This spring certainly had many Mid-South cotton producers wondering what the fuss about global warming is all about as April and May temperatures often plunged into the 40s or 50s at night and rarely got above the 70s during the day.
Combined with frequent rains, the cool temperatures slowed plant growth and planting progress, and perhaps will push some growers into other crops. Here's more on the Mid-South crop from area cotton specialists:
On May 19, the Arkansas cotton producers were looking forward to weather forecasts for a week of warm, dry weather to finish planting and get cotton growing. According to Extension cotton specialist Tom Barber, much of the cotton that has emerged “is just sitting there right now, because temperatures have been so cool.”
Thrips emerging from the state's quickly drying wheat crop and seedling disease were the biggest concerns for growers. Barber noted that crop protection products put down at planting are starting to play out. There could be some replanting of cotton, but growers will likely wait until cotton starts growing again before making replant decisions.
Barber says about 54 percent of the state's intended cotton acreage had been planted by mid-May. Usually between 70 percent and 80 percent of cotton had been planted by this time. Cotton intended for heavier soils may now go to soybeans, according to Barber, who believes cotton acreage in the state may be closer to 600,000 acres than USDA's March 31 assessment of 650,000 acres.
Barber says the slow development and continued delays in planting “mean September is going to be a very important month for us (for finishing out the crop).”
Louisiana's cotton crop is in the ground and up to a good stand, according to state Extension cotton specialist Sandy Stewart. “It's just these unseasonably cool and mild temperatures. What's come out of the ground hasn't really done anything. We have a slowly developing crop right now.”
The slow development has heightened concerns with thrips, seedling disease and early-season weed control. “Cotton is vulnerable to a lot of problems early on, and it's taking us a long time to grow out of that stage.”
Stewart says the state had a cooler start in 2005, and that crop turned out to be a good one with yields approaching 900 pounds per acre. But a late fall helped develop that late crop. “The problem we have right now is that this is May 16, and we're still getting nighttime temperatures below 60 degrees.”
And more wheat was planted in Louisiana than in years past, “so we expect thrips pressure to be a lot bigger this season as the wheat dries down.” Wheat harvest had already begun in south Louisiana. Stewart says quite a few Louisiana cotton producers will follow their wheat crops with cotton.
Cotton Extension specialist Darrin Dodds says wet weather planting delays and replants in cotton may cause a shift in crop mix for Mississippi farmers. As of May 11, the state was far behind in planting progress, at around 20 percent complete, compared to an average for that time of year of around 70 percent.
“We're a pretty good bit behind. A lot of the completed planting is in the south Delta area. You get north of Hwy. 82, to Clarksdale and Tunica, it seems like they have gotten every rain that's come through.”
Emerged cotton hasn't fared well with the cool, wet weather, according to Dodds. “There has been some replanting. I talked to a farmer this morning with some no-till cotton, and the seed rotted in the ground. We're also getting to the point where some farmers are switching out of cotton and going to soybeans if they can get seed, so I'm a little concerned that we're going to lose some acres to that.”
A late-planted crop has other implications, noted Dodds. “If you don't have water, you could have issues in late summer if it turns hot and dry. Even if you do have water, if it doesn't cool off at night, that's going to hurt some. The weather in the fall is going to be important.”
According to Dunklin County Extension agent Mike Milam, 80 percent of intended cotton acres for southeast Missouri had been planted by mid-May. The region had plenty of rainfall this spring, but unlike growers in Tennessee and Mississippi, there were opportunities to plant between rains without getting bogged down.
While progress has been made in planting, the crop itself hasn't grown much, Milam said.
“Cotton has not advanced much beyond the cotelydonary leaves. We've had a lot of cool nights in the low 50s, so it's been sitting there in that moisture.
“We've had ideal conditions for seedling disease, but today we have a lot better tools, such as seed treatments, for dealing with it.”
Tennessee producers, stuck in neutral for much of the spring, have taken advantage of a few open days to plant cotton, but those days have been few and far between. By May 18, the state had planted only 24 percent of its intended cotton acres, a 9 percent increase over the previous week.
Last year at the same time, over 83 percent of the state's intended cotton acreage was planted, compared to a 5-year average of 61 percent.