burden on the older partners. My experience is that it invigorates the older partners. When some of the responsibilities are given to other family members, it makes farming more fun. As farmers age, letting go of all of the management decisions is good for the future of farming. I am sure that many who are just getting to this point in their farming operation are realizing that farming is not only a good way of life but can be very rewarding when working with the family.
NITROGEN APPLICATIONS ARE CRUCIAL
In Louisiana, the month of April is the time that cotton will begin to be planted. Also at planting time is when nitrogen applications are made for the upcoming season. Nitrogen recommendations for Louisiana cotton production are based on soil parent material as well as whether the system is irrigated. For non-irrigated upland and alluvial soils, recommended nitrogen rates are 60 to 90 pounds per acre for course-textured soils and 90 to 120 pounds per acre for high clay soils.
For irrigated upland and alluvial soils, recommended nitrogen rates are 60 to 90 pounds per acre for coarse-textured soils and 100 to 120 pounds per acre for high clay soils. While these numbers appear to be very rigid, they are based on expected yield of the cotton crop.
Essentially, a producer needs to apply 40 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per bale of cotton expected. These numbers mentioned above have been tested on response trials throughout the state over many years. Also, best management practices would suggest making split applications of nitrogen – especially on sandy soils with a high leaching potential or soils with a high saturation potential, due to denitrification losses.
For split nitrogen applications, a third to half should be applied at planting with the remainder being applied by early bloom at the latest. Caution should be used not to apply more nitrogen than what may be required by the cotton plant, since excessively high nitrogen rates can produce tall and rank cotton.
This increased vegetative growth will hinder reproductive growth and ultimately yield. Furthermore, to limit this excessive growth, producers will have to rely heavily on mepiquat chloride applications to control plant height and create the potential for making the cotton plant harder to defoliate at the end of season. Do not forget it is always a good idea to take a soil sample before the season starts.
PRICES WILL AFFECT PLANTING DECISIONS
Planting of the 2014 cotton crop will largely be underway in mid- to late-April in southwest Georgia. Decent prices during mid-March may influence cotton acreage as well as some mechanics of the new Farm Bill, but final acreage will remain unclear until planting is completed.
A number of factors influence final acreage for all crops. However, many producers remained optimistic for cotton throughout much of the winter and early spring.
Significant rainfall during February and early March replenished sustained water levels in irrigation ponds and soil moisture. Hopefully, this pattern will continue through our planting season and beyond, although we don’t need another extremely wet year. Some rainfall (and warm temperatures) will be needed for seedling emergence, activation of residual herbicides and early season vigor.
Due to the loss of Temik, producers should pay close attention to early season growth, thrips populations and early season nematode symptoms. Foliar sprays for thrips may be required, especially during the early part of our planting window if seedling growth is slow or less vigorous.
WEATHER DELAYS PLANTING
As of March 18, the corn, sorghum and cotton planting in all of South Texas has been or will be substantially delayed two to four weeks from the previous several years due to cooler than normal spring temperatures and intermittent rain showers over the past couple of months.
It has been three years since planting has been delayed due to excess soil moisture in South Texas, and some additional acres may be planted to cotton as a result of the delayed corn and sorghum planting. At the current rate, producers will have a condensed window for planting all their spring crops, but we will still need to pay attention to soil temperatures for planting cotton.
Cotton germinates and emerges more vigorously with soil temperatures between 62 and 65 degrees at four inches and coupled with a favorable warm weather forecast. In the Blacklands, there will be a compressed planting season, but cotton planting will only be slightly delayed if at all.
The northern Rolling Plains remains in an extreme drought, while the southern Rolling Plains is in decent shape on soil moisture. Planting in the Rolling Plains typically begins in mid-May and additional soil moisture accumulation will be needed to establish the dryland cotton crop.
Pre-plant considerations including seed vigor, ideal soil temperatures, nutrient management and variety results for the entire state can be found at cotton.tamu.edu. I look forward to seeing many of you who might be attending the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Annual Meeting and Trade Show in Lubbock in early April.
UNPREDICTABLE WEATHER PATTERNS
It’s as easy to guess what the weather holds for the Texas High Plains and Panhandle regions as it is to guess the sex of a baby prior to birth! Currently, there is an equal chance for it to be a boy (El Niño) or a girl (La Niña). That is what long-term weather forecasters are telling us could happen in the fall and winter of 2014-2015 at this point.
An El Niño pattern would be very welcome in the region as much moisture is needed to rid us of this drought that has gripped the area for the last three growing seasons. Even with the potential of below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation in the fall, producers are hopeful that timely moisture will occur in the spring to assist with crop stand establishment.
As we inch ever closer to May and cotton planting time in the Texas High Plains and Panhandle, producers are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Variety selections will soon be made, if not already, and pre-plant irrigation will be applied where available. To assist with variety selections, results from multiple replicated, large and small-plot, irrigated and dryland, variety trials are available from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Research.
