Mother Nature has been rough on Southwest cotton and grain

Dryland cotton has taken a beating from Mother Nature this spring as high temperatures, high winds and precious little rain prevented emergence in some cases and shriveled seedlings on many acres that had just enough moisture to germinate.

Storms, packing high winds and hail, also have taken a toll on young cotton plants.

Ed Bynum, Texas AgriLife Extension IPM agent in Jones, Mitchell, Nolan, and Scurry Counties (in the Southern Rolling Plains of Texas) says crops in his area as well as in nearby Fisher County, were under severe heat and moisture stress until mid-June. ”Our maximum daily temperatures from June 1 to June 16 averaged 98 degrees and the minimum daily temperatures averaged 72 degrees. These temperatures were as high, if not higher, than any other period in June from 1999 to 2007,” Bynum said.

“Winds have been very strong, also. But mid-June thunderstorms across Fisher, Jones, and Nolan counties brought rain in amounts of 0.3 to 1.0 inch.”

That precipitation was followed by another bank of thunderstorms across Scurry, Mitchell, and western portions of Nolan and Fisher Counties. “Cotton in Scurry County was damaged by winds and hail. One producer south of Hermleigh, Texas, had at least 6 inches of rain. Power lines, trees, and buildings were also damaged.”

Bynum said cotton growth stage ranged from “seeds setting in the soil waiting for rain (dry planted) to early planted cotton at the 5 to 6 true leaf stage. The majority of cotton is in the 1 to 4 leaf stage.”

Dry conditions persist across most of the Southwest. Roy Parker, Extension entomologist at Corpus Christi, said the area needs rain. “Very dry conditions exist across most of the Gulf Coast region with crops reaching maturity earlier than desired,” Parker said. “Rain would be welcome, but not over an extended period as sorghum harvest is now underway. There is some concern about charcoal rot affecting sorghum.

“Cotton has reached cutout earlier than desired; rain would help prevent cutout in some fields if it is received this week (mid-June).”

Greg Cronholm Extension IPM Agent for Hale and Swisher Counties, says conditions have been hot and dry, which has increased need for irrigation, especially for corn. “Cotton has had a few thrips problems, but most fields are now in the 4 to 8-leaf stage, with early fields now entering into squaring. Spider mites are infesting field margins in corn. Higher populations have been (in fields) next to wheat.”

Glen Moore, Extension IPM agent in Waxahachie, said dry conditions and temperatures in the upper 90s “prevailed over North Central Texas during (mid-June). Corn is of most immediate concern, having gone through the hot, dry and windy conditions during the most crucial growth stages for water use. Sorghum and soybeans are in dire need of a good rain. The Northeastern part of Ellis County was fortunate to receive up to 1.5 inches of rain June 17. The rest of us are still waiting for a good 2 to 3 inch soaker.”

He said many corn fields are at silking stage. “Soybean growth stage varies from R1 (bloom) to R3 (beginning pod). Cotton growth varies from the 1 to 2-true leaf stage to fields with half-grown squares.”

He said wheat harvest was “nearing completion, with yields reportedly well above average.”

Kerry Siders, Extension IPM specialist for Hockley and Cochran Counties said most “if not all of us have never seen (such) extreme conditions come together at the same time for such a long duration, and at the time it did. We pray that better times are ahead.”

He said a few bright spots exist. “The peanut crop is doing well, all things considered.

Cotton acres in some type of cover crop or cover weeds are also doing relatively well on irrigated acres. Dryland cotton acres are losing the battle on a daily basis due to dry conditions, which young plants developing roots cannot overcome without immediate relief from rain.”

He said crop establishment has been “foremost in producers’ minds over the last six weeks. However, many producers were creative in attempting to save soil and adjacent farms by sweep listing perpendicular to original rows. In many cases this helped stop soil from blowing. Soil in a few areas of many fields has been completely pulverized and has no soil structure. Those areas are prime for any further blows.”

Siders said both young and experienced producers “learned valuable lessons in soil physics and also the value of cover crops,” this year.

Manda Cattaneo, Extension IPM agent for Gaines County, Texas, said peanuts were starting to bloom and near pegging in mid-June. “No diseases have been observed.

“Cotton stages range from 3 to 10 true leaves, with most of the cotton averaging 4 to 6 true leaves. Several growers have commented that this is the windiest and driest season they have seen in several years. Mother Nature has played a rough game thus far and several conventional tillage fields have suffered from wind and sand damage.”

He said some farmers have replanted. “Most of the minimum till fields are holding and looking good. Our cotton is beginning to look much better this week. Wheat yields continue to disappoint us, dry weather, and viral diseases have taken a toll.”

Vic Schoonover, media director for the North Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas Cotton organization, NTOK, said growers along the Kansas-Oklahoma border were having weather problems while trying to get a stand on their 2008 cotton crop.

He said Jerry Stuckey, manager of the Northwest Cotton Growers Cooperative, Anthony, Kansas, reported problems with stands.

“We started out with around 14,000 acres of cotton that was going to be planted, 10,000 acres irrigated and 4,200 dryland,” Stuckey said. “Half of the dryland cotton did not get planted because of lack of moisture. Two thousand acres got planted but most has not germinated yet, so it will probably not make. We have lost over 2,000 acres that blew out because of high winds. We are down to 7,500 acres of irrigated cotton planted.”

He said the mid-June weekend was rough on cotton. “The wind was really bad. I was able to save most of the cotton on my own ground.”

Roger Sewell, manager for business development at the High-Tech Gin, Inc., Pratt, Kansas, offered a bit more optimistic outlook.

“Most of the cotton in this area is planted and in pretty good shape,” Sewell said. “We have cotton from the 2-leaf stage to just planted. We are at the end of our planting window. Our acres are up approximately 20 percent over 2007.”

He said ground temperature was too cool for early planting and then wet ground delayed seeding.

“We just can't seem to win this year. We had to replant about 800 acres of cotton around Pratt. Some of it was drowned out and some blew out with high winds. A few thrips problems are showing up as the wheat has ripened.”

Southwest Oklahoma cotton suffered from rain and wind, according to J. C. Banks, OSU Extension cotton specialist.

“Localized wind and hail storms, too much rainfall in some areas and not enough rain in others, have been the reasons for most of the calls this week,” Banks said. “I have observed a lot of fourth and fifth leaf cotton damaged by storms. Even though moisture came with the storms, it came so fast and the dry wind in following days was so severe, some producers do not have enough moisture to replant.

“This is late enough in the planting season that, if at all possible, we need to keep the stand we have,” Banks said. “When evaluating damage, we need to look at the terminal for initiation of new growth and the plant needs to have a root free of seedling disease to recover. If the terminal is lost, the plant will utilize vegetative branches to build the plant.

“Cotton with four true leaves will have potential to produce three vegetative branches below the terminal. Each of these branches will essentially develop into a cotton plant, causing the plant to be bushier than normal.

“Cotton in the cotyledon stage that loses its terminal will not develop into a plant. If you observe plants with extremely large cotyledon leaves with absence of terminal growth, the plant has lost its terminal and will not survive.

“It is best to wait a few days following a storm to evaluate the cotton and allow the plant to start initiation of new terminal growth,” Banks said. “Often when looking across a field of damaged cotton, you can observe the light green color of new terminal growth.

“Count plants with new terminal growth, and if you can count 16,000 on dryland or 20,000 per acre on irrigated land, and if there are not too many skips of more than three feet on adjacent rows, the crop is normally worth taking to harvest.

“On 40-inch rows, you can measure 13.1 feet of row, count the plants, and multiply by 1,000 to determine the number of plants per acre. For 36-inch row spacing, measure 14.5 feet, and for 30-inch rows, measure 17.4 feet and multiply by 1,000.”

“Hot dry winds continue to dominate local weather,” said Monti Vandiver, Texas Extension IPM agent for Bailey and Parmer Counties in the Texas Panhandle. “Crops are struggling in these environmental conditions, which are increasing moisture demand, reducing irrigation efficiency and making pesticide applications difficult. Many pesticide applications have had to be delayed several days due to high wind, exposing the crop to greater risks,” he said.

“Wheat harvest operations have begun in irrigated wheat. Preliminary yields have been disappointing, ranging from 17 to 37 bushels per acre, but many of these fields were stressed by disease, freeze damage, and/or moisture deficit. Hopefully yields will improve as harvest continues.”

Clyde Crumley, Extension IPM Agent in Wharton, Texas, said South Texas farmers continue to suffer under drought conditions.

“A hot, dry weather pattern has settled in over this part of southeastern Texas with most crops showing signs of heat stress,” Crumley said. “The widely scattered showers we experienced (in early June) were not enough to offset this ongoing drought.”

He said a mid-June 10-day forecast offered a “fair chance of rain that could help in boll fill; however, corn and grain sorghum crops are effectively through.”

Crumley said cotton was fast approaching cutout. “We are continuing to monitoring for bollworms, stink bugs, spider mites, aphids, Lygus and Creontiades. Beneficial insect numbers in cotton are low to moderate. We’re seeing lady beetle adults, larvae, big eyed bugs, and minute pirate bugs.”

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