Could Arkansas see 500,000-plus acres of cotton planted this spring? Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cottons specialist, can see it happening.
“When you have really good yields one year you’ll see a bump up in acres the next,” says Robertson. “At one time, I thought we’d be close to 500,000 acres but not bust that number. But I’m getting calls from people who’ve not had cotton on their farm since the 1970s who are considering it now.
“I believe there was a change in the 1975 farm bill that said you didn’t have to have a rice allotment to plant and sell rice. As an example, in Craighead County, where my in-laws are from, they used to grow a lot of cotton. Then, it went to rice.”
Cotton is making a comeback.
“Now, I’ve had farmers from White County, around Searcy and other places, buying a picker and planning to go back to cotton. And we’re set to see much more cotton in southwest Arkansas.
“All that said, I really think we’ll go over 500,000 acres of cotton in the state this year.”
How is 2018 shaping up after 2017?
“Of course, every year is different,” says Robertson. “Last year, we set an all-time record yield to something like 1,206 pounds.
“I was expecting a good crop, but we ended up around 100 pounds better than the USDA’s August estimate. I thought they missed the mark, but we needed the really good fall to finish out the top crop. Going into the final stretch, there were a few weeks where the crop looked to be just average, but I thought there were still plenty of reasons to be optimistic.”
Last year’s planting season was rough.
“The crop was spread out more than I’d ever seen since I came to Arkansas in 1995. There was a planting window in mid-April — there were several tests I planted around April 20.”
During the optimal planting window, “we were wet statewide. That meant a lot of our cotton didn’t go in until May 9 or 10. I had a lot of tests that went in around May 15 through 20. I even had one test planted June 3.
“When May 1 rolled around, some people had all their cotton planted. Others hadn’t put a seed in the planter. Some years, we plant everything in a 10- to 14-day window. If we have good conditions, we can get 80 to 90 percent of our crops in a week to 10 days.”
Don’t have your hopes dashed if you don’t get planted early.
“As a whole, when I check the data, generally the early-planted cotton is better-yielding. But the last two years in a row, our later-planted cotton has done best.”
Weeds driving the bus
“It is getting to where everything early-season revolves around controlling pigweed. Last year, we had to stop planting in some situations because of the rain. That also meant we were behind with spraying. That led to planters being parked to deal with the pigweeds and get the herbicide programs set.”
Then, growers’ fortunes turned.
“Tropical Storm Cindy came up the river towards Memphis. That hit our late-planted cotton almost perfectly as far as an early watering. From I-40 north, the yields just got better and better. A lot of that cotton wasn’t planted before May.
“Growers in Craighead County, Clay County and Mississippi County in the northeast part of the state say last year’s cotton was the best they’ve ever picked. And some of them only watered their cotton twice — rains came at the perfect times.”
Three gene varieties
Robertson believes “we’ll be surprised when we see how much Enlist cotton will be planted — maybe 20 percent. I’m getting a ton of questions on Enlist cotton.
“Obviously, everyone is wanting to go with the three gene Bt varieties (BG3, W3 and TP). I was speaking with (the University of Arkansas’) Dr. Fred Bourland, and he’s got more entries in his OVT than ever. That’s because of all the three gene Bt varieties coming up. The two gene varieties are almost done.”