Too dry, too wet, too cold. You name it, good planting and growing weather for cotton has been rare so far this year in the Delta. More specifically, it's been cold and wet in the north Delta, cold and dry in the central Delta and plenty warm but dry in the south Delta. Resulting slow growth has many growers worrying about thrips, seedling disease and sand blasting.
Louisiana cotton acreage was about 85-90 percent planted as of May 20, according to state Extension cotton specialist Sandy Stewart. “The cotton that was planted early (around April 12) and got some good moisture and some temperatures to grow off is doing well. The largest of it is at pinhead square.
“But the biggest story has been the lack of water since the season started. There have only been two rains come through the state, neither one was more than an inch. There hasn't been enough rainfall for everyone to finish planting cotton.”
The long planting season for cotton will spread out the maturity of our crop,” Stewart said, “which may end up being a blessing in disguise. One of our problems last year was that we were hit pretty hard with boll rot with the late-season rains when the vast majority of our crop was at the same stage of maturity. So spreading the crop maturity out spreads your risk.”
Temperatures in Louisiana had been moderately warm, except for a string of nights in mid-May when they dipped into the high 40s. “Cool conditions have significantly slowed cotton growth and development,” Stewart said. “Many fields have small 3-5 leaf cotton with black necrotic tissue on the margins of small leaves.
“Some of this cotton has a ‘thrippy’ appearance and adult thrips can be found in many fields,” the specialist said. Foliar treatments for thrips will not likely be of benefit. Cotton needs warm temperatures for growth and development more than anything else.”
A small window of warm weather and moist soils in mid-April might have seemed too risky to plant for many cotton producers. As it turned out, it may have been their best opportunity for getting seed in the ground.
Arkansas cotton growers who planted in mid-April “were through planting by May 1,” said Arkansas Extension cotton specialist Bill Robertson. “They caught the window just right. The cotton came up and is now taking the cold temperatures a lot better than the cotton that is trying to come up.”
Since late April, frequent rains have kept cotton producers from fieldwork and planting. Many were making replant decisions at the time of this writing, according to the specialist.
As of May 20, around 70 percent of Arkansas cotton acreage had been planted compared to an average of around 85-90 percent. Despite the delays and with a week of good planting weather, the state will be close to a million acres this coming season, according to Robertson.
If you have later-planted cotton, “you definitely want to minimize stress,” Robertson said. “Do a good job with aphids and thrips. The biggest impact of early-season pests on a crop is delaying maturity. Another important key is the timing of your initial irrigation. A lot of times, delaying that initial irrigation may not cost you yield, but the drastic impact will be in the maturity of the crop.”
As of the middle of May, west Tennessee growers had 70-90 percent of their intended cotton planted. As of the same day, about 40 percent of the west Tennessee cotton crop had emerged. There have been isolated cases of seedling disease, attributed to pythium, which thrives in cold, wet weather. As has been the case all over the Delta, thrips are taking advantage of slow-growing plants.
Last year's problems with high micronaire haven't turned growers completely away from the variety that had those problems, Paymaster 1218 BR, but they are following recommendations to plant the variety later and use more potash.
However, area specialist Craig Massey believes the high-micronaire crop of 2001 was likely “a one year thing.”
Massey explained that many growers tried to make up for the loss of a middle crop (caused by weather) “by trying to take the top crop on out. But we didn't mature it on out like we needed to and we still had some bolls left on there.”
Meanwhile, “the bottom crop had really broken down and got high mike. We didn't get a good blend.”
On the other hand, while the high-mike, short-staple 2001 crop was heavily discounted, it was in heavy demand at the textile mills and contributed to high U.S. cotton exports.
“They tell you they have a problem with the cotton, but instead of buying the good cotton, they buy the high mike,” Massey said. “What does that tell you?”
While stacked cotton varieties are still popular in Haywood and Tipton counties in Tennessee, cotton producers in Crockett and Lauderdale counties are switching over to conventional varieties and some straight Roundup Ready varieties, noted Massey.
“When you look at the bottom line, the yield, the insurance and the net return, the stacked varieties hold up. But in some places, you can get by without it if you don't have the insect pressure.”
In Mississippi, Hwy. 82 divides northern counties with plenty of rain from southern counties in need of additional rain.
Mississippi State University Extension cotton specialist Will McCarty said the cooler temperatures in mid-May haven't helped the crop that was already off to a slow start. Most growers try to have cotton planted by May 25, but the first of June is the absolute latest growers usually plant.
During the week ending May 12, the Mississippi Agricultural Statistics Service estimated 70 percent of the state's cotton was planted, which was behind last year's schedule but slightly ahead of the five-year average.
McCarty said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's prediction of 1.4 million total cotton acres in Mississippi — 220,000 acres fewer than last year — is still going to be high for the state.
“Cost of production and the price of cotton are not causing much enthusiasm for cotton this year,” McCarty said.
“We're certainly not looking at a top year and a top crop,” said Missouri Extension cotton specialist Bobby Phipps.
“From a little north of Portageville, it's rained a lot. A lot of that land is not planted, maybe 50 percent or less (as of May 20). South of there, they've missed many of the rains and are about 85 percent planted.” The average for the whole area at this time is about 75 percent.
Phipps said the condition of the crop is poor, “as you would expect. This past weekend (May 18-19), we had temperatures in the 30s. I've been looking at a lot of fields where farmers are deciding if they should replant. If growers decide to replant, they could have a 25 percent yield reduction at least.”
Phipps advises growers with a stand of cotton to “keep the thrips off and don't let the sand blow and sting the cotton. It's already weak and if thrips got into it, that would be the final blow. Pamper it. Take care of it.”