Oklahoma cotton farmers may be second-guessing their planting decisions. They planted only 150,000 acres I cotton for 2013, citing continued drought and increasing competition from man-made fibers as primary reasons.
But as the season unfolds, many find themselves in one of the wettest summers in recent years with relatively moderate temperatures—so far.
Recent rainfall totals up to 3 inches in southern Comanche and eastern Tillman Counties could help cotton farmers keep their dryland crop growing the rest of the summer. And prediction calls for more moisture over the coming days, possibly leading up to cutout when they prefer to do without rainfall and to curtail irrigation where available.
A rainfall pattern in August similar to July will make the difference between a crop and another failure, according to Marvin Wyatt, who farms south of Lawton, Okla.
He and brothers Matt and Fred, planted nearly 2,300 acres of cotton this spring. "Before the rain we received at the beginning of last week, the cotton was beginning to look a little sick," he said. "Some of our fields are wet today. Around 3 inches fell in some places.
"While it wasn't a lot, this moisture was really welcome. If we can get some more rain like this next month, before the bolls start maturing, we should have a chance to make some cotton for the first time in three years."
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Wyatt, chairman of the board of directors for the Tri-County Gin east of Faxon, says his fields have cotton plants varying in height from 3 inches to 5 inches in some places to 6 inches to 8 inches in others. The Wyatt brothers planted Roundup Ready Flex varieties with Bollgard II.
Such modern varieties have been developed in Texas and Oklahoma in warm, arid climates where the plants have demonstrated a built-in ability to grow where soil moisture is often scarce and untimely.
Doug Scherler and other farmers who are Wyatt's neighbors planted more cotton this spring to offset the failure of a wheat crop stunted by drought and killed by late spring frost. Others, like Wyatt, planted cotton on fields already designated for that crop. "A lot of us who use crop rotation between wheat, cotton, hay and grain sorghum have to select what fields are going to be planted in a certain crop at least a year in advance," he said."When we apply the last fertilizer in the early spring for our wheat crop, many farmers have started adding herbicides like Finesse to the mix. These new herbicides do a good job of preventing weeds growing in the fields where we will plant wheat in the future."
Wyatt has seen some insect problems in his young cotton. "There have been some thrips and grasshoppers," he said. "We have sprayed for them if there are a lot of them in a field."
Cotton's growing season is now at its midpoint. Plants will continue to grow the rest of July and into early August before cutting out. If timely rains come throughout the growing season, cotton will make a crop most of the time, Wyatt said.
"It is only when we have such severe heat and long dry spells like the past two years where the crop, particularly in dryland fields, will fail. It has been so hot even irrigated cotton has needed additional moisture from rain to keep it growing."