Charles Burmester On Feb. 1, I will have worked 35 years for Auburn University in northern Alabama. As I have been packing my office and preparing to retire, I once again realize how quickly cotton farmers must change to stay in business. Changes come more quickly now, and new technology and larger equipment are allowing farmers to plant, grow and harvest more acres with fewer people. Most cotton production questions come to me now by e-mail or cell phone and need an answer that day. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with many outstanding farmers. I probably learned as much from them as they did from me. Now it is time for me to change. It has been a great ride.
Variety selection is perhaps the most important decision a producer makes. Once planted, no amount of worry, work or money can make up for a poor decision. Our recommendation for planting is that roughly two-thirds of your acres be planted with varieties that are proven on your farm. Of the remaining acres, limit new varieties to no more than 10 percent of your total acreage. The remaining 25 percent should be dedicated to those varieties in which you have limited experience. This strategy provides stability while allowing for evaluation of new varieties. A number of tools are available to assist in selecting new varieties. The primary source is the University Variety Testing Program. Results from the Arkansas Trials conducted by Dr. Fred Bourland may be found at http://arkansasvarietytesting.com/home/cotton/. County demonstrations are another good source of information and are included with this data set.
Winter meetings are starting with producers undecided what to do this year since most of the crops are at a price that would be break even at best with average yields. However, producers tend to be optimistic and are trying to figure out crop mixes to continue good rotations. Many of the new cotton cultivars are capable of 1,500 to 1,700 pound-plus yields with good management and good weather. Yields in this range can allow producers to make a profit in cotton. Many producers have made high yields and should consider fields that have typically produced high yields in 2015. Our rotation data indicate that cotton behind peanuts or corn will typically produce 100 to 300 pounds per acre more lint than cotton behind cotton. In addition, peanuts after winter grazing will typically produce 200 pounds per acre more lint than cotton planted into cover crops without grazing or on bare soils.
As mentioned in my last article, I have recently joined the faculty at N.C. State University as Extension Associate Professor for cotton and began my duties on Jan. 5. This position was made possible through a strong effort on behalf of the N.C. Cotton Producers Association, with additional support from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and N.C. State University. I’m excited to be joining the Cotton Team here and working with NCSU cotton specialist, Dr. Keith Edmisten, and other faculty, as well as county agents and consultants. The primary focus of my new position will be working closely with producers, county agents and consultants to start and implement a robust on-farm variety testing program, along with other on-farm research. This on-farm variety testing program was recently launched at the N.C. Joint Commodities Conferences and will be discussed in detail at the upcoming county meetings in February. A list of county meeting dates, as well as other important production information, including results from Official Variety Trials, can be found at http://cotton.ces.ncsu.edu/.
At the present time, soil moisture conditions are excellent due to the rainfall that has been received during the past four 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 (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 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. Also use tank mixtures at effective rates with different modes of action.
We have officially rung in a new year; however, producers throughout the country are facing the same dilemma they face every year. In a nutshell, the question I am hearing more than any other is, “What crop can I survive with in 2015?” After several years of relatively favorable markets, recent downturns in prices are making folks sharpen their pencils a little more when figuring budgets and potential profits this year. Although cotton prices are certainly down like those of many other crops, outstanding yields over the past several growing seasons have at least kept cotton in consideration for 2015. A key to producing the best possible yields is placing the right variety in the right conditions. As everyone knows, varieties are turning over quicker than ever before, so it can be difficult to determine what the right environment is for a given variety given the short life span of modern day varieties. Use as much data as possible when selecting a variety and be sure to plant several varieties in order to spread your risk. February also brings burndown applications in Mississippi. Most folks have their favorite flavor of herbicides for these applications. However, all have the same goal, and that is to maximize control and minimize cost. Control of winter weeds is critical as these species may harbor insects that are troublesome to seedling cotton.
In the last issue of the Cotton and Wool Outlook, Missouri was projected to have 1,097 pounds per acre. This was only nine pounds off of our record yield in 2008. To recap last year, Missouri producers got off to a slow start due to cold, wet conditions. More than half of our cotton was planted after the optimum planting date. We had a few bumps in the road during the season, and the heat units were lower than we would have liked, but I wasn’t too concerned because they were very close to what we experienced in 2008. The plant mapping that I did showed we had good boll set and few missing positions. Overall, the harvest season was good. I just received the January Cotton and Wool Outlook this morning, and now the forecast is 1,117 pounds per acre. If this stands, it is 11 pounds over the old record. At any rate, we will take it. I thought that we had a good crop, but you can’t be sure until you get it out of the field.
