The Mid-South cotton crop survived one of the roughest springs in history this year with a few bumps and bruises, according to state cotton specialists. It's now facing another of Mother Nature's beanballs — hot, dry weather.
Planting dates for the 2002 cotton crop range from April 15 to almost June 15, according to Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Chism Craig. “We have cotton that is just beginning to square to cotton that's been blooming for 10 days. We have cotton that's blooming out the top and cotton that's had a rain that looks excellent.
“Most of the state has an average crop,” the specialist said, “but a few places really need a rain. Over the last two days, I've seen a lot of cotton wilting at 10 o'clock in the morning.”
Craig reports that growers “are starting to pick up a few stinkbugs here and there and probably will start treating late this week.”
Producers who planted in June “are going to have to stay ahead to get an early crop. And then, we'll just hope that Mother Nature works it out in our favor.
“We're looking at the first or the early part of the second week of August as our last effective bloom population in most years,” Craig said. “So anything that blooms after Aug. 10 in most years is not going to contribute to yield.
In effect, those growers don't have a lot of time on the calendar, he said.
“Our dryland cotton is really starting to show some wear and tear from the heat,” said Arkansas Extension cotton specialist Bill Robertson.
“The irrigated crop is still holding up pretty well. Our crop condition has been improving over the last few weeks, but we still have a late crop. It would look a lot better if we could roll back about two weeks on the calendar.”
Robertson reports that a few fields were flowering on July 4, a benchmark for maturity development for most Delta cotton crops. “Our younger cotton is growing faster, and it is making up some of that ground.”
As is so often the case, the hot weather that helped cotton quickly get past a rough start is not quite so welcome anymore. “We don't need a string of 100-plus degree days and high nighttime temperatures,” Robertson said. “And we need some timely rains.”
But the weather was going against growers at the time of this writing and irrigators were placing miles of layout pipe to keep cotton out of stress. “It takes a lot of diesel to keep the wells running,” Robertson said. “There's also quite a bit of money tied up in thrips and plant bug applications. The hot, dry weather is really cutting into the yield potential.”
Robertson advises grower to watch for stinkbugs. “We've gotten the word out the last couple of years, and people are aware of what these pests can do. They are seed-feeders. We have cotton that is fruiting, and we have small bolls.”
“Right now, the crop looks quite a bit better than most people thought it would look about a month and a half ago,” said Louisiana Extension cotton specialist Sandy Stewart. “We have some cotton that is a little bigger than five- to six-leaf all the way up to some that is in danger of early cutout.”
Soil moisture, on the other hand, “has held up pretty well. We've been getting rains across most of the state. We still have dry pockets. Square retention has been high and a lot of bolls have been set.”
Stewart says overall insect pressure “has been fairly light. But that can change overnight. We're now on the verge of getting some significant bollworm and budworm flights. Protecting this crop… is going to be a major concern.”
Mid-June-planted cotton “will need a good fall to make that crop. The temptation is to continue protecting it and spending money on it after Aug. 31 and trying to save some bolls set on the plant over into September. I hope they avoid that temptation.”
For late-planted cotton, Stewart suggests that growers “do everything they can to make the crop as early as possible. Avoid excessive nitrogen rates, protect it as well as you can. When you get into late August, you just have to decide that this is where you're going to cut it off.”
The biggest risk for producers trying to pick up a few extra bolls in the fall “is that cool fall temperatures slow boll development and you end up picking it in late Thanksgiving and even into December. A boll that is set on Aug. 1 might mature in 35 days. But those set on Sept. 10 might take 50 to 60 days. Eventually, you run out of heat units.”
In addition, “your days fit for fieldwork drop dramatically in the late fall because you get those fall rains.”
Ample sunshine helped the cotton crop a lot after a slow start, but now Missouri Bootheel growers are busy irrigating in dry weather, according to Bobby Phipps, Extension cotton specialist for Missouri.
“The crop has really improved a lot,” the specialist said. “We got past the point of seedling diseases, and no other diseases seem to be showing up. The thrips finally let up, too. We had so many.
“Most producers ended up with a pretty good stand,” he said. “There are a few skippy stands, but overall, it's looking pretty good right now.”
Phipps reports that the crop “is a little bit slow in flowering. There was so much stunting in the spring, it's not going to be a particularly early crop. We are finding a few lygus and budworms. But the pressure is light right now.”
Mississippi's cotton crop “is looking pretty good right now,” said Charles Ed Snipes, area cotton specialist for the state. “Moisture is a concern in places. We're getting either too much or not enough.
“We're also into that time of year when we need to start looking at mepiquat chloride applications, especially those areas where we've had good rainfall and growing conditions. I'm cautiously optimistic. Every July 4, we feel real good, then August jumps up and bites us. Barring any major weather catastrophe, we're in pretty good shape.”