It's been a tough year for Mid-South cotton producers, but yield potential at this point in the season is respectable.
The crop is maturing quickly despite a late start thanks to the rapid accumulation of heat units.
Irrigation has been a major expense for growers in dry areas, with some growers spending more than double what they typically spend watering the crop.
Cotton in the Mid-South is once again demonstrating that it can survive and flourish despite taking hits from numerous stresses. According to USDA, the Mid-South is heading toward a crop size of 4.4 million bales, a 16 percent increase over last year’s 3.8 million bale crop.
In addition, thanks to an unusually high number of heat units accumulated during the season, even the late-planted crop is quickly moving toward maturity.
Bacterial blight, a seed-borne pathogen, has also been showing up in fields in Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri. Pathologists are working to determine the extent of its spread.
According to Extension cotton specialist John Kruse, the Louisiana cotton crop is finishing quickly, with defoliation well under way and some harvesting already taking place.
“We seem to be ahead of the curve. We are defoliating, and a few fields south of Alexandria have been picked. The bulk of the crop is probably going to be picked in early September.”
Kruse said yields in the state “may not be quite what they were last year, but they’re going to be good. We’re probably going to have a lot of fields picking 900 pounds to 1,000 pounds. We have had some tough areas, especially up in the Delta area that never caught the rains, and that’s going to show up in the yields.”
Farmers with irrigation had to crank up the wells “a lot earlier than they had in the past,” Kruse said. “The cost of irrigating last year’s crop was around $30 an acre. This year, it was $70 to $80 an acre. But we’re still going to end up with a better crop than we had feared when drought hit back in the spring.”
Kruse said insect control costs are lower statewide compared to last year. “There are exceptions, but plant bug pressure was lighter overall for the state. We did have an outbreak of fleahoppers which was rather unusual.”
Louisiana cotton producers are starting to find some varieties to replace the old standard of DP 555 BG/RR, which is no longer available. “Right now, ST 5288 B2RF is probably on about 65 percent to 70 percent of our acres. DP 0912 B2RF has done well when growers had to plant late, like behind wheat. PHY 499 WRF also looks like it’s holding a lot of promise.”
Darrin Dodds, Extension cotton specialist, Mississippi, says the state’s bottom crop “is starting to crack open. We have farmers terminating irrigation and insecticide sprays. Some defoliant has gone out around Port Gibson and up around Benoit. But I’d say we’re still three weeks or more off from a lot of defoliant going out.
“Overall, we have a good-looking crop on our hand. We need a good fall to finish it on out.”
Dodds estimates that 50,000 acres to 60,000 acres in Mississippi may be affected by bacterial blight, a disease which has declined significantly over the last two decades due to varietal resistance to the pathogen and improved seed processing and handling procedures.
“I don’t know where it is going, but we’ve got it,” Dodds said. “We’re working with the Bureau of Plant Industry doing some background work and testing seed lots.”
Arkansas Extension cotton specialist Tom Barber says earlier-planted cotton in the state is rapidly maturing. “We’re going to defoliate a lot of cotton by the second week of September. It’s amazing how fast it’s matured. We have a lot of money in it, but with the watering capability that we have, we’ve been able to speed it along.”
Even the late-planted crop is quickly closing on the finish line, Barber said. “It’s not going to be a bumper crop by any stretch. But 700 pounds to 800 pounds on the late crop is not out of the question.”
Barber is urging cotton producers to consider pushing the crop toward maturity. “This year, on some of the late crop, we don’t know what September holds. We can throw a lot of money at bolls in the top that most years don’t make us anything.”
Barber is amazed at the progress the crop has made this season. “We are cut out on some of our June 10 cotton, and we are only three nodes shy of what we had on cotton planted during our normal window. It’s amazing the heat units we had in June and July and August. The sunshine and heat units came on. It happened faster than I’ve ever seen it.
“On the downside recent rains are leading to boll rot and hard lock on the earlier crop. We’re losing some yield every time we get a rain. It’s not over yet. We still have a lot to lose.”
“We’re very pleased with the development of the crop, especially when you consider how we started out” said Mike Milam, cotton agronomy specialist for Dunklin and Pemiscot counties in the Missouri Bootheel. “We planted so late, but we had so many heat units. Last year, we had the highest number of heat units in the last eight years, and this year was second.”
Production costs for this year’s crop are much higher, according to Milam. “Anytime you’re battling resistant pigweed, it’s going to be expensive.”
Milan added that the crop experienced “a little bit of bacterial blight this year, and we’ve seen more potassium deficiency in the last few weeks.”
Chris Main, Extension cotton specialist for Tennessee, says the state’s cotton crop “is about 10 percent ahead of normal in heat unit accumulation, which is helping speed this crop along. We have needed that with the start that we had.”
Main says cotton planted in early- to mid-May, “which is our normal planting window, is about 10 days to two weeks from growers thinking about defoliation. The majority of the Tennessee cotton crop is still on track to defoliate by the end of October, which is normal. There may be some late-planted fields under irrigation that may push a little longer.”
Main says the majority of the crop is above average in terms of yield potential. “For the late-planted cotton, a general rain would make a world of difference in finishing that crop. Overall, I’d say we have a better than average crop sitting on the plant. We just need to get it in the basket at the end of the year.”
Input costs have been high this year, Main noted. “But luckily we have well-above-average prices and good yields. A majority of our acres will be very profitable, but there will be a few places where it will close as far as covering expenses is concerned.”