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Planting late and unusual weather that follows are having ramifications for growers on other practices such as weed control, fertilizer applications and irrigation that impact yields.

Forrest Laws

October 19, 2022

5 Min Read
Even with unusual weather and small planting windows cotton yields may be at or above seasonal averages.Farm Press Staff

There’s a saying if you don’t like the weather in Arkansas or (substitute your state here) just wait a little while, and it will change.

The debate over how much the climate is changing has been raging for years, but there’s little doubt Midsouth producers are dealing with more variable weather that’s forcing them to consider adjustments in how they farm.

Whether it’s unusually cold, wet springs, 2021’s foot-and-a-half of rain falling in Southeast Arkansas or 2022’s record heat and drought in June weather conditions have growers and agronomists shaking their heads.

“My Mom’s birthday was May 9, and a lot of years I’ve been in Arkansas we were planting our last variety test on May 9,” said Bill Robertson, Extension cotton agronomist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “This year we were just getting started good on May 9.”

Those comments are echoed by growers who say they no longer plant much cotton in April. In some cases, they’ve been happy to finish planting in May rather than in June.

These late starts on planting and the unusual weather that follows are having ramifications for growers on other practices such as weed control, fertilizer applications and irrigation that impact yields.

NASS reports

In its August 2022 Crop Production Report, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast Arkansas’ cotton harvest could average 1,195 pounds of lint per acre, the second highest yield ever behind the 1,248-pound record in 2021.

Robertson said NASS has been estimating 500,000 acres of cotton in Arkansas in 2022, but the statewide Boll Weevil Eradication Program put the figure at 600,000. “With lots of new growers and cotton on less than optimum ground this will impact our yield average.”

Growers who were able to start irrigation in a timely manner should have a good crop, he said. Those who couldn’t, may have cut their bloom period short with an earlier cutout. Arkansas has received rain in August, but the yield impact will depend on the weather conditions in September.

“It’s a scenario where we need to water, but we weren’t ready to water in June,” said Robertson. “A lot of times, for the sake of convenience, we want to finish our herbicide program to get the crop laid by before we lay out our polypipe.

“If we drive straight across the polypipe with a tractor, it’s OK, but, if you get on top of it and turn, it rips the polypipe. If you hit it with a sprayer hood or catch it with a plow, we tear it, and nobody likes patching polypipe. Another thing, too, is the weather was really crazy this year.”

The National Weather Service at Stoneville, Miss., recorded 10 days in June that had highs of more than 95 degrees in 2022. That compares to less than 10 days of temperatures over 95 degrees for June in the previous four years. Many areas of the Midsouth fell behind on rain in June and did not catch up until August.

“It turned off really hot and dry,” said Robertson. “A lot of times — if Mother Nature is kind to us — we will get a rain around the middle of June that will tide us over until we can get our herbicide programs finished. We did not get anything during that time.”

Access to acres

Growers can cover a lot of acres with a 12-row planter when they’re only putting seed out, he noted. “But, when we do that, we have to get across those acres with our Hi-Boy before it comes up to get our herbicide program out. We had a lot of cotton that got planted and rained on with no herbicide out there.

“The last few years from early spring on everything we do on the farm is driven by weed control, controlling Palmer pigweed. And there’s a point in time where we just don’t have enough spray rigs, enough hooded sprayers. When Mother Nature gives us a window to spray, when the winds drop, we can’t cover the number of acres we need to cover. We know what we need to do, but we’re just doing the best we can.”


Some of the cotton “really got dinged up,” he said. “It was weedy; it was hot; it was dry; it was stressed, and there’s a lot of things we spray over the top of cotton to control weeds that can be hard on the plant when it’s hot and the cotton is stressed. We had some fields where we knocked leaves off and knocked fruit off.

“We had to rebuild some of the fruit we lost because we’re trying to kill pigweed, but we have to kill the pigweed. We know weather impacted the plant and impacted the flexibility to tolerate some of the things we do. Then we put our fertilizer out with a buggy because it’s easier to cover ground that way. But we water every other middle with polypipe so the fertilizer in those dry middles is not available to the plants.”

Expensive crop

Many growers have been saying the 2022 crop was the most expensive they’ve ever grown. “If they don’t make a record crop, they may not be able to pay their bills,” he said. “So, they applied more fertilizer to keep the crop growing. Then we got rain in late July and August. We have all this fertilizer out there, and it’s like the plants kicked it into high gear.”

By the time this article is published in November, growers will know whether they had a favorable window for plant growth in September or whether Mother Nature got the last laugh.

“What we need is a good September and not get an early cold front that drops temperatures into the low 50s or upper 40s,” said Robertson. “That’s just like turning the key off, and we have little additional fiber development. The more of September we can put behind us before we get these low temps, the better off we will be.”

So, was 2022 an off year or a sign of what is coming? Climate scientists say temperatures have increased an average of 2 degrees globally but not in every part of the world. (The Southeast U.S. has cooled slightly while the Southwest has risen 2 degrees.)

What is becoming more prevalent are weather extremes such as the flooding in Arkansas in 2021 and Missouri and eastern Kentucky and the higher June temperatures in 2022. Those may become the norm, scientists say.

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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