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Buried under water: Rain leaves Arkansas cotton stressed

Bill Robertson says Arkansas is wet, muddy and full of stressed cotton. “There are some areas that got a whole lot of rain — and when I say ‘a whole lot’ I mean fields that are completely under water,” says Robertson. “Then there are areas that only recently got much-needed moisture. For the most part, though, the state is buried under water.”

Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist, says it's safe to say that the northeast part of the state has been the hardest hit with wet weather.

“From what I'm hearing, Crittenden County, Mississippi County, Poinsett County (where a falling tree hit the county Extension office) and a couple others are in bad shape. Trees are down all over the place, ditches are flooded — it's just a major mess.”

After the latest major weather system on Saturday night (May 17), “you could drive around areas of northeast Arkansas that looked like one big lake,” says Robertson.

“I talked to a farmer around Manila (in northeast Arkansas' Mississippi County) just today. He said a lot of his cotton is up and while the ground is very wet, there isn't a lot of standing water. Seedling disease has thinned his stand some but he's pretty sure the emerged cotton will be okay provided no new storm systems hit.

“The cotton he's worried about was planted just prior to all this rain. He says it's likely all that acreage will have to be replanted.”

There is plenty of seedling disease right now. But Robertson says there's nothing producers can do.

“The conditions right now are almost ideal for seedling disease. A few farmers I've talked to say their stands are thinning out. But I'm still not hearing anyone say they've lost a field to seedling disease.”

One concern is the state is going to be planted to “well over” 80 percent Roundup Ready cotton. Producers are counting on having two shots of Roundup over the top.

“But there are some fields I have to push the weeds back to see cotton plants. Farmers are struggling to get Roundup out.”

And when they do get Roundup or other herbicides out, producers often return to find a crop that looks worse for the wear. While the spotting of plants is probably cosmetic, producers unprepared for the sight are calling Extension personnel with numerous queries.

“Cliff Coker (Arkansas Extension plant pathologist) and I were just talking about what all these stresses we're putting on our cotton crop is really doing. Today, Cliff said he saw fields around McGehee like I saw in Pine Bluff — I think this cotton splotching is being seen everywhere,” says Ken Smith, Arkansas Extension weed scientist.

“When cotton is stressed and we come in and add another stress to it — and herbicides are a stress — the crop can't help but be affected,” says Smith.

The crop has to metabolize herbicides and that takes energy to accomplish — energy the plants simply don't have right now. As a result, Smith and colleagues are seeing a lot of sick cotton.

“And when this water finally recedes, we're going to see even more sick cotton. I think the reason is that herbicides are just more active under these conditions: cloudy, wet weather and the leaves don't have a good cuticle or wax layer. I doubt we'll ever see a time when herbicides will work as well as they are right now — whether on targeted weeds or otherwise.”

Smith said he just saw a morning glory plant with a 3-foot runner that was “fried” with glyphosate.

“That's unheard of. We aren't supposed to be able to kill morningglories that big with glyphosate. But that'll give you some indication how well herbicides are working right now,” he noted.

“Our main fear is we've got weeds and cotton coming on at the same time,” says Smith. “We're afraid much of the cotton will get to 4-leaf stage before producers can get back into the field. If that happens, we won't be able to spray like we want.”


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