John Idowu The 2014 cotton season ended very late due to weather conditions. Late-season rain caused regrowth problems, leading to a very late harvest of some fields. Some of the gins in the state were still busy with 2014 harvest in January. Last season’s yield was slightly above average for farmers – especially in southwestern New Mexico. Some flooded fields recorded severe yield losses. It is difficult to predict cotton acreage for 2015, especially with the current weak prices. Acreage in New Mexico will likely be reduced compared to the 2014 season.
The winter months are always the best time for studying and learning the lessons of the previous crop year. Although we are running somewhat behind due to the poor harvest weather pushing plot harvesting later than normal, we should be able to get our variety test results posted online by the time this article goes to print. The year is winding up as the best one in Oklahoma since 2010, although production was significantly constrained by exceptional drought. In spite of the late harvest in some areas, fiber quality has held up well when examining Abilene Classing Office data for the state. As we move into the near future of new herbicide tolerance, the variety trials conducted across the Belt in 2014 will provide us with our first snapshot of this new germplasm performance. Based on presentations at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, it is noted that results from various trials indicate that dicamba-tolerant germplasm performed very well compared to current elite varieties. We are optimistic that we can continue our trajectory of excellent yield and fiber quality coupled with enhanced weed control.
In the Rolling Plains, cotton harvest was extremely prolonged this season due to poor drying conditions and misty rain in much of November and December. Unfortunately, these weather conditions have not accounted for much precipitation accumulation, but every bit helps as the Northern Rolling Plains remain in a severe drought. In early January, as much as 10 percent of the Rolling Plains cotton remained in the field due to poor stripper harvesting conditions in December. Fortunately, the cotton classed at Abilene has not shown a big dropoff in color or quality characteristics. Some areas had higher than normal leaf levels due to poor defoliation, and some bark contamination has been observed. In South Texas and East Texas, we have received good rainfall this winter. Soil profiles should be nearly full in the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend and saturated in East Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast.
95 percent of the cotton harvested in the Texas High Plains and Panhandle regions, fiber quality, for the most part, is still holding. Some exceptions due to the winter precipitation include color grades going from mostly 21 to some 31s. Also due to environmental conditions during harvest and lateness of some of the cotton crops, bark content was reported in nearly 25 percent of the approximately 2.3 million bales classed at the Lubbock USDA-AMS classing office and 21 percent of the 947,684 bales classed at Lamesa. Still, micronaire is holding around 3.9 to 4.3 at Lubbock and Lamesa, respectively. As for other quality parameters, length, strength and uniformity are holding at around 35, 30 grams per tex and 80 percent, respectively. Although the moisture has posed some problems during the 2014 harvest season, it has provided for moisture that should help fill the profile and, if May rainfall is sufficient for planting, most of the region should be in good condition for moisture to carry the crop through early germination and development. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Crop Conferences are kicking off, providing producers with information related to variety performance, disease and root-knot nematode resistant varieties, weed control and insect outlook, as well as valuable information on the 2014 Farm Bill and 2015 market outlook. For more information, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office, or call me at (806) 781-6572.
Coming out of the best cotton production year ever in Virginia – 1,239 pounds lint per acre – producers are hesitant because of commodity markets for 2015. Conversations are taking place on what to plant: soybeans, corn, cotton or peanuts? In the cotton production area of Virginia, planting corn can be risky as coastal plain sandy soils with low waterholding capacities can severely limit corn yields in a drought. With three high rainfall years from 2012 to 2014, we are waiting on a dry year to hit sooner rather than later. That leaves cotton, soybeans and peanuts. High fertilizer and other input costs, coupled with a price near 60 cents per pound of lint, make cotton hard to pencil out compared to soybeans and peanuts. The new Farm Bill is favorable to peanuts, but the contract situation will most likely dictate if cotton acreage will be planted to peanuts. Next are soybeans, which are cotton’s largest competitor and the state’s largest crop on an acreage basis. A rough estimate is that producers will need to average 1,100 pounds of lint to compete with 40 to 50 bushels per acre for soybeans at current prices. This is not an unreasonable yield if Mother Nature continues to cooperate. The flexibility of Virginia producers allows them to remain economically viable.View More in our Archives