It remains dry, so cotton is being irrigated all over Arkansas. Forgive Arkansas producers for feeling a bit of déjà vu.

“Remember last year when I was talking about how expensive the crop was?” asks Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist. “Well, this year is at least as bad. Almost all over the state, we’ve got producers that are burning through fuel. There’s no choice — they’re keeping the pivots turning and it’s early to be doing that.”

Robertson just finished speaking with a grower.

“He asked how often he needed to keep turning the pivots. Some of his cotton has been watered every other row with a pipe. It hasn’t been a week and it appears to need another watering. He said, ‘I can’t keep irrigating like this. We need relief.’ The bills are going to eat him up.”

Will the dry weather and rough start means yields will be off?

“There are still a lot of things that will factor in the yields. With the drought, a high percentage of our acreage is irrigated. I think our yields could be fine. But is ‘fine’ or even ‘good’ going to pay the bills?”

Unfortunately, drought isn’t producers’ only concern.

“Our plant structure isn’t what we’re used to seeing. It reminds me of (Texas) High Plains cotton. When I was growing up, if you looked at number of bolls, plants there had six nodes that were a couple of inches from the cotyledon. They’re stacked right up.”

Generally, in the Delta, the first six nodes are about an inch apart. From there, they stretch out.

“This year, I’ve looked at a lot of nine-leaf/10-leaf cotton that’s not getting the elongation that normally occurs.”

Still, much in the cotton crop points to good things at harvest.

“Where nitrogen has been put out and fields have been irrigated a bit, cotton is really picking up and starting to grow. But I’m concerned we don’t have the plant structure we need. We need to have nine nodes or 10 nodes above the first flower. I don’t think a lot of the cotton is on track for that. That’s why irrigation is so important. The crop needs help to get a structure under it.”

The cotton crop is at the right stage for an application of Pix. Even so, “I’ve been in very few fields I’d be inclined to apply Pix to.

“And even in the fields I would put Pix on, I’d back off and put out a half or six-tenths of what I’d normally apply. I don’t want to slow the plants down too much.

“If it stays hot and dry as flowering approaches, it’s going to be all we can do to keep the crop from cutting out early. So I wouldn’t want to slow the crop down any more than necessary. Producers can always apply Pix later. But we can’t subtract any already applied.”

Soybeans

As with cotton, it’s a repeat performance for Arkansas soybeans.

“The situation is very similar to last year,” said Trey Reaper, Arkansas Extension soybean verification program coordinator at an IPM meeting in Haynes, Ark., on June 15. “Only about 46 percent of the Arkansas crop is rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent.’ That’s exactly what we had last year. Without rainfall soon, that percentage will dip.”

Irrigation has been going full-force.

“We’ve been hearing from producers wanting to water small beans. Unless they’re on a raised bed or there’s enough slope to get water on and off rapidly, that’s a big challenge. We’ve irrigated some 6- to 8-inch beans on raised beds. That can be successful as long as there’s a good furrow.

“But we’re at the point where folks are asking if a few plants should be sacrificed to save the majority of the field.”

The crop is still early compared to the five-year average. The state is about 95 percent planted with about 85 percent having emerged.

“If we don’t get rain in many places, we may hover at that 95 percent for the next couple of weeks. More and more wheat fields are being harvested. Whether or not those fields are double-cropped with beans depends largely on the soil moisture.”

Most of the calls Reaper has taken this year involve emergence and stand issues. A few weeks ago, most of those calls were related to heavy rainfall after planting.

“There were reports of seedling disease where seed treatments weren’t used. There were also some beans that were socked so far into the ground they had trouble coming up. Since then, though, the calls are related to dry conditions — poor emergence, mostly.”

When planting, many worry about planting depth and soil moisture availability. Fewer worry about the effect air temperatures have on bean emergence.

“We had some abnormally warm temps early. A lot of these emergence problems could be related to how hot it’s been…Get above 90 degrees and there can be problems with a small seed or plant developing.”

Most of the crop is still in vegetative growth stages. However, March- and April-planted beans are well into reproduction — R-3/R-4 growth stages are common.

“Obviously, this hot, dry weather is taking a toll on early-planted fields. If irrigation isn’t available, the crops aren’t looking good.”

As for Asian soybean rust, Reaper and colleagues continue to monitor 14 sentinel plots planted around the state.

“We’re also monitoring the verification fields. Every week, we take 100 leaflet samples and send them to the Lonoke lab for microscope analysis.”

Current weather conditions aren’t favorable for any disease development, much less ASR. But in hopes of building a comprehensive database, field and lab work continues.

“Over time, that will pay off and allow us to better predict when farmers should really start watching for ASR.”

Pests

Bollworms and tobacco budworms are beginning to show up in increasing numbers in south Arkansas traps. And they’re moving north.

“Those with non-Bt or refuge cotton need to be watching for those pests,” said Glenn Studebaker, Arkansas Extension entomologist, at the IPM meeting. “Budworms are difficult to control if they get into a crop. Pyrethroids won’t take care of them — you have to use Dimilin, Tracer or something like that.”

If bollworm pressure gets heavy, “Bt cotton does a good job of suppressing the numbers. But they have to feed on the cotton a little bit before they’re killed. If they get about a quarter-inch long, they need to be sprayed.

“That’s also true in Bollgard II and WideStrike cotton. While those do a better job controlling bollworms, if the pressure gets high enough, a spraying is needed.”

Plant bugs are plentiful and moving.

“I recommend paying attention to the little yellow flowers that are everywhere. Those are often loaded with plant bugs. Gus Lorenz (Arkansas Extension entomologist) says he’s gotten 200 to 300 plant bugs from a couple of sweeps. I’ve seen the same in multiple locations. They come boiling out of the sweep net.

“If we mow those weeds down, (the plant bugs) will probably move into cotton. So it might be better to just leave them alone for now. Let the cotton take off and get some growth. We don’t need the crop to be delayed any more than it already is.”

Studebaker says producers should also brace themselves for spider mites.

“If it stays dry, I think we’ll see them. Already a few areas are spraying for mites although there’s been nothing widespread yet.”

There are also “tremendous numbers” of stink bugs in Arkansas’ soybeans.

“If you’ve got early beans with pods, I’d be scouting them regularly. There have already been fields sprayed for stink bugs.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com