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Late planting in South Texas poses risk of pest pressure

Rain delays planting.

An early spring in the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), located on the southernmost tip, rouses farmers from bed to tackle the task of growing food, grain and fiber, a place where the fertile landscape of citrus trees and sugarcane fields yield to miles of fleece-white cotton, a commodity that remains the Valley’s king crop to this day.

It’s a land of farms, many well-irrigated from hundreds of miles of canals that stretch across the three-county region, and a land rooted in historic ranching, some of the largest heritage ranches in the nation.

LRGV is considered the place where the first cotton bale rolls off the gin each summer and where fall harvests offer up the first fall fruits and vegetables of the year.

Planting season begins with corn followed quickly by grain sorghum and then cotton. By the end of February or early March, most of the spring planting is complete with crops emerging and on their way to warmer growing months ahead.

But this year has not been the norm. A relatively dry fall was met by unseasonably cold winter fronts, which were often followed by rainfall that interrupted early planting season plans. What corn and cotton were planted began to show signs of injury and suffered from delayed growth.

"Planting this year has been a stop and go process as growers try to work around the weather to get their acreage planted," says Texas A&M AgriLife Extension IPM Specialist Danielle Sekula, Weslaco, in her first Pest Cast newsletter of 2019. "We are very behind on heat units in comparison to previous years."

While temperatures have moderated, recent heavy rains have further delayed planting in the Coastal Bend as far up the coastline as Victoria. As a result, some pest and weed control schedules are falling behind and early reports of pest pressure are beginning to build, more so in the LRGV.

According to the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication program, as of March 20, there were about 106,433 acres of cotton planted across the Valley region, approximately 50 percent of the estimated total acres to be planted this year. Sekula, in her newsletter, encourages producers to leave access around the perimeter of their cotton fields to allow for boll weevil trap monitoring and ground application should weevils be detected.

“Any acreage planted in cotton will be monitored the entire year regardless if it is carried to harvest or destroyed early. Acreage planted in cotton will also be monitored next year as a carry-over field regardless of what crop is planted the following year,” reported Sekula.

As of the first week of April, cotton across the Valley look clean, says Sekula, and while there have been no reports of thrip, she expects to see some, particularly in fields near onion harvest, which is underway.

“We’ve spotted adult cotton aphids in a handful of fields this year as they make their way back in," Sekula writes. A small number of spider mites have been spotted, but with the recent rains and more forecast, she says they may get knocked out by the rain. 

To control an outbreak of tarnished plant bugs, a Section 18 label Emergency Exemption was approved for Sulfoxaflor (Transform). The exemption is effective Oct. 31, 2019. Similarly, a Section 18 label for Sulfoxaflor (Transform) has been approved for grain sorghum. A label is expected soon to control an early outbreak of sugarcane aphids in young sorghum.

“Sugarcane aphids have been consistently present since last June with high numbers here in the Valley in late October into November of 2018 on sweet Sudan, other forage sorghums as well as
volunteer sorghum,” Sekula said. “I want growers who have sorghum to be aware and be monitoring. As we get further into the season, I will be giving them updates."

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