Links to these publications can be found on the Lubbock website at http://lubbock.tamu.edu. If further assistance is needed, or specific questions arise, cotton producers are welcome to call me at the office at (806) 746-6101 or on my cell phone at (806) 781-6572.
I am confident that the resilience and faith of our producers will continue to be unaltered, as evidenced by the previous three years, and the Texas High Plains and Panhandle cotton producers will again produce a large number of bales of high-quality cotton!
LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE
My take on the approaching planting season for cotton is best summed up by Larry McReynolds (announcer for NASCAR races on Fox) who says “reach up there and pull those belts tight one more time” as each race begins.
Preparations have been underway all winter long, and the time is nearly here to start putting cotton seeds in the ground. Cotton acres in Mississippi will increase in 2014; however, the extent of which is not yet known. Most producers and consultants we have visited with indicated a potential acreage increase of 30 percent over 2013.
As planters begin to roll, it is important to keep weed control at the forefront of your mind. Although glyphosate-resistant pigweeds are present in many Mississippi counties, they tend to be more numerous in the north Delta than any other area.
For those who have not historically had to deal with glyphosate-resistant pigweeds, the importance of starting clean cannot be overstated. If cotton is planted and emerges with pigweed plants in the field, you are behind the eight ball from day one. Controlling these pests early will set the stage for a successful weed control program for the remainder of the year.
DROUGHT PROBLEM PERSISTS
Unfortunately, we have not had any significant change to the U.S. Drought Monitor. It indicates much of western Oklahoma is still dealing with severe to exceptional drought. We have moved into our make-or-break rainfall time of year for finishing up our winter crops and providing moisture for our summer crops – March through June. Unfortunately, March has provided scant moisture as of this writing, and the winter wheat and canola crops are in bad shape.
It appears that we are very likely headed for the third winter crop failure in the last four years. Producers keep praying for rain, and keep watching the skies and forecasts for improvement. Recent educational meetings concerning the Farm Bill have been upbeat. Based on the turnout at several of these meetings, I submit that our producers still have a lot of questions. Of course, until the actual policy is determined and communicated by the Farm Services Agency, there will be some trepidation. Our producers will increase cotton acres in the state, if we receive some badly needed rainfall.
CONSIDER IN-FURROW APPLICATIONS
There is a lot of interest in in-furrow insecticide applications in cotton this year. Our results looked good enough that we think it warrants a look on a limited acreage. The advantage of in-furrow sprays is not that they are better than a seed treatment followed by a well-timed foliar application for thrips control. We think the advantage of an in-furrow application is that it is often difficult to make foliar applications in a timely manner, and that they are often not as effective because of delays due to weather and other demands on your time.
In-furrow applications should not replace seed treatments. Information on our work on in-furrow insecticides is available at the cotton Extension portal (cotton.ces.ncsu.edu).
The interest for in-furrow insecticides seems to have renewed interest in applying starter fertilizers in-furrow. The use of starter fertilizers applied in-furrow is dangerous with cotton. This is not so much a matter of salt injury that can be avoided with low salt formulations but with ammonia toxicity.
Nitrogen changes form in the soil, depending on the soil conditions. No matter what form you apply, if the conditions are right, the nitrogen will be converted to ammonia.
The question always seems to come around to how low of a rate do I need to apply to be “safe.” We don’t know the answer to that question, but it appears that whatever that “safe” rate is, it is too low to be of any value. We have seen stand and yield loss with rates as low as 10-34-0 applied at two gallons per acre. The risk versus reward is not good for in-furrow fertilizers applied to cotton, especially on sandy soils.
If anybody has a question about this topic, don’t hesitate to call. I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.
POSSIBLE INCREASE IN COTTON ACREAGE
Discussion across Alabama continues to be what direction cotton acreage will head in late April and May. Most of our corn is planted, and we hope for stronger cotton prices to pull acreage up. This is a fluid time for booking the crop, and the situation can swing either direction since we still have peanuts, soybeans and cotton to plant.
My general feeling has been that we will be up slightly across the state, and the general consensus seems to be an increase between five and 10 percent. I am going out on a limb with a prediction of a 7.25 percent increase in 2014. I will keep everyone posted on how that works out, especially if I get it right.
In 2013, Dr. Austin Hagan, Auburn University (AU) plant pathologist, and I worked with one of our undergraduate students in the Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences Department on target leaf spot in cotton. Our student, Jenna Platt, worked diligently rating, verifying, plant mapping and summarizing her work. Jenna has presented that work, sponsored by the Alabama Cotton Commission, at three national meetings in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., with one more planned in Washington this spring.
At AU, our agriculture students are bright, and our future is equally as bright if we can continue to offer them opportunities to succeed. We desperately need more opportunities for our younger generation to move into farming and the supporting industries if we expect to continue to feed and clothe this nation.
