• By Adam Hixson,
Lubbock, Texas •
Weather is the most challenging obstacle that faces any farmer. Around planting time in any given year in the Texas South Plains, High Plains and Panhandle, about 4 million to 5 million acres of cotton goes in the ground. Cotton is king in this area.
The 2018 season was probably the roughest planting year since 2011, and 2011 was an epic drought.
At the Lubbock International Airport, we saw 5 inches of rain last year when our average is about 18 inches. We don’t see a ton of rain anyway, but 5 inches was a drop in the bucket. Although we have some irrigated cotton, we need help from Mother Nature, too.
In spite of the dry conditions, area farmers got the crop in during the normal planting window — May 5 through early June. However, very few dryland acres emerged due to no moisture at all. Most of the dryland acres were zeroed out last year.
Growers pre-watered their irrigated acres in 2018 so they could plant into moisture. But if they don’t receive rain during the season, even those acres are going to suffer. Cotton needs that supplemental moisture.
Some of the late-planted cotton looked good going into August since the summer wasn’t overly hot, and we had good heat units to help the crop’s growth. We also received some late rains, which resulted in a pretty good irrigated crop even if farmers planted into June.
Tough Harvest Conditions
At harvest time, conditions were more difficult because of tropical moisture throughout the entire country. Pacific storms affected our area, and the Southeast was hammered by hurricanes. Weather challenged farmers both at planting and at harvest.
The rains started in September and didn’t end until mid-October.
Warm weather and no early fall freezes in the Texas Panhandle led to some of the worst regrowth I have seen during the past seven years. Regrowth can stain the lint and slow harvest. It can cause trash in the cotton, which means the grades go down. That’s not a good day when you have worked all year to produce a profitable crop.
In our area, I think one of the most effective options to suppress and control regrowth is Sharpen herbicide. I like to take the leaves off, open the bolls and then finish off any regrowth or leaves left on the bottom of the plant with Sharpen added to the final defoliation/desiccation application.
Field History, Variety Selection
When farmers choose varieties for the upcoming year, they typically look back at what happened the previous year to help make their decision. For example, they may notice a Verticillium wilt problem in a field. In that case, they probably need to choose a variety with Verticillium wilt tolerance since the disease tends to occur in the same locations year after year. Their seed representative may recommend FiberMax since many of these varieties have shown good tolerance to Vert.
Farmers also look for varieties with drought tolerance since this appears to be an issue they have to deal with even on irrigated acres. The Texas Panhandle taps into water from the Ogallala Aquifer. As you move south from Lubbock, the water becomes less and less. BASF is working on some cotton varieties that focus on water-use efficiency we hope will be commercially available in the next five to seven years.
Where wheat has been the traditional cover crop planted in West Texas, I am seeing farmers having more interest in trying different types of cover. A cover crop typically is planted to “hold the ground down” during West Texas windstorms. It reduces the potential for topsoil to move around.
West Texas Weeds
Problematic weeds in West Texas typically drive the herbicide program. Farmers use “yellow herbicides,” such as Prowl H2O, to control kochia and Russian thistle, which appear early in the season. The best time to put out residual herbicides is in March and April. I like to apply a residual prior to the weed’s emergence. Once kochia comes up and gets established, it’s difficult to control and resistant to several herbicide modes of action.
The No. 1 weed is Palmer amaranth. It starts to germinate in late April close to planting time and continues to germinate all the way through September. If you don’t control it throughout the growing season, its late-season emergence has the potential to cause yield loss. We recommend a strong preemergence herbicide at planting, followed by either Liberty or Engenia, depending on the type of cotton you have.
Future Looks Bright
Even though West Texas cotton farmers faced obstacles in 2018, most are optimistic about the future. We have a lot of variety choices, and cotton is progressing in terms of weed control with the traits on the market today.
Before the new season begins, farmers can reflect on what they learned from last year and make the needed adjustments in their production plans to help ensure success in 2019.