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For '08 cotton More rain, fewer pests needed

The battle lines are already drawn in Mid-South cotton this coming season. Cotton will fight other crops for acres. Producers will search for the Flex variety that fits, worry about glyphosate resistance and battle plant bugs and spider mites.

Last but certainly not least, they'll decide which crop is going to get that valuable water resource.

In 2007, the battle for acres resulted in a loss of 1.5 million Mid-South cotton acres going to other crops — primarily corn — representing a decline of almost 35 percent.

According to Chris Main, Extension cotton specialist for west Tennessee, “we saw less acreage shifting in the northern Mid-South, where about 22 percent of the cotton acreage shifted to other crops. In the southern Delta, we saw close to a 50 percent acreage shift out of cotton.”

Here's Main's state-by-state breakdown of 2007 concerns and what's ahead for 2008, from a report on Mid-South cotton at the 2008 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Nashville

Arkansas — The state is looking at another reduction in acreage for 2008, between 10 percent and 20 percent. In 2007, plant bugs were a big problem for growers in the southeast corner of the state, where cotton butted alongside a lot of corn acreage. In the northeast part of the state, spider mites were the prevalent insect pest.

Fertility costs are a big concern for Arkansas, but on the encouraging side, the state recorded its second highest average yield in 2007 at 1,062 pounds.

“There is also an issue here and in other states in the Mid-South over where the irrigation water is going to go — cotton or corn,” Main said.

Louisiana — A reduction in acreage of 5 percent to 10 percent is expected for 2008. In 2007, growers fought tremendous plant bug pressure throughout the state, with some spending as much as $80 an acre for treatment, but still taking a yield hit.

Twenty-nine percent of Louisiana acreage was planted to Roundup Ready Flex varieties in 2007, but more growers are expected to take advantage of the technology in the future. Louisiana is also moving toward more early-mid maturity varieties.

Louisiana set a new state record for yield, with 1,034 pounds of lint.

Mississippi — Acreage will likely remain flat for 2008, Main said. The state's cotton crop suffered through extreme insect pressure in 2007 from thrips, plant bugs and spider mites. The northern part of the state had hot, dry weather, but Mississippi still averaged 975 pounds of lint per acre.

Missouri — Cotton acreage will likely remain flat for 2008. The major pest problem in 2007 were spider mites. The Bootheel has readily adopted new Bollgard II/Flex technologies. In 2007, the state averaged about 960 pounds of lint per acre.

Tennessee — “Cotton acreage for 2008 will remain flat to slightly up or down, depending on what the market does in the next three to four weeks and what level of wheat acreage we have.

“In 2007, the drought really hurt us. By mid-summer, we were already 20 inches behind in rainfall, and we had 20 or more days of 100-degree plus temperatures.

“It was a very light bug year. We had the lowest average yield per acre this century, at about 600 pounds of lint per acre.”

According to Main, a big challenge for growers in the Mid-South states is to identify replacement varieties for current Bollgard/Roundup Ready lines. Here's what was planted in the Mid-South 2007:

About 69 percent of Arkansas acreage was planted in six varieties, but the state is still heavy in three — DP 445 BG/RR (28 percent), DP 444 BG/RR (11 percent) and ST 4554 B2RF (20 percent).

Louisiana, like Georgia, “is more heavily invested in DP 555 BG/RR (54 percent). We have seen an acreage shift to DP 164 B2RF (19 percent) as a replacement for 555, but they're sticking with those late-maturing varieties. About 85 percent of their acreage is in six varieties.”

Missouri “is a bit of an anomaly in the Mid-South. Almost 66 percent of its acreage was planted in DP 117 B2RF (20 percent) and ST 4554 B2RF (46 percent). Missouri has taken the lead in adopting the new Bollgard/Flex technology compared to the rest of the states.”

Mississippi growers planted 60 percent of their cotton in three varieties, DP 555 BG/RR, (30 percent), DP 445 BG/RR (15 percent) and DP 444 BG/RR (15 percent).

Tennessee “has been a DP 444 BG/RR (46 percent) state the last four years. We're starting to move to some other technologies, particularly ST 4554 B2RF (17 percent). But about 76 percent of our acreage is in three varieties.”

Opportunities for 2008 start with the dual-gene, Bt system and the adoption of the natural refuge, according to Main. “We can place our non-transgenic or straight Roundup or Flex varieties close to farm headquarters and manage those in a more timely manner, rather than having to place refuge acres throughout our growing area.

“We're also looking at reducing labor costs with module-building pickers. We have several of those in the state and they seem to be very promising.”

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