PRODUCERS DISAPPOINTED IN YIELDS
When we look at our USDA estimated yield of 956 pounds per acre, most producers are disappointed. When comparing our yield with some of our other Delta states, we note that their yields were much higher.
In my estimation, we had the potential, but it is hard to overcome the effects of three weeks of heavy rainfall in July and August. I saw a number of fields that had water standing for prolonged periods of time. Most of this happened on areas that normally produce in the three-bales-per-acre range. We did have very good yields, but these were on fields that were not as affected.
In general, cotton producers are optimists because they would not put seed in the ground if they weren’t. So, many producers like the prospects for 2014. We know that, if we have decent weather conditions, our yields will improve.
We did have a very decent period prior to harvest that allowed us to make the yields that we did. We had good DD-60s and plenty of sunshine and very little rainfall. Although we had a late start in planting, the absence of boll weevils and the use of Bt cotton greatly reduce the impact of these pests late in the season.
We are anticipating a much better year, and we have the improved technology to help us achieve higher yields.
CORN PRICES WILL AFFECT PLANTING
Crop prices have made the decision easier for what crops to grow in the 2014 season. With corn prices down, we are sure to see an increase in soybean acreage as well as some increase in cotton acres. Producers are very conscious of rotations and often grow crops that are not the highest price to keep pest pressure down and yields of their “cash” crop up.
This often takes a lot of thought and creativity since the work load is affected by when the crops are planted and harvested. Corn and wheat have planting dates that can free up time for cotton, peanuts and soybeans, but wheat is mostly double cropped, resulting in extra work during harvest when other spring crops are being planted.
Having three or four crops in rotation is good but having a perennial grass crop in the rotation results in the highest yields and lowest pest pressure, while utilizing fields year round with winter grazing and having cattle to recycle nutrients.
Some of our best yields of cotton in Florida have been after winter grazing with 60 to 80 pounds per acre of nitrogen and yields of more than 2,200 pounds of lint due to recycled nutrients. There are a few more producers who plant cotton on time after winter grazing each year, resulting in the benefits of nutrient cycling and higher yields of cotton.
RENEW YOUR WEED STRATEGY
At the present time, soil moisture conditions are excellent due to the rainfall that has been received during the past six weeks. When fields begin to dry, Louisiana cotton producers will need to choose a burndown program to control winter vegetation. Guidelines for managing winter vegetation with herbicides are available by viewing the 2014 Louisiana Suggested Chemical Weed Management Guide. This guide is available in the publications section at the LSU AgCenter website at www.lsuagcenter.com.
Louisiana cotton producers were vigilant in preventing the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds throughout the state, and now is a good time of year to review some of the key strategies going into the new season. To manage herbicide-resistant weeds and prevent development of resistance, weed scientists at the LSU AgCenter recommend the following practices. Use tillage, cultivation or other possible cultural practices such as crop rotation, when possible. The use of a residual herbicide should always be included in a weed resistance management program. It is important to rotate herbicides, use different modes of action, use tank mixtures at effective rates and implement different modes of action. Avoid using sequential applications of the same single herbicide over and over again.
Weed control on fallow ground is important to prevent spreading of documented or suspected resistant weeds. Clean equipment thoroughly before and after each use to prevent resistant weeds spreading to other fields.
If you suspect resistance after a herbicide application, attempt to eradicate escapes with alternative herbicides or cultural methods to prevent the weeds from going to seed. However, if they are allowed to go to seed, collect a seed sample from suspect plants and take it to your parish LSU AgCenter Extension Service agent. He will have them screened by LSU AgCenter scientists who will inform you if resistant populations have developed on your farm.
BIG DECISIONS AWAIT PRODUCERS
2013 will likely be remembered as one of the wettest and most challenging years for Georgia. Despite the challenges we faced during the year, statewide average yields were estimated to be 850 pounds per acre, which is better than some expected. Georgia producers are now making important production decisions for the 2014 season and are watching commodity prices carefully. As I write this on Jan. 16, I think Georgia’s cotton acres will remain stable, as we are committed to cotton as a competitive crop in our environment.
Producers are still making variety decisions for 2014, which has proven to be one of the more important economic decisions made each year. The results of the 2013 UGA On-farm Cotton Variety Performance Evaluation Program indicated that improper variety selection could cost producers between $77 and $234 per acre when deciding among only the top varieties of each brand. The results of the on-farm variety testing program and Official Variety Trials (OVT) will be presented throughout the winter county meetings, as well as important production information for management of weeds, fertility, insects, diseases and economics.
IT’S TIME TO DO SOME STUDYING
The winter months are always the best for studying and learning the lessons of the previous crop year. Variety performance is one of the most important subjects. I can state with confidence that it is always better to study multi-year and multi-site data before making the most important decision that a cotton producer can make – which varieties to plant.
Please note the plural and not the singular – variety. It’s always best to spread production risk among several selections. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the chance to have access to multi-site year data because of the rate of introduction of new releases. As we take a look back at what has occurred, one thing is certain. Some varieties definitely perform better than others. Results from our on-farm large plot variety projects and the small plot official variety tests are now available.
When looking at the overall big picture of what the trials tell us, we can say how incredible many of our new varieties are in terms of yield and fiber quality. It hasn’t been that many years ago that we really struggled to find varieties that had a combination of both yield and quality. Today, we have been blessed by a large number of varieties that perform well. As we move into the next era of herbicide tolerance and enhanced Bt protection, the variety trials conducted across the Belt in 2014 will provide us with our first snapshot of this new germplasm performance.
We are optimistic that we can continue our trajectory of excellent yield and fiber quality.
MOISTURE LEVELS IMPROVING
The cotton producers in south and east Texas are more optimistic than they have been in several years due to better fall and winter precipitation and soil moisture levels. We will see more than a 10 percent increase in cotton acreage across each of the cotton production regions in south and east Texas but substantial increases in the Rio Grande Valley.
We may see more than a 10 percent increase in cotton acreage in the Rolling Plains. I know producers are continuing to contemplate which varieties to plant in 2014. These decisions are tougher than ever with 10-plus new varieties released in 2014 that have a potential fit for each growing region. Additionally, there are several new insect technology traits available, including WideStrike 3 by PhytoGen and TwinLink by Bayer CropScience, incorporated in the available new varieties. Yield and quality data are limited on the very newest varieties, but the available yield data for Texas can be found at cotton.tamu.edu.
Producers should incorporate a new variety or two onto their farms, but do it on a relatively small scale to learn how the variety performs with your management and soil type. There is no perfect variety, and planting multiple varieties with complementary characteristics and traits is still an important agronomic management strategy.
A CALL TO ACTION
Like a sleeping giant, the rust will soon be shaken off of people and equipment as springtime is almost upon us. Although 2014 has arrived, I would like to take a moment to congratulate Mississippi cotton producers for the crop they produced in 2013. The previous state record yield for Mississippi was 1,024 pounds per acre, which was produced in 2004. In 2013, the average yield in Mississippi was 1,229 pounds per acre, which eclipses the previous record by just over 200 pounds per acre. 2013 was a remarkable year for many reasons; however, many are wondering if and when we will see another crop like the one we had last year.
Burndown applications will soon be underway in many areas of the Mid-South. Over the past several years, henbit has proven to be a worthy adversary for many burndown applications. Henbit can serve as a host for spider mites and plant bugs, and, if left less than adequately controlled, it can serve as a “green bridge” for these pests to infest cotton. Given the problems these pests have presented over the past several years, do not exacerbate the problem through poor henbit control.
Ready or not, the 2014 season is about to get underway.
2013 WAS DIFFICULT TO EVALUATE
Risk management is difficult for most North Carolina producers due to lack of irrigation. One way to manage risk is to avoid putting too many “eggs in one basket,” so that the vagaries of the weather of a North Carolina summer won’t be so detrimental to your entire crop. If we knew what the weather would be prior to the season, we could pick a best variety and a best planting date and maximize yields. Of course, we can’t do that.
The last date to plant cotton without a penalty for insurance purposes has been changed to May 25. This is because our data suggests that there is very little difference in yields between planting dates of April 20 and May 25 when you look at a lot of data over several years.
We have all noticed that, in any given year, our early planted cotton will do best or our late-planted cotton performs best. Spreading our cotton planting out during this optimum planting period helps us avoid having the entire crop encounter bad weather that might affect the entire crop. This would include dry periods during critical points during bloom, excessive moisture during root development or tropical storm damage to open cotton. Using multiple varieties also helps us manage risk in a similar manner.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
Producers have to make many decisions throughout a growing season when managing a cotton crop. Cost of inputs can range from a few dollars to more than $100 per acre. Selecting the right variety is one of the most important decisions – arguably the most important – a cotton producer will make each growing season. The price of cotton seed makes it one of the most expensive inputs producers will purchase over the course of season. However, the impact of variety selection on economic returns doesn’t stop at the time of purchase. The results of the 2013 Virginia variety testing program indicate that producers who selected varieties close to the average yield across all environments lost as much $115 per acre in yield potential alone to the average of the top five varieties.
Producers who made very poor variety decisions and selected varieties with the lowest yields lost up to $185.60 per acre in yield potential alone.
Though these numbers are estimates, and variety performance can change in differing environments, producers should seek out as much information as possible on variety performance. They need to maximize yields in order to maximize economic returns of their operations, and this starts by establishing a firm foundation of high yield potential and stability.
VARIETY SELECTION IS UNDERWAY
Cotton producers in the Texas High Plains and Panhandle are currently considering varieties for planting and booking seed for the 2014 growing season. Variety selection is one of, if not the most important, decisions that producers make on an annual basis. With the vast number of commercially available varieties, this task can be daunting. However, there are some considerations that can significantly narrow the field of likely candidates.
Producers with significant root-knot nematode infestations should consider varieties that have resistance to the pest. Currently, there are varieties that are suitable for production in the Texas High Plains, Stoneville 5458B2RF and 4946GLB2 (new), FiberMax 2011GT, PhytoGen 367WRF and Deltapine 174RF.
Seed companies are working hard to provide excellent varieties with RKN tolerance. Also, producers with known Verticillium wilt issues should certainly consider varieties with known tolerance to the pathogen.
Drs. Terry Wheeler and Jason Woodward have made available on the Lubbock AgriLife website numerous publications concerning variety performance under disease pressure. Be sure and visit http://lubbock.tamu.edu for more information. In the absence of these and other soil borne pests, producers can consider results from variety testing programs of university and industry to help make decisions a bit easier.
However, care should be taken to make variety decisions based on test results from many locations across as many years as possible and not from one location and one year.
If limited information is available, especially for newly released varieties, producers may opt to plant only a few of their available acres to such a variety. With crop conferences underway across the region, information on varieties and other topics and issues will be made available to producers by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension personnel.
New offerings of varieties with various technologies, high yield potential and excellent fiber quality continue to be introduced by all seed companies. As we look to the 2014 production season, the long-term forecast currently is not as favorable as we would like, but rainfall amounts have improved since 2011.
Producers are optimistic this trend will continue. Regardless, with proper management and irrigation scheduling, several available varieties produce acceptable yields under harsh environmental conditions as was observed in the last three growing seasons.
CROP SURVIVED DESPITE HEAVY RAINS
The 2013 cotton crop presented many challenges for Alabama cotton farmers. Heavy spring rains that seemed to never end, and flooded planted cotton fields were a major challenge in 2013. Replanting or delayed plantings were common and questions about loss of nitrogen fertilizer from the rains were a great concern – especially in the southern half of the state.
Delayed cotton planting in northern Alabama due to weather also resulted in freeze damage to some fields – specifically on the very northern part of the state.
Even with these challenges, we still had many cotton fields producing excellent cotton yields and grades in 2013. In 2014, sticking to basic cotton production practices such as variety selection, fertilization rates and proven weed and insect controls should be the main concern for producers. We can’t control the weather but sticking to proven practices gives us the best chance to produce the best cotton crop possible.
COTTON SURPRISED THE EXPERTS
It is always an interesting exercise in observation skills when something you thought you knew does not track quite like you had expected or predicted. 2013 in Alabama provided us with steady acreage and the potential for a complete disaster at mid-season. While corn and soybean yields looked very strong, our predictions for cotton were dismal at best.
Weeks of heavy rain and cloudy weather, cool temperatures and saturated soils spelled trouble for us.
However, once again cotton surprised all of the naysayers with high yields and excellent fiber quality in many fields in central and southern counties. There were pockets of very low yields due to late fertilizer and herbicide applications, but overall the crop turned out well. 2013 was the year for most “experts” to once again see that we do not need to give up on the crop until the very end.
Dr. Ron Smith, Auburn entomologist who has many more years in the field than I do, has always said that he has never seen two seasons exactly alike. After 20 years at AU, I have very good reason to believe that he is correct. ACES agents and specialists will be participating in production meetings and conferences this winter across the state.
For a full calendar update, interested persons should visit our website at www.alabamacrops.com. We also have a Twitter account set up for news about Alabama row crops at “AU Crop Specialists” if you want to follow our updates.