Irrigation pumps and prayers for rain are both working overtime as the Mid-South cotton crop heads into the dog days of summer. Here’s more from Extension cotton specialists on the early July crop.
June was one of the hottest months on record for many states in the Mid-South, “especially in regard to nighttime temperatures,” said Tom Barber, Extension cotton specialist for Arkansas. The relentless heat “just sucked the moisture out of the ground. Irrigation, irrigation and more irrigation has been the key.”
The Arkansas cotton crop is on a fast track in terms of growth and development, Barber said. “We had some early-blooming cotton and we haven’t had that many cloudy days. We have excellent fruit retention.”
At the time of this writing, Barber and Arkansas cotton producers were hoping a front coming through the Mid-South in early July would bring some much needed moisture. “If we get the rain and some cloudy weather, we probably will see some shed.”
Plant bugs continue to be the No. 1 pest for Arkansas producers. “We’ve been making applications, especially in southeast and central Arkansas. Spider mites have popped up in the northeast part of the state, which goes back to the problems with dry weather. We’re spending money. The crop looks good. We need to keep the water on it, and the pests off.”
Barber says the practice of watering every other middle in cotton has not been as effective this year. “It’s not enough to activate the nitrogen, especially where we’ve put nitrogen down every middle. We’re not moving that water all the way across and getting the nitrogen in solution.”
Barber says a major problem this season has been glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed. “We thought it was going to be bad, but it was even worse than we thought it was going to be. From now on, it’s going to affect the way we do business. We’re going to make decisions based around that one pest. It’s costing us a lot of money.”
Mike Milam, cotton agronomy specialist for Dunklin and Pemiscot counties in the Missouri Bootheel, says, “Irrigated cotton looks pretty good. A lot of the dryland cotton doesn’t look good at all. I’ve seen cotton less than a foot tall with blooms coming out the top.”
The Bootheel crop had received more heat units by the end of June than it typically would have received by July 15, Milam says. Irrigated yield potential, which represents about 70 percent of the Bootheel crop, is excellent, according to Milam. “The only thing that has concerned me is that we’ve had high nighttime temperatures.”
Insect pressure “overall, has been light, so far. We’ve had a few spider mites reported, which you would expect with the heat and lack of rain.”
A welcome rain was falling in Starkville, Miss., on July 6, thanks to the effects of a tropical storm in the Gulf. But overall, rain has been spotty across much of the state.
“Generally, the crop is looking pretty good,” said Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds. “There is some dryland cotton where dry weather has been beating on it for six or seven weeks, and it’s starting to suffer. Hopefully, we can catch a few rains in July and August.”
Plant bugs and spider mites are causing problems, but the biggest problem for cotton producers has been Palmer pigweed. “It continues to be a monkey on our back.”
The cotton crop “is more spread out” in terms of maturity than in years past, according to John Kruse, Louisiana Extension cotton specialist. “Producers have management issues that are overlapping, with mature cotton producing bolls and very young cotton that hasn’t started flowering yet. You end up chasing insect pests from one field to the next.”
Kruse said producers in the central part of the state have seen occasional thunderstorms, “which is making a big difference. But north of I-20, it is still very dry.
“Overall, the cotton looks pretty good despite the dry weather. I don’t think it’s going to be a record-breaking year, but it could be a solid year. The insect pressure has been manageable. What it really boils down to is fall weather. For the past two years, growers have gone into the fall with real good crops, but hurricanes two years ago and late fall rain last year really took yield and quality down.
“To finish off this crop, we need two or three good rains on each field, then dry weather in fall. It’s all very weather-dependent.”
According to Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Chris Main, the state’s crop ranges “from pretty good to pretty ugly, sometimes all in the same field.”
Main says 85 percent of the crop is in good to excellent shape. The other 15 percent has a multitude of problems. “A lot of it was planted when it was a little too wet and it ended up with seedling disease which has stunted the plant and hurt nutrient uptake.”
DD-60s, according to Main, are about 300 units above normal for this time of year. “We’re in good shape as far as fruit retention goes. Plant bug pressure has been spotty, but it ranges from non-existent to fairly heavy.”
Main says in early July there was still plenty of moisture in the soil profile “which we’re mining right now. Anything that can come from the sky to help recharge that is going to really boost our yield potential for the rest of this year.”
According to USDA, 64 percent of the U.S. crop was squaring on July 4, compared to 56 percent this time last year. Much of the Mid-South cotton crop is significantly ahead of last year’s pace. In Arkansas, 97 percent of the crop was squaring on July 4, compared to 67 percent a year ago. In Missouri, 66 percent of the crop was squaring, compared to 49 percent last year. In Mississippi, 93 percent of the crop was squaring compared to 74 percent last year. In Tennessee, 77 percent was squaring compared to 65 percent a year ago. In Louisiana, 91 percent of the crop was squaring, compared to 92 percent last year.
According to USDA, 65 percent of the U.S. cotton crop is in good to excellent condition, and only 9 percent is in the poor to very poor categories.