Going into the second week of July, Mississippi's cotton crop is as variable as Will McCarty has ever seen.
“We're seeing a little bit of everything,” says the state Extension cotton specialist. “We have some very good-looking cotton and we've got cotton that is very, very late. Generally speaking, the cotton crop south of Highway 82 looks better than it does north. Much of the crop north of Highway 82 had to be replanted and very little is uniform.
“We've had a lot of cotton impacted by rain. There are a lot of drowned out spots.”
Uneven maturity in cotton fields is a complaint many Delta farmers are making. “We're going to have to live with unevenness in our fields,” says Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist. “It's going to be there until the end of the season. We can go to a low-tech precision agriculture and turn sprayers on and off depending on plant size. But insect and irrigation termination are really going to be thorns in our side. It's going to be tough.”
The maturity of Louisiana's cotton crop is also spread “way out,” says Joel Faircloth, LSU AgCenter cotton specialist. That's due to a number of factors. One of the bigger factors is soil type, he says. “Some of our fields have had problems with a combination of factors that has lead to stunted plants now threatening to cut out. Much of this is being seen on our ridge-type and clay-type soils.”
And Louisiana producers are already running into problems with Pix. Many farmers have made Pix applications to cotton on the basis of developmental stages rather than on plant vigor, notes Faircloth. That's resulted in a lot of stunted plants.
“It's certainly a significant problem, although I don't know how big a percentage of our acreage is affected. In fields with short plants that are cutting out, producers need to stop applying Pix. And only apply fertilizer if it's badly needed. We aren't recommending adding fertilizer for most of these fields. Producers really need to allow plants to move away from a purely reproductive stage to a phase where the plant is also growing in a vegetative manner simultaneously.”
Louisiana doesn't yet have an exact Pix application recommendation. “We're working on that — it's in the second year of research,” says Faircloth. “We hope to have some specific guidelines in the near future.”
Robertson is seeing similar quandaries regarding Pix applications in Arkansas. “I visited a farmer yesterday who's spraying for plant bugs. He isn't seeing that many, but he's having a hard time keeping his boll fruit retention up. I told him I thought he might need to use a little more Pix. As late as the crop is now, we can't have any energy going to produce excess plant height.”
For producers who pay attention to nodes above white flower (NAWF), Robertson says there are a couple of things to pay attention to.
“For first flower, I like to see NAWF running about nine,” he says. “If you hit nine, that means you've got pretty good horsepower. But if the NAWF is seven, your horsepower is limited. If you don't really push those fields, the crop will cut out on you. There's still time to turn things around, but you're going to have to push such fields to keep them going. We've got fields right now that are going into first flower. So producers need to monitor NAWF and identify fields that need to be pushed.”
McCarty says most of the calls he's getting deal with a lack of uniformity, nitrogen loss and the like.
“Typically, a farmer might have low-lying areas where the cotton is short and yellowish to reddish in color. The plants might even be blooming out the top. Producers wonder if they need to put additional fertilizer on.
“Other calls involve cotton that is growing healthy on one side of a field while the other side is stunted. They want to know about Pix applications being made on one side while leaving the other.”
With the arrival of July, rains have slowed and soils are drying up. Across the Delta, pipe is being situated and wells pumped.
Regarding insects and disease, no huge outbreaks are being reported, say the specialists. “At the end of last week, Gus (Lorenz, Arkansas Extension entomologist) said things were relatively quiet insect-wise,” says Robertson. “Usually, around July 4 we count on a bollworm egg lay. But we're not seeing them yet.
“It's odd, almost through the end of June, we were having to fight thrips. Depending on the age of the cotton, one end of a field might have thrips and at the other end plant bugs and aphids were causing problems. It's strange.”
In Louisiana, bronze wilt is showing up in small quantities in susceptible varieties, says Faircloth. “We haven't had any other disease problems. Producers are treating for both stinkbugs and tarnished plant bugs. We haven't had any major worm treatments yet although we're expecting those in the near future.”
As there's a long way to picking time, McCarty says he's “fairly optimistic” that Mississippi's cotton crop will come out fine. “We've still got a chance to make a pretty good cotton crop, although the non-uniformity bothers me. The crop is in the hands of the weather, but you never count a cotton crop out. Producers shouldn't give up on this crop. Cotton is tough and can set a lot of bolls in a short time.”