With field preparations underway across much of the Texas Coastal Bend and as far South as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, more than a few South Texas growers are still trying to decide how many acres will be dedicated to cotton and how many planted with grain sorghum, or whether or not they will try an alternative crop like sesame or sunflowers this year.
Brad Cowan, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Hidalgo County, says more farmers than usual are taking advantage of pre-season contracts for sesame and sunflowers, but he doesn't expect a big change in cotton acres this year.
"We may lose a few cotton acres to sorghum and sesame, but I'm not expecting a major shift. We already grow a lot grain sorghum in the Valley, and I don't think that will change much."
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Growers are keeping an eye on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), waiting for a final decision on whether Dow AgroSciences Transform will win another Section 18 emergency authorization for use in grain sorghum fields this year. Last April EPA did issue a Section 18 for Transform to help fight a serious infestation of sugarcane aphids in coastal grain sorghum.
According to Texas AgriLife Extension officials up and down the sorghum-rich Texas coast, Transform performed well when used appropriately and was instrumental in helping producers avoid heavy crop losses from aphids. Texas is the largest producer of grain sorghum, most of which, nearly a million acres by some estimates, is grown in the Upper and Lower Coastal Bend and in Deep South Texas.
While Texas Department of Agriculture officials express optimism over their application for another Section 18 emergency use permit for Transform, growers have a new product approved earlier this month for use in Texas grain sorghum to help manage sugarcane aphids. Bayer CropScience issued a press release earlier this month announcing EPA registration for its new insecticide Sivanto, a new bee-friendly insecticide designed to control sucking pests, including aphids. The EPA has labeled Sivanto for high value crops such as fruits and vegetables; sorghum is also included.
Trials in Texas using the new pesticide produced favorable results late last year.
Will cotton remain a dominant crop of choice in Texas?
In 2014, the estimated total U.S. production of cotton was about 16.1 million bales with a little less than one-third of the crop grown and processed in Texas. In spite of early estimates that cotton acres could be reduced by as much as 20 percent or more this year across the Cotton Belt, South Texas growers say they do not expect that amount of decline in cotton across the state this year.
"We've seem prices go up and down, not just for cotton but for many crops. So if the question is whether a lot of cotton will be planted in South Texas, the answer is yes. Good things can be said for grain sorghum, but cotton has long been popular among South Texas growers and while acres will go up and down because of many factors, cotton remains a popular crop all across the Valley," Cowan said.
The time for producers to decide what to plant is quickly approaching. In spite of wet fields in the Coastal Bend and in the Valley and below average temperatures in February across much of the state, many farmers in coastal Texas are gearing up for a quick jump on the season, provided soil temperatures rise and hold steady over the next 2 to 3 weeks.
Jason Ott, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent in Nueces County, says producers are anxious to "get going" on the new season, the first in several years that a growing season started with a full moisture profile. Corn is either already planted or seeding is wrapping up in his area and fields are being prepped for sorghum and cotton planting.
For cotton growers, Ott warns producers to watch for cotton root rot. He says both TopGuard and TopGuard Terra are available for cotton root rot control. TopGuard has once again received a Section 18 label for use and TopGuard Terra has a full label for cotton root rot control.
Another major hurdle cotton growers will face is proper herbicide resistant weed management. In recent years, many weed species have become resistant to certain herbicides, further complicating weed control efforts.
"Many of these resistance issues developed from over reliance on a single herbicide mode of action. The use of residual herbicides and multiple modes of action are the best way to fight weed resistance," Ott warns.
Farmers may find it hard to determine which products have similar modes of action. But they have a resource to help. Dr. Josh McGinty, Extension Agronomist, and Bobby McCool, San Patricio Extension Agent, developed a Quick Guide to Herbicide Modes of Action. The guide is available online and can be printed off of the web.
As for grain sorghum, Ott and McCool say producers need to keep a close eye out for early signs of sugarcane aphids as they are expected to infest young crops as well as mature sorghum later in the growing season.
"Observable differences in this aphid’s preference for various hybrids have been observed on farms and also in replicated trials. Ratings of aphid populations or amount of honeydew on several hybrids were recorded at replicated trials in Gregory and Hondo," Ott reports in his latest blog. Results of these trials
Currently, six hybrids have been designated by either Sorghum Partners or Dekalb as aphid tolerant sorghum hybrids identified in USDA screening test. However, tolerance does not mean the plants will not be affected by the aphid. While these varieties might be included in an integrated pest management approach to combat this pest, they cannot discount the need for field scouting.
The most recent information on the Sugarcane Aphid.