Mid-South farmers were bracing for potential crop and quality losses after Tropical Storm Isidore rolled through the region, dumping from 2 to 4 inches of unwelcome rain on Sept. 25 and 26.
As they waited to assess the damage from Isidore, many growers and crop specialists were also keeping a wary eye on another storm system — Tropical Storm Lili — that also could threaten the Gulf Coast.
Residents of New Orleans and the coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi appeared to catch the brunt of Isidore's high winds and heavy rains. But farmers throughout the lower Mississippi Valley may have sustained losses in yield, quality and time from being forced out of their fields — again.
“It's yet to be seen what impact Isidore will have on the Delta cotton crop,” says Charles Snipes, Extension cotton specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss. “It will take a toll; it's just too early to tell how much at this point.”
Snipes initially worried about storm-related fiber quality discounts when the rains began on Sept. 25, but as the storm continued to dump rain over the Delta and much of the rest of Mississippi, the odds increased for yield losses.
“I'm much more disappointed now than I was a week ago when everything looked good,” says Snipes. “Growers are likely going to realize some discounts or deductions in grade, because the cotton is going to have a little grayer color than it did prior to the rain.
“There's no way of predicting yield losses just yet, but the more wind and rain we got, the more it's going to start stringing out on us a little bit, and some will probably fall on the ground.”
Snipes said the sustained winds that accompanied Isidore as she moved up through Mississippi did much of the damage. “That's what will blow the cotton out on the ground,” he notes. “Once it gets on the ground we've lost it; until then we've still got a chance at it.”
Many Mid-South producers had stopped harvesting after 4 to 5 inches of rain fell the weekend of Sept. 20. A few returned to their fields at mid-week only to be chased out on Sept. 25 by the bands of rain being pushed north by Isidore.
Jay Grymes, state climatologist at Louisiana State University, who spent the night of Sept. 25 at the Office of Emergency Preparedness watching Isidore come ashore, said the damage could have been worse in coastal areas.
“It's a cliché, but we pretty much dodged a bullet,” said Grymes. “We're seeing mainly good news, although in some cases, hell broke loose in some parts of Louisiana. What could have been a major storm — what looked like a major storm three days ago — turned out to be a very wet storm, but not incredibly destructive.”
Louisiana's cotton crop also appears to have escaped major damage from Isidore, which elected to stay mostly east of the Mississippi River as it moved inland.
“Folks down here were extremely worried about the storm, but what happened wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been,” says Sandy Stewart, Louisiana Extension cotton specialist. “The rainfall intensity and the wind never got to the level that a lot of cotton was knocked out of bolls. There's not too much on the ground. At most, the early estimates are that we lost 10 percent.”
Stewart says the further north and west one goes, the less the storm damage.
Stewart says a lot of Louisiana cotton has been defoliated. The first part of the week of the storm, farmers were harvesting all they could before Isidore hit. Many pickers ran into the early morning hours of Sept. 25.
Soybeans were a major concern, particularly in northeast Louisiana, says David Lanclos, Louisiana Extension soybean, corn and sorghum specialist.
“We've harvested about 35 percent of the beans — both irrigated and dryland — but that leaves a large percentage still in the field. About 15 percent of our soybeans are ready to cut and should have been cut this week. The remaining 50 percent is in the dry-down stage and is two to three weeks from being cut.”
If there is any positive news about this storm it's that Louisiana was extremely late in planting a lot of soybeans.
“For the most part, we haven't had enough wind damage to put them on the ground and not enough water to cause diseases or rotting,” says Lanclos.
Isidore didn't dump a lot of rain on the north Delta cotton crop compared to the amounts received further south. But the slow and steady drenching produced a sloppy mess nonetheless.
The good news for north Delta producers was that cool temperatures were not conducive to cotton germinating in the bolls, a malady which affected many Mid-South farmers in 2001. On the other hand, cool temperatures don't dry up wet soils as quickly as growers would like.
