A blackberry winter — cold weather that coincides with the time that blackberries are in bloom — had slowed Mid-South cotton planting in late April, but producers still have time to get the crop in early, according to state cotton specialists.

Most producers are anxious about getting their cotton in early this year, given that fall weather has threatened yields and extended harvesting in recent years. In addition, early crops have bested later-planted crops in yield and quality.

As of April 25, farmers in the north Delta were hoping for a let up in rains and a cold snap to get back in the field, while south Delta farmers needed more soil moisture to resume planting. Here's a closer look:

Tennessee: Subsoil moisture is more than adequate from seemingly daily deluges of rain last winter. Producers had started planting in the region in mid-April, but a cold front in late April “put a damper on things,” said Extension cotton specialist Chism Craig. “If the weather clears up, we'll be going wide open this weekend (April 30).”

West Tennessee cotton producers “are not late by any means, but I know some producers who really wanted to get started by April 25. Soil temperature in Jackson was 47 degrees at 8 a.m. on April 24. The flip side is that it's warming up to air temperature by mid-day.”

Typically, from May 5 to May 10 “has really been a good time to plant cotton in west Tennessee,” the specialist said. “We really want to get this crop in early so we can avoid late-season drought or late-season rains that keep us from harvesting. But we don't need it all planted in five days. Sometimes a little break in between planting is a blessing because it allows us to spread our harvest out, provided it's not happening in late May.”

Arkansas: “Cotton started going in the ground April 21,” said Arkansas cotton Extension specialist Bill Robertson. “We had a great weather forecast, and a lot of producers planted based on that. I know one farmer who is about two-thirds planted. The last couple of years, early-planted cotton has been our better cotton, regardless of how the falls turned out.”

At the time of this writing, soil temperatures were marginal and more rains expected, noted Robertson. This could delay planting a few more days.

Planting early is riskier with the cost of seed today, Robertson added. “When seed didn't cost thousands of dollars a ton, you could take that gamble. If you kept the stand, you were okay. If you didn't, you lost the bet, but it only cost you a few days and wasn't that expensive.

“Today, we have technology fees for our insect and weed control programs and we have a lot of product on the seed for control of early-season insect pests. There is a lot of money tied up in the seed. If you plant it and lose it, there are some plant back programs, but you may not get the variety you want. It's better to do it right the first time.”

Missouri: Between 10 percent and 15 percent of the Missouri's cotton had been planted by April 25, mostly in the southern Bootheel, according to state cotton specialist Bobby Phipps. “That's a little earlier than normal. They all want to get in early, but my concern right now is how long it's going to rain and how long it's going to be cold. I try to talk producers out of planting early, but evidently, I'd make a poor preacher.

“Our research says we need to get cotton up the first time. It really hurts to plant over. Used to be that once you got the land ready, it was time to plant. Now, equipment is bigger, there's more no-till and we get the land ready quicker. We need to wait a little longer, but we get anxious. Sometimes, it's best to go fishing and wait until the right time.”

Louisiana: According to Sandy Stewart, Extension cotton specialist, Louisiana, cool weather is not nearly the problem as is the lack of moisture for planting. “We're moving into the time when the temperatures and heat unit accumulation should be fine for planting. The question is whether or not we have the moisture to plant. We'd love to see a half inch of rain come across the state.”

Louisiana cotton producers were about halfway through with planting as of the end of April. Very little had emerged at the time of this writing. “I'm sure the cool nights have set it back some, but I haven't heard any reports of replanting.”

Stewart says USDA's estimate of 630,000 acres in cotton plantings is a little high. “Our increase over last year is going to come primarily from corn due to high nitrogen prices. Soybean prices have rebounded somewhat here recently, and there are a lot of beans in the ground. I feel comfortable with an estimate of 575,000 acres to 585,000 acres of cotton this year.”

Stewart noted that he's seeing more seed treatments and fewer in-furrow products being used this year. “It seems like we're trying to put everything on the seed. I've joked with a few people that we're going to have to go to soybean plates because the seed is going to be so big.”

The big reason for the move is convenience, according to Stewart.

“You don't have to deal with the all the equipment associated with in-furrow treatments. And the other side is that seed treatments have improved. The lineup of products is better by far than it was five years ago.”

Mississippi: Cotton planting in the Delta of Mississippi got into full swing the third week in April, according to Charles Snipes, area cotton specialist for the region. While rains in late April put a hold on planting, the moisture was needed in some areas.

“We had a half-inch rain in Stoneville that was just what the doctor ordered. But we have had some nighttime temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s to give us some pause.”

Cotton acres in the state will probably rise a little from last year, according to Snipes. “There is a little concern over soybean rust, and we didn't get as much corn planted as we would have if the weather had permitted.”


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com