Cotton farmers in the Texas High Plains have suffered through too much drought for the past four years to contemplate complaining about a cloudy, wet September that has slammed the brakes on cotton maturation.
But if they had their druthers, they’d druther of had those September showers—some heavy rainfall events—about a month earlier. Farmers at the recent Deltapine field day in Lorenzo said two weeks earlier would have been a bit better on their cotton, some of which is late and in need of hot, sunny weather to finish out.
As farmers commented about recent rainfall and the state of the crop, they watched from inside a tin-roofed barn on Steve Chapman’s farm, site of the annual Deltapine event, while rain pelted down on an already waterlogged farmstead, turning the parking area into a quagmire but thrilling a youngster from a nearby house who alternately worked his toy tractor back and forth through the mud and hopped up and down in the rising puddles to make certain he got as wet as possible.
At the weekly Plains Cotton Growers Friday meeting a day later, Executive Vice President Steve Verett said the rain “would have been better a month ago but it’s better than a month from now,” which would catch the crop with open bolls and vulnerable to storm damage.
“This is typical for September,” Verett said, “except for the past several years. We usually get rain in September. This is also fair week and it usually rains during the fair. Overall, this rain is more beneficial than not.”
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Farmers allowed that the rains, even as late as they are and as much as cotton needs sunny weather to mature the crop, will recharge a soil profile sorely in need of a moisture fix.
Verett said temperatures for the past few weