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Arkansas optimistic about '02 cotton

Don Plunkett says the 1-million acre Arkansas cotton crop is about at the stage where you can say, “Stick a fork in it, it's done.” Some non-irrigated fields have been defoliated by late August in Lee and Phillips counties in preparation for picking, which will begin around the middle of September, figures Plunkett, verification coordinator for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. His earliest verification fields will be ready for picking the first week in October.

How the crop stacks up with previous crops depends on who you talk to, said Plunkett. “A farmer in Jefferson County told me, “I try not to get too excited, but I looked out at my early crop, and I did get excited.”

Another farmer told Plunkett his crop didn't look quite as good as it did last year. “Despite that, I think most farmers are cautiously optimistic that they'll pick some good yields,” he said.

Plunkett's own assessment is that the crop in Arkansas' Delta is above average. He said the crops he's looking at in eastern Arkansas are obviously better than a year ago.

And the cotton has looked great most of the summer, he said. He said farmers can thank Mother Nature for a milder, wetter summer. “Contrary to what a lot of farmers have said in the past, cotton is not a hot-weather crop. It's a tropical crop, and it likes the more moderate temperatures we've had this summer. It has shown that by loading up with fruit.”

The crop has not been without problems. “We're beginning to see boll rot show up in our lush, heavily-canopied fields. Drier weather, higher temperatures and lower humidity would help.”

Insects have also threatened the crop. “If it weren't for plant bugs, the crop would be looking better than it is. Over the last few weeks, we've had numerous flights of bollworms and tobacco budworms, and mixed in with that have been fall armyworms. Those critters have taken a little bit of this crop.”

Plunkett said Extension entomologist Gus Lorenz is doing a survey with consultants and Extension agents about Bt cotton and the pressure farmers are experiencing from bollworms, tobacco budworms and armyworms. “We've sprayed Bt fields this year, in some cases twice, for worm damage. That's getting farmers' attention.”

Plunkett said boll weevils, a traditional threat to cotton, have all but been a no-show, especially in southeast Arkansas. There are hot spots in Mississippi and Craighead counties, he said, but not many farmers are complaining about the yield-robbers this year.

“In years past, by this time of the season in Mississippi County, the squares in the tops of plants would be gone because of weevils. Instead, the terminals of the plants are loaded with bolls.”

Plunkett said Extension's COTMAN management program says the fields he works with in the verification program are through. That's welcome news, he said, for growers who are tired of spending money. They didn't anticipate having to spend as much as they did to control plant bugs, and they certainly weren't expecting to spend money on these worms that came through at the end of the season.”

On a brighter note, the more frequent summer rains helped offset other costs by reducing the need for irrigation, noted Plunkett.

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

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