Southeast Missouri growers received 2 inches of rain on Sept. 26, the day that Isidore rolled up through Mississippi and into west Tennessee, pushing heavy rains in front of it. But it was a slow, steady, all-day affair without much runoff.
“It's going to be about mid-week before we get back in the field,” said Bobby Phipps, Extension cotton specialist at the University of Missouri's Delta Center in Portageville, Mo. “It's good and wet. It's a big setback.”
USDA is projecting a 790-pound yield for the Bootheel, “which is very high for us,” Phipps said. “But I think this weather has probably knocked it down a little, and it's going to spot the cotton, of course. But we've had some reports of some good yields.”
In Tennessee, growers were already running behind because of the earlier rains.
“After a 4-inch rain fell in west Tennessee on Sept. 20, our picking efficiency went down a lot,” said Chism Craig, Extension cotton specialist for west Tennessee. “It took it a while to fluff back out. After Isidore, we think growers will get back in the field Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Prior to the rains, west Tennessee had classed almost 3,000 bales of cotton, and “we were running 70 to 80 percent 11s and 21s,” Craig said. “But our color quality is going to go down considerably after this rain.
“Another thing that scares me is we have a lot of cotton in bottoms. When rivers and tributaries like the Forked Deer and the Hatchie get out of their banks, a lot of cotton gets under water. The standing water could leave some mud on the cotton.”
Craig says around 10 percent of the west Tennessee crop had been picked prior to the rains. Because planting dates are staggered over a month and a half, west Tennessee will need at least a month of open weather to complete harvest. “We're going to be picking some of this cotton for a while.”
At press-time, Louisiana residents were waiting to see if they needed to dodge another bullet — Tropical Storm Lili. “Lili is in the central Caribbean and can't seem to make up her mind about what direction to go,” says Grymes. “If she gets organized, she could hit the Gulf of Mexico and come inland. If Lili can stay organized, it's close to 50/50 she ends up in the Gulf.”
What could Lili mean to Louisiana cotton? “We've still got a lot of cotton out,” says Stewart. “Some sunny weather is coming in, so that should help. But with Lili on the way, I don't think many farmers will be at football games on Saturday. They're liable to be in the fields harvesting all the cotton they've defoliated.”
At this point, Stewart is hesitant to advise farmers to defoliate even more because leaves on the plants may provide a buffer to any rain Lili might dump next week. “The leaves offer some measure of protection. I certainly wouldn't defoliate any more cotton than I could pick by the end of next week. We need to see what Lili is going to do.”
Lanclos says he's very concerned about Lili. “If that hits, it could be bad. We need sunshine and dry weather. We have a lot of beans on heavy clay, and if we continue to get hard rains we won't be able to get harvesting equipment into fields.”
Isidore may trigger re-growth problems
AS GROWERS return to their fields to save what's left of their crops from Isidore, they're likely to face plant re-growth problems, cotton specialists say.
On cotton that was defoliated prior to the tropical storm, growers' options vary depending on the amount, and size, of the cotton plant re-growth, says Charles Ed Snipes, Extension cotton specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss.
If the re-growth leaves are at least as large as the palm of your hand, Snipes recommends a treatment of Def or Folex. For smaller sized re-growth, Snipes has seen good results with Ginstar, or paraquat plus chlorate.
“Smaller re-growth is more problematic, and it's difficult the first few days after a rain period to get the stuff off. The herbicide Aim may be an option for taking off small stuff, but it does not inhibit re-growth,” he says.
Growers dealing with juvenile growth on cotton that has not yet been defoliated have several options. Snipes recommends an application of Ginstar, or a tank-mix treatment of Def or Folex plus Dropp, provided the temperature is high enough for Dropp activity. Otherwise, he suggests a tank mix of Def or Folex plus paraquat, or Def or Folex plus Aim.
“Growers will typically lose a little grade if nothing else from Isidore,” he said. “It's still to be seen what impact this storm has on yield,” Snipes says.