West Texas cotton farmers faced with hailed out acres or poor stands because of hot, dry conditions have decisions to make.
Depending on moisture availability, some may opt to replant with grain sorghum to take advantage of investments already made for cotton. If moisture is not available, and current hot, dry, windy conditions persist, many may opt to take insurance on the failed crop and leave the land fallow.
Producers who choose to replant need to decide on insurance coverage for the replant crop.
“It looks like we may have significant cotton acreage replanted to something else or fallowed,” says Brent Bean, director of agronomy, United Sorghum Checkoff Program in Lubbock. “Sorghum is a good option. It’s something to look at.”
Producers also need to consider the challenges, he adds. “Sugarcane aphid can be a problem. So far this year, sorghum producers in South Texas have not had severe problems with the aphids. They have seen aphid infestations, and some have sprayed, but so far it’s been encouraging. Still, we don’t know what we will see in the High Plains.”
Bean says growers have options to minimize sugarcane aphid damage. “With late planting, we may have more risk from sugarcane aphid,” he says. “Make certain to use a seed treatment insecticide. That will provide from 40 to 45 days of protection.”
SCA TOLERANT HYBRIDS
He also recommends selecting a hybrid with sugarcane aphid tolerance. “We have a list of those on the sorghum checkoff website (http://bit.ly/2rMGHkk) .
Growers will need an early-maturing hybrid, planting this late.” Bean says several early hybrids with aphid tolerance are on the recommended list. He adds that producers have about two weeks to plant sorghum on the High Plains. “Past July 7, it gets a little iffy.”
He also notes that planting a “really early-maturing hybrid,” may have some advantages by “outrunning” the aphids. “If anyone plants those very early hybrids, they should increase seeding rate by 20 percent to 25 percent.”
Those earlier hybrids do not yield as well as later ones, Bean says, but they may offer advantages with less sugarcane aphid vulnerability.
He says growers may take advantage of land preparation and fertilizer applications they have already made to “get something” out of the investment. He also notes that grain sorghum will be a beneficial rotation for next year’s cotton.
The initial investment in inputs also may include herbicides that could damage sorghum. “Consider the herbicides applied for cotton. Reflex, for instance, has a long residual and may be harmful to grain sorghum. Brake is another new material with a long residual and potential damage.”
Bean suggests producers check with chemical company representatives to see if planting underneath the herbicide layer is a reasonable option. “Since it has been dry, the herbicide has not moved and will still be close to the surface, so planting under it may be an option.”
Bean says conditions in the High Plains may be improving, following a weekend of extreme high temperatures. Chris Cogburn, NPS senior policy advisor, says temperature in Lubbock hit 112 on Saturday.
“It’s been a mixed bag,” Bean says, “but the three-month outlook shows hotter and a little more moisture. But we still have time to make a grain sorghum crop.”
He says growers should consider the options, but be aware of the potential for sugarcane aphids and select a tolerant, early-maturing hybrid, add a seed treatment, check herbicide use in the cotton acreage, and plant from 20 percent to 25 percent more seed with very early hybrids.
“Also, be aware that grain sorghum planted late does not tiller as much.”
CROP INSURANCE OPTIONS
Cogburn says farmers replanting sorghum following a failed cotton crop also have decisions to make on insurance coverage. Options include taking 100 percent on the failed cotton insurance, and planting “wildcat” grain sorghum—with no insurance. “This is what happens most of the time,” Cogburn says. Insurance coverage for the first crop typically offers a better payment than the second will. That’s especially true considering actual production history with cotton and current price for cotton versus grain sorghum.
But farmers replanting to sorghum have the option of taking only 35 percent of the cotton insurance payment and insuring the grain sorghum at 100 percent. Cotton insurance premium would be reduced. “At the end of the year, if the grain sorghum crop did not suffer a loss or only a small one, the farmer has the option of taking the remaining 65 percent of the cotton insurance,” he says.
The producer would pay 100 percent of both premiums.
If the grain sorghum crop fails, the producer can determine which option offers the best return.
Cogburn says few farmers take the 35 percent payment on cotton to insure grain sorghum for 100 percent, but he encourages them to consider all the options available.
He says producers who were hailed out last week are likely to replant something if they received moisture from the storms. If the ground is still dry, most will take the 100 percent coverage and fallow the fields.
He agrees with Bean that cotton farmers hailed out or with fields that did not come up because of drought have about two weeks to replant to grain sorghum. They have several decisions to make in the meantime—replant or fallow, insure the second crop or “wildcat” it, hybrid selection, herbicide and planting depth, and seed treatment.
Choices are available.