SPRING BURNDOWN DELAYED
Wet and cold conditions in March have delayed spring burn-down treatments in many areas of Alabama this year. The good news is that the cold weather has also limited the growth of many of our winter weeds. The last several years of research on glyphosate- resistant horseweed in northern Alabama has shown that control is very dependent on size. Once horseweed leaves the rosette stage and begins to bolt, it becomes much harder to control.
Check your fields for weed species and size before you decide on your burndown treatments. Also check on plant-back restrictions on all burndown products. Some of these may need to be applied a month or more before cotton is planted.
COMING DOWN TO CRUNCH TIME
Well, not much has changed since January in Virginia. Cooler than normal temperatures prevail at the time of writing this article (March 20), and soils are still saturated. Virginia producers are itching to apply burndown herbicides. The window for applying these chemicals (2,4-D) is rapidly approaching. Our typical start date for planting is the last week of April and/or the first week in May. The start of planting may be delayed again in 2014 if there is no change in weather patterns due to these cooler soil temperatures.
Virginia may pick up more cotton acres due to the weather if conditions delay or prevent corn planting, but this is also hinged on the competitiveness of cotton with soybeans in the marketplace.
A topic of concern for most Virginia producers, especially for producers battling Palmer pigweed, is the safety of products applied as preemergence herbicides. Producers need to first know what weed species are present in a particular field as well as any history of herbicide resistance. Second, producers need to know the soil characteristics (soil type, texture, cation exchange capacity and organic matter content) as these will affect the activity of herbicides differently.
Producers should select the herbicide(s) that target the weed species present and consult Extension and pesticide labels for appropriate rates given that unique environment. Lastly, weather conditions prior to and immediately after preemergence applications will have an effect on whether damage may or may not occur. There is always some level of risk when using preemergence herbicides, but this risk can be minimized using the appropriate management strategies. Preemergence herbicides are needed to combat weed resistance concerns in Virginia cotton production and are excellent tools in a weed management program.
EARLY PLANTING GETS STARTED
Recent warm weather experienced across Arizona has led to early plantings in many locations. As of this writing (late March), we have cotton with at least one true leaf in the western part of the state. Heat unit accumulations for the state have been running approximately 16 days ahead of normal with warm soil temperatures. This early warming should help reach optimum conditions for planting and stand establishment. Optimum soil temperature at seeding depth is 60 degrees. Soil temperatures of 60 degrees will typically be reached when low air temperatures remain above 48 degrees overnight, and maximum air temperatures rise above 80 degrees during the day.
An inexpensive thermometer may be purchased at your local hardware store that can be used to measure soil temperature. When the soil temperature at 8 a.m. reaches 60 degrees and a favorable three- to five-day weather forecast is ahead, it is typically safe to plant. Lower soil temperature will significantly reduce seedling vigor, resulting in seedlings that are more susceptible to fungal diseases caused primarily by Rhizoctonia solani and Thielaviopsis basicola.
Another component that is critical to proper germination is seed-bed preparation. Good seed-to-soil contact improves the ability of the seed to absorb water and remain hydrated throughout the germination process. Another aspect of the planting and stand establishment process is determining proper seeding rate and final plant population. Cotton has an incredible ability to compensate for variable plant spacing. For more information on this topic and others, go to cals.arizona.edu/crops.
PROTECT YIELD EARLY
April is here, and everyone is excited to get back into the field. This spring has been somewhat like last year and has delayed corn planting due to the cool/wet conditions through March. Cotton planting is around the corner and by now most producers finally know how much cotton will be planted. As this is being written (March), my guess is that Arkansas producers will plant close to 350,000 acres to cotton, possibly more depending on weather and field conditions between now and May 15.
By now, most producers have selected varieties they intend to plant in 2014. There are a couple things to keep in mind before planting in Arkansas. First, our entomologists identified populations of thrips that are resistant to Cruiser (thiamethoxam) last year. These populations were not found to be cross-resistant to Gaucho (imidacloprid) at this time. Double check the seed treatment before planting and be prepared to spray for thrips early after emergence if Cruiser (thiamethoxam) is the only insecticide seed treatment used.
Second, it is crucial that all producers apply a pre-plant or preemerge herbicide prior to or just after planting. Reflex (fomesafen) applied pre-plant for control of glyphosate-resistant pigweed is a must for our cotton producers, regardless of which technology is being planted. We recommend fomesafen as a pre-plant in Arkansas due to potential injury on our soil types when applied as a true preemerge.
In heavy pigweed areas, we also recommend a preemerge such as Cotoran in conjunction with the Reflex pre-plant. These early applications have been critical to management of glyphosate-resistant pigweed in heavily infested fields. The Glytol Liberty Link technology, which provides cotton tolerance to both Liberty and Roundup, was planted on approximately 25 percent of our cotton acres last season. Producers have been successful with pigweed management in this system, as long as pre-plant or pre-emerge herbicides were used. Turning a profit in 2014 will depend on success at planting and during the early seedling stages. Take the time to start clean and protect yield early.