Excessive rainfall in Louisiana’s cotton country is causing problems for the Daniels, as well as other cotton producers, says John Barnett, Extension cotton specialist with the LSU AgCenter in Winnsboro, La.
“Not being able to harvest the cotton is causing producers to lose money and, in turn, causes the state’s economy to lose money overall,” Barnett said. “What was an above-average crop now is probably no more than an average crop and deteriorating fast.”
A few weeks ago, producers and officials were saying this year’s crop would average about 700 pounds per acre on the 900,000 acres that were planted and that some areas might even see yields as high as 1,000 pounds per acre.
But those hopes are starting to fade as the rains delay harvest and contribute to crop damage, Barnett says, explaining the rainfall is causing problems known as boll rot and hard lock in much of the state’s cotton crop.
“Most fields have from 10 percent to 40 percent boll rot,” he said “These bolls are lost and will never be harvested.”
The cotton harvest should have started last week, Barnett said, but the rain has kept producers out of the fields.
“What we need right now is sunshine and a lot of it,” said Colby Daniels, who is growing 350 acres of cotton along with his father Davy Daniels. “We thought this was going to be one of the best crops we’ve ever had. A lot of the cotton had laid down and, now, everything that is on the ground is starting to rot.”
On the other hand, Barnett said there may be some help for farmers who are experiencing these problems.
“It is very possible that some fungicides will have activity on most pathogens that cause boll rot or hard lock,” he said. “The big problem I see is getting the material to the problem and the expenses involved.”
Boll rot is a condition where pathogens attack a cotton boll and cause it to rot – resulting in loss of the cotton that would have been produced. Hard lock is a condition where the cotton fiber never fluffs out because the boll doesn’t fully open and therefore can’t be picked.
“To help prevent these problems, the fungicide would need to be applied before the problem starts or very soon after it starts,” Barnett said, stressing these problems are occurring late in the season when the cotton is very lush. “That means an application by air would do little good, because most of the fungicide would stay on top of the plant because of the heavy foliage. And a ground application would probably do more physical damage to the cotton plants than could be justified.”
Although the use of fungicides may have some effect on boll rot, Barnett also said that option is expensive, as well as difficult to apply successfully.
“With a season like this, it would require applications every few days – or at least once a week for three to four weeks,” he said. “This would be quite expensive, and therefore, I do not believe the use of fungicides to stop boll rot is a viable solution.”
If a grower does decide to use a fungicide, Barnett advises trying the fungicide on a small amount of acreage.
“The research information in this area is very limited,” he said. “One of the big problems we have with evaluating products and practices to stop boll rot and hard lock is the erratic occurrence of these problems. We have years like this and then may wait several more before it happens again.”
If the rain stops, harvest could begin by late next week, Barnett said.
“Harvest has been delayed by the inability to defoliate fields and run the cotton pickers,” he said. “If we can start defoliation by the end of this week, we should have harvest operations under way by late next week (Sept. 10-17).”
According to the National Weather Service, 2.53 inches of rain had fallen during September in northeastern Louisiana – where a large percentage of the state’s cotton is grown – as of Monday (Sept. 3). The normal amount is 0.31 inches. Even more, a total of 46.79 inches had fallen for the year in that area, while the normal amount of rainfall for the year is 34.92 inches.
Similar rainfall amounts have been seen in northwestern and south central Louisiana, where cotton also is grown.
Sunshine is just what the farmers need right now, Barnett said.
“The only thing that will stop this problem is several weeks of bright sunny dry weather,” he said.