PLANTING HAS BEEN DIFFICULT
It does not take too much of a reminder to realize that we are not in control. According to the Crop Progress and Condition Report for the week ending May 12, cotton planted was 12 percent. Last year, we were at 68 percent and a week ahead of normal. Cool, wet soils and danger of frost during our normal earlier planting dates have really slowed things down.
In addition, the frequent showers make it difficult to make much progress. We are currently at our optimum planting date range so a lot of progress has been made this past week. There is concern that producers will run out of time in getting the crop in. After the planting intentions came out, there was hope that cotton acreage might increase due to the higher cotton prices and lower corn and soybean prices. However, some of the traditional cotton ground is now in wheat, corn and soybeans.
I was encouraged with the release of the May 14 Cotton and Wool Outlook. Our final yield for 2012 was 1,063 pounds per acre. I think that this was really good, since we were in the exceptional drought category for much of the growing season.
WEATHER PATTERNS POSE A CHALLENGE
2013 has been an unusual year with warm, mild conditions through the winter followed by a cool wet, planting season. Cotton was planted a little later than normal due to the cooler weather and slow growth, which often subjects cotton to higher levels of thrips damage. However, many of the seed treatments offered with insecticides help to minimize the damage.
It will be important to scout cotton closely in June for plant bugs as they can cause square loss. We saw the yield potential of the new cotton varieties in 2012 with record yields across the Belt. To maintain these yields, pests will have to be monitored closely in every growth stage to continue improving yields. Due to the mild winter, we saw fall armyworms in corn in late April and other insects that we normally expect in late summer. Scouting for insects, disease, weeds and nutritional disorders will help us manage problems before they get out of hand and keep improving yields.
Weather is usually the deciding factor in the kind of year we have for all of our crops. We would like to order the same weather as we had in 2012.
COTTON CROP OFF TO A SLOW START
With the most recent break in the precipitation, a majority of Louisiana cotton producers were able to get their crops planted in the optimal planting window of April 15-May 15, but heat units have been hard to come by. A lot of cotton simply looks rough, and I’ve been getting questions regarding stand and replanting.
For the most part, stands may be lower than normal but still large and uniform enough to make a crop with little impact on yield, although maturity will be a delayed a week or so. I can find some damping off symptoms in just about every field I’ve visited, but most of these are minor, and it looks like the plants will grow out of it. Thrips are showing up, and so far the seed treatments appear to be doing their job, but the early planted cotton I’ve seen is now in need of a foliar follow-up application.
We have been finding a mix of tobacco (dark colored) and western flower thrips (straw to amber colored). Based on 2012 data where western flower thrips are prevalent, producers may opt to treat with Bidrin at 3.2 ounces or Radiant at 1.5 ounces; but if tobacco thrips are prevalent, Dimethoate and Acephate are good choices as well.
COOL, WET WEATHER PLAGUES PLANTING
Cool temperatures and occasional wet weather from late April through mid-May delayed planting in many fields. As of the May 13 USDA-NASS report, cotton planting in Georgia was 11 percent behind our normal schedule. Warm temperatures and drier conditions came in mid-May, which greatly accelerated planting. Nearly 75 percent of Georgia cotton acres were left to be planted in the latter half of May or early June. As I write this on May 16, seedling emergence has been fairly slow due to cool temperatures. However, overall emergence has been sufficient in most cases, as ample soil moisture prevailed through mid-May. Thrips pressure was relatively light during the early part of our planting window, and reports of sporadic heavy thrips pressure became more prevalent during mid-May as more cotton emerged.
STRONG START FOR THIS YEAR’S CROP
Most of the Arizona crop has experienced a strong start to the 2013 season. Variability in temperatures during the spring planting season along with strong, dry winds in late April and early May has resulted in some replanting, but it has been minimal. Early season fruit set has begun with squares and some early flowers being seen across the state. Protecting this early season fruit set is critical to achieving optimum yields while enhancing a timely termination of the crop in the fall.
Loss of this fruit set may result in excess vegetative growth, delayed maturity and decreased yields. Abortion of young fruiting forms, such as small squares and young flowers, may occur as a result of several factors, including environmental stresses such as hot, dry winds or lack of adequate soil moisture and early season insect pressure.
Recent years have seen record low insect populations across the state, and we have greatly benefited from the ability to manage our cotton crop with minimal insect control measures. However, it is important to keep in mind the old saying that “past performance is no indication of future results.” It is critical to monitor the crop for the presence of insect pest populations, ensuring that they do not rise to damaging levels.
UNPREDICTABLE SPRING SO FAR
This spring has been a roller coaster ride for all of Texas with huge temperature swings during April and May. The Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend finally received some much needed rainfall. The rain will be helpful for the irrigated acres in these regions but will likely do little to make a dryland crop. Much of the cotton in the Coastal Bend was a complete crop loss; however, some producers will have no choice but to continue on with minimal hope of making a harvestable crop.
In the Blacklands and Upper Gulf Coast, the cold temperatures in April caused challenges with stand establishment and seedling vigor. Cotton heat unit accumulation in these regions is about 15 percent below normal, and the thrips have taken their toll on much of the cotton. Fortunately, the cooler weather has resulted in some fairly widespread precipitation across these regions. In the Northern Rolling Plains, producers are in the middle of planting and will likely be near completion by early June. The month of May has included some big temperature swings with lows in the lower 30s and two weeks later with highs hitting 100 degrees. Much of the Rolling Plains has received some precipitation, typically less than one inch, but remains in an extreme-to-excessive drought. Additional rain will be needed to establish and maintain any dryland crop.
