Under relentless heat, drought, insects

Southern Plains cotton crop deteriorates SOUTHERN PLAINS cotton prospects continue to decline as relentless heat, continued drought and an onslaught of insect pests devastate a crop that offered a lot of promise at the end of July.

"It's hard to get a handle on this crop," says Steve Verett, executive vice president, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.

"Conditions are going downhill every day," Verett says. "The 3.4 million bale estimate made at the end of July was probably accurate at the time, but conditions have deteriorated significantly since then."

Verett says a 3.1 million- to 3.2 million-bale harvest is more likely. "The crop has declined that much since late July," he says. "We'll see more fields abandoned, especially some dryland acreage in the southern part of the Plains. Insurance adjustments will affect rate of abandonment, so a lot of dryland cotton will be harvested."

Verett says the "relentless heat has taken a lot out of even irrigated acreage. And expectations were so high at the end of July. Now, farmers have been out counting bolls and they are extremely disappointed."

In addition to the prolonged drought and intense heat, a number of insect pests have caused significant damage and added to the expense of this crop.

Texas Extension entomologist James Leser says producers continue to battle bollworms, beet armyworms, loopers, boll weevils, and cotton aphids.

"We've added a new pest to this list of woes - the tobacco budworm," he says.

"Control problems with pyrethroids in the Enochs and Sudan areas result from populations of tobacco budworms mixed in with bollworms. Pyrethroids will not control resistant budworms," Leser says.

"Producers in these areas will have to switch to alternative materials such as Lannate, Curacron, Tracer, or Larvin. Producers in other areas should watch for this pest. Other fields and other areas of the Texas High Plains will have tobacco budworms mixed with bollworms, beet armyworms and loopers."

Leser says all control problems will not be due to the new pest problem. "Improper plant coverage heads the list of causes for control failures in area cotton," he says.

Verett says he's hearing less talk about beet infestations. "I think numbers have leveled off some, but a lot of farmers have just quit talking about it. Some are still spraying pesticides, but some may have just given up."

He says boll weevil numbers have been extremely high as well. "And populations are increasing. As weevils move out of dry fields we see more in traps. Eradication areas are holding up well. We might see a spike in numbers occasionally, but that's a seasonal expectation. The program has done well."

He says BWEP personnel have adjusted application triggers to help manage other pests and to reduce potential for flares. "When active zones get past this year, they'll be in the short rows," he says.

Getting through this season will be a feat, however. Verett says the multiple whammy of drought, heat, insects and expenses required to make this crop have taken a toll on farmers. "We're seeing a lot of farmer fatigue. Despite all they do, growers can't seem to make a difference with this crop. The stress on people has been significant.

"We need a rain to settle the dust and put some moisture back into the soil, but we're past the point where one rain will help this crop a lot."

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