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Arkansas cotton crop nearing cut-out

For many Arkansas cotton producers, July rains have provided much-needed respites. For others, unfortunately, rains remained elusive and irrigation pumps kept running on expensive diesel.

“Some areas have gotten quite a bit of rain in July,” said Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist. “But we'd built such a deficit it's hard to catch up. And by (the last week of July), irrigation rigs had been kicked back on.”

The crop is beginning to shed bolls, and Robertson isn't surprised. “With the weather, the plants couldn't keep holding all the fruit they'd developed. Even with the shed, we're running six or seven set bolls on plants. We're not on track for a record crop, but we should have an average-to-strong crop. One of the problems is some of the dryland cotton was too far gone before the latest rains. Those fields will drag down our overall yield.”

Up until July 21, Bob Griffin, a consultant in east-central Arkansas, said, cotton looked better than it did last year. “We had the best fruit set we'd ever had through this time of year. Lately, though, I've been seeing more shed than I'd like. Having done this for 30 years, I knew it would happen. I always hate to see it, though.”

Some 75 percent of the cotton Griffin scouts was within a week to 10 days of cut-out.

“Predictions are difficult but if everything remains normal, we could have a good crop,” said Griffin. “I don't see it being better than last year. For a while, I thought it would be.”

In south Arkansas, where cotton was planted in late April, plants are right at cut-out, said Frank Groves, Arkansas Extension cotton verification coordinator. “It's time to start collecting heat units so we can determine insecticide and irrigation termination. The portion of the crop planted by the second week of May is running about 7 NAWF (nodes above white flower).”

Groves said many producers are concerned with the amount of shed due to July's cloudy weather. North of I-40, shed has been “pretty light — maybe 5 percent to 10 percent. In south Arkansas, shed has been much worse, maybe 20 percent. Our small square set is still good there, but we lost a lot of bolls.”

South Arkansas has had some worm flights: bollworm and armyworm. “Growers probably have treated 40 percent of the acres for those pests,” said Groves. “Over the last week, plant bugs have also increased across the state.”

Until the third week of July, the area Griffin works had few plant bugs problems. Except for several isolated fields, he couldn't even find the pest around corn.

Lately, that's changed. “Unfortunately, they're in areas even remotely close to corn. Cotton doesn't even have to be adjacent to a corn field, maybe a half mile to a mile away.

“We've begun treating for plant bugs, although not nearly for the numbers we saw last year. Last year was so bad for plant bugs, I'd have been happy to see our current numbers after an application or two. That's how high plant bug numbers were.”

Griffin typically makes two Centric applications to control plant bugs — one at pinhead square and another 10 days later. This year, he made the first application, then due to weather, wasn't able to get the second out when planned.

“The cotton got to the eighth, ninth, maybe 10th node and I was able to do shake sheets. That's what I prefer. The shake sheets showed there were no plant bugs and no shed. That meant a lot of my acres didn't need the second application of Centric. So most of the cotton I'm working got a single application of Centric. Maybe 30 to 40 percent got two applications.”

However, a few fields didn't get any Centric at all. “I didn't realize the effects of this until the last week when we started treating fields near corn. I asked one of the producers, ‘I wonder what it is about these fields?’ Then I realized they hadn't been treated with Centric early on.

“Now, I know this was weeks ago — maybe seven or eight. No way did the Centric last that long. I know that. But something is going on. All I can figure is the small number of plant bugs at season's start were completely knocked down by the early Centric applications. They haven't been able to build back. In the fields we didn't treat, plant bugs numbers have built quicker.”

On July 21, many of Griffin's fields were treated for fall armyworms. “Over the last couple of weeks, I've seen an occasional armyworm in a white bloom. They finally reached treatment level.”

Griffin hasn't yet seen any bollworms or eggs. But he has seen “quite a few” moths. “I don't think the egg lay has materialized in this area of Arkansas yet. Usually, after seeing moths it's 10 days to two weeks before you see a big egg lay.”

Even so, Griffin said pests had “better hurry up if they want to bother the cotton. In a couple of weeks, we'll be through.”

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