DROUGHT CONTINUES TO AFFECT ACREAGE
The moisture situation in western Oklahoma has improved in some areas. Recent thunderstorms have resulted in spotty but significant moisture improvements in these areas. However, we still have significant acreage that remains in extreme-to-exceptional drought categories. The far southwestern corner of the state – traditional Oklahoma cotton country – has noted no significant improvements in reservoirs.
Late freezes continued into May, with the final freeze occurring at Altus. Cool conditions persisted during the first week of May, and many producers were finally able to “roll the planters” during the second week. Some producers have opted to plant cotton following failed wheat, but it appears that due to the ongoing dry conditions in many areas, cotton acreage may not be as high as hoped by many.
Due to the later-than-normal start in some areas, producers should note that, along with localized moisture improvement, thrips populations may be higher. It will be important to scout fields and keep thrips in check.
LACK OF HEAT UNITS IMPACTS GERMINATION
Cotton planting had a difficult “go” the past couple of months because of the cold weather and wet soils. Our producers were forced to make some very tough decisions on whether to wait on warmer weather and plant later than they wanted or plant earlier into cold soils. Planting earlier worked for some, but not for others, resulting in spotty replanting. There just simply were not enough heat units available to drive the germination process after the seed imbibed water.
June rainfall and warmer temperatures should allow much of this cotton to catch up, establish a root system and build the vegetative structure. During this time, our producers will be side-dressing and scouting for plant bug damage. One of the problems that our corn producers faced in April and May was potential nitrogen losses due to heavy rainfall. Was the nitrogen still there? How much, if any, should they have added to an additional sidedress application? Hopefully, our cotton fares better during the critical month of June. Don’t forget to visit our website at alabamacrops.com or follow crop updates for Alabama on Twitter at “AU Crop Specialists.”
WHO BELIEVES IN THE GROUNDHOG NOW?
Warm temperatures have finally arrived in the Texas High Plains, and cotton planters are rolling. The last freeze date occurred on May 2 and put producers a little behind schedule. As a result of the late freeze, we would like to invite all to the First Annual “Lying Groundhog Chili Cook-Off” on Feb. 2 next year! Not really, but I’m sure that event would draw a crowd.
Unfortunately, we have not received much widespread precipitation to aid in stand establishment at this time. Furthermore, high winds, like those experienced over the weekend in Lubbock, makes keeping the seed zone moisture in place for germination more difficult. After stand establishment, producers are aware that early season stresses can delay development and care should be taken to prevent such from occurring.
Thrips pressure will be monitored closely in the area, especially where drying wheat fields are in close proximity. Good management practices in terms of irrigation, fertilization and early season insect and weed control will help get the crop off to a good start under these difficult weather conditions.
LATE, WET START FOR COTTON
Cool, wet weather in April and early May has resulted in most cotton not being planted until the middle of May in northern Alabama. Much of the cotton that did get planted in April had to be replanted due to severe seedling disease problems. The good news is that much of the cotton planted the last few weeks emerged in 5-6 days after planting. We still have plenty of time to make a good cotton crop, as most of this cotton should grow rapidly.
Some of the preplant nitrogen fertilizer applied in April, however, has been lost either to leaching or denitrification on soils that remained saturated for many days. Exactly how much N was lost will be a function of soil type, soil temperatures and how long the soils stayed saturated.
In many cases this year, I have started by assuming about a three percent nitrogen loss for every day the soil stayed completely saturated – starting about a week after the fertilizer application. I also assume if areas of a field remained ponded in water for five or more days, most of the preplant nitrogen fertilizer has been lost. Sidedress nitrogen fertilizer rates on cotton will need to be adjusted on many fields to make up for this early season nitrogen loss.
ACCESS TO WATER BECOMING CRUCIAL
New Mexico cotton has already been planted. Cotton plants have emerged with no particular pest or disease problem. The major challenge for producers in the state this year is irrigation water availability. For example, this year water allotment in Dona Ana County (second largest cotton county in New Mexico), will be between 3.2 and 3.6 inches, which is about one-tenth of what was expected. Farmers will have to pump the remaining water from deep wells, which adds to the cost of production.
Farmers are already complaining about the cost of rebuilding their irrigation wells and the fuel expenses for pumping water. With many having to rely on wells for most of the season, service companies are swamped with requests for well repairs and may not be able to handle all the requests on time. Harvested acres this year will depend on the total amount of water available through wells, irrigation and precipitation. Depending on the water situation of the individual farm, yields may also be affected. Projected cotton acreage in New Mexico for 2013 is 30,000 acres for upland and 4,000 acres for Pima.
PGR APPLICATIONS MAY BE NEEDED IN JUNE
Hopefully, we will have plenty of moisture and heat and need to be considering growth regulator applications at some point in June. For the most part, I think we need to start looking at cotton at the eight-to-10 node stage and consider getting
those PGRs applied to our most aggressively growing cotton varieties.
Assuming we have moisture in mid-to-late June, I would target fields for pre-bloom applications as they approach the 10-node stage where you have rapidly developing cotton, a history of rank growth, heavier soils and fields that you anticipate
A good indicator of the current horsepower of the cotton is the length of the internode at the point where you would take a petiole sample. This is the uppermost fully expanded leaf, which is about the fourth leaf down from the top. If that internode is greater than 2.5 inches, a growth regulator application prior to bloom is probably warranted.