Rainfall in recent weeks has turned cotton prospects from horrible to hopeful across most of the Southwest, but increased moisture also exposed growers to other challenges—storm damage, plant disease and weed pressure.
Given the alternative, they prefer facing the challenges that comes with moisture over the heartache that accompanies prolonged drought.
“Suffice it to say ‘thank God for the rain,’” says Kerry Siders, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management agent for Cochran and Hockley counties.
Siders says recent rainfall amounts have been spotty across the two-county area and crop injury has become “hard to track to know what storm caused this or that. For the most part it looks like we have turned the corner and it’s looking like the crop will be productive. If not it is time to make the hard [replant] decisions on cotton and move on. I believe a stand of cotton will yield as long as it is a consistent stand of more than 19,000 plants (1.5 plants per foot) per acre and will be squaring soon. Anything less than this by now is questionable.”
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Siders says insect pest problems have been few. “I am not finding much on cotton plants. But with weed pressure from recent rains, I expect weeds will be an initial host for some insect pests. These pests may turn their attention to cotton when interest runs out on the weeds.”
He says cotton growth stages range from three true leaves to near match-head size squares on ten total node cotton. Square set is good—100 percent in the 50 percent of fields that are squaring. “No square losses from insect injury have been noted to date.”
Mixed conditions across High Plains
Mary Jane Buerkle, director of communications and public affairs, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., in Lubbock, says conditions across the High Plains remain somewhat mixed.
“The rainfall, for most of our area, certainly has boosted our soil profile, and long-term we definitely are in better shape than we have been in the past three years. We indeed are grateful for the precipitation, and it is refreshing to finally see what seems to be a change in our weather pattern.”
She agrees with Siders that rain comes with a few “short-term problems including seedling disease. We also have had total crop destruction in many areas from hail and high winds. It’s challenging to say which areas have been hit the hardest, because we’ve received reports from several counties in our service area. Some growers to the south have a little time to replant cotton, but most [growers] likely will plant a secondary crop such as sorghum or late corn.”
It’s a late crop. “Many waited until later to plant, and then it started raining. We also have had cooler temperatures, which have not allowed for accumulation of heat units, causing a delay in the plant’s development.”
But the area was in dire need of soaking rains. “All that being said, this moisture certainly is beneficial and we have many bright spots across our service area,” Buerkle says. “We have a dryland crop that at least has a chance for the first time since 2010, and the rainfall has relieved the pressure on area wells in irrigated fields.
“I can say with certainty that we remain optimistic about the 2014 crop.
The situation in Oklahoma has also turned, says Randy Boman, research director and cotton Extension program leader. “We are in good shape in most areas where we grow cotton. We picked up another 0.9 of an inch at Altus Monday. Over the past three weeks, we have had good to great rainfall over many areas –from four inches to more than 6 inches— but unfortunately eastern Tillman, southern Comanche, and Cotton counties have been on the low side of that rainfall.”
He says most of Oklahoma’s cotton crop is in the ground with stands up in most fields. “The final date for insurance purposes for southwestern counties was June 20. Folks were wrapping up planting last week.”
Insect pressure (thrips) has been light. “Thanks for good to excellent rainfall, we have weeds to beat back. We have been encouraging producers to use residual products with glyphosate applications. Because of recent rainfall, we expect a lot of fleahopper populations to build up in weed and alternate host plants. We have had grasshopper populations show up, and growers are watching those. Hopefully the rainfall will trigger the fungus that works over the grasshopper populations.”
Boman says overall Oklahoma cotton producers are off to a good start. “We have some early cotton planted around April 30 in Harmon County that was at one-third grown square last week.”
Irrigation remains a concern. “The bad news is that we still have not had substantial runoff into Lake Lugert, so we are still looking at no irrigation water for the District around Altus.”
Recent rainfall, in addition to earlier significant rains, will help cotton farmers in most of South Texas make a decent crop, says Texas AgriLife state cotton specialist Gaylon Morgan. How good the crop will be, he added, “depends on what happens from here on.
“With the rain South Texas got this week, cotton is looking good,” he said. “They were beginning to need rain, even in the Valley and Coastal Bend. I visited fields in the Coastal Bend just two weeks ago and the crop looked good but the ground was beginning to crack. Rain this week is pushing the crop along.”
The Upper Gulf Coast also was beginning to dry out after heavy rains early in the season. Flea hoppers were beginning to show up in the area, and farmers were prevented from making timely insecticide applications because of those wet conditions. “But no one is complaining about the rain.”
Morgan says farmers will continue to apply plant growth regulators to keep vegetation under control and to improving fruiting potential, especially in fields with recent rainfall. Wet conditions earlier, he says, limited fruit retention.
“Overall, South Texas farmers are pretty well on their way to making a decent cotton crop. They are a week to ten days behind because of cool weather, but with recent warmer conditions the past three weeks they’re catching up on heat units.”
Most Blacklands farmers are “pleased with cotton condition,” Morgan says. “They started off rough with erratic cold weather. They were seeing plenty of gaps but are now making up for that slow start.
“Also, fields are fairly clear of pigweed. We were concerned that moisture could create a pigweed blowup, but growers appear to have gotten the message and applied pre-emergence herbicides. They seem to be doing a good job.”
He says the Southern Blacklands (at least the Thrall area) missed much of the rain over the past week. “Conditions are much drier there than I thought and I am not sure of conditions across the rest of the Southern Blacklands.”
Morgan says conditions across the state are significantly different from a year ago, “especially in the High Plains, the Rolling Plains, the Coastal Bend and the Valley.”
Even with a bit of hail damage, some additional disease pressure and more weeds to battle, cotton farmers are happy to have the moisture.
Along with rainfall cotton farmers always expect some hail damage and some acreage abandonment, but that loss is typically neither as widespread nor as costly as prolonged drought.
They’ll take the rain.