Texas cotton producers dealing with too much moisture

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Recent heavy rainfall in Central Texas is causing problems for some cotton producers, Texas Cooperative Extension reports.

Travis Miller, Extension program leader for soil and crop sciences, said some farmers may have problems with their cotton crops along the Gulf Coast and in Central Texas due to prolonged wet fields. Too much rainfall could cause seedling diseases such as Pythium and fusarium.

Rains have caused waterlogged root systems, which cannot supply crops’ nutrient requirements. That causes stunting, purplish coloration and a deterioration of the root system, he said.

“In fields which were covered with water, we can expect significant damage to crops, with greater losses associated with the more prolonged flooding. In Central Texas and along the Coast, many low-lying fields are flooded, and the amount of crop damage remains to be determined,” Miller said.

Carl Anderson, Extension economist in College Station, said it is still too early to tell the extent of the damage caused by the heavy rain.

“Cotton can’t stand to be in water for very long, especially at the early stage of growth that it is currently in,” Anderson said.

Last year, the estimated value of the cotton crop was approximately $30 million in Brazos, Robertson and Burleson counties, Anderson said.

Insect pressure has been relatively light insect, Anderson said. But that could change if producers cannot get into the fields to spray.

Juan Anciso, Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco, said the Rio Grande Valley has received a shower almost every weekend for the past few weeks.

“Right now cantaloupes and watermelons are being harvested. Onion harvest is pretty much finished,” Anciso said.

The onions were detrimentally affected by root rot promoted by the rain. Downy mildew has begun in cantaloupes and watermelons from extended contact with wet ground. Because of this, yields are expected to be down, he said.

The cotton and grain sorghum, however, benefited from the rain. They were further developed and better able to take advantage of the rainfall, Anciso said.

Steve Livingston, Extension agronomist in Corpus Christi, said the response to crops to rain has been mixed.

“I thought things were worse than they really were. Down in the Valley, crops are much better because they didn’t receive as much rain and were further along,” he said. “Cotton is growing well there.”

North of Nueces County, along the Gulf Coast, the cotton is much smaller. Some of it is still less than a foot tall. Fine root hairs are not taking up water because of rainy, overcast days, saturated soils and cooler temperatures, Livingston said.

Many farmers on high ground or sandy soil that drain well have cotton that is doing well. Those in low spots or clay soils are not having as much luck, he said.

“There has also been some seedling disease on the later-planted cotton,” he said. However, luckily, there has not been much insect damage.”

Even though some farmers may need to replant cotton fields, they can’t because late-planting dates cause problems with insurance.

Others are afraid to replant cotton because hurricane and tropical storm season is about to begin in Texas. They don’t want to risk having it destroyed again, Livingston said.

“Right now we just need sunshine and drier conditions so the root systems can begin to recover. The problem now, however, is when the cotton begins to bloom and make bolls it doesn’t develop as many roots. The end result is a smaller plant with more weeds. It doesn’t have the structure to support top yields,” Livingston said.

Corn in that region is handling the rain better than cotton. Some was blown down by wind, but not enough to be significant.

Sorghum is also going to do fairly well providing storms don’t knock it over, Livingston said.

There really hasn’t been any significant insect damage on corn, either.

Rootworms will be found in fields that grow corn every year, but that is to be expected, he said.

Mark Waller, Extension economist in College Station, said grain sorghum and cotton are two of the major crops being grown in that area.

“We have seen some really good planting progress throughout the Midwest area of Texas with corn and soybeans,” Waller said. “They are running way ahead of time and are doing well because of the rainfall.”

Because of this, Waller said, people generally tend to equate the progress with better potential yields and the trade begins to sell the prices down. That is one of the reasons corn and soybean prices have begun to slide.

John Melvin, general manager for the Hearne Democrat, said he has flown over some fields in this area and has seen standing water in many of the fields.

“There was as many as 17 inches of rain in some parts of Central Texas,” he said. “I know a lot of these folks have replanted cotton due to hail damage and now they are dealing with this. From what I have picked up by talking to people, they have had to shut down spraying which may cause insect problems later on,” Melvin said.

Much equipment was left out in the fields. Tractors parked in fields are now stuck, he said.

Ellen Klostermann is a writer for Texas A&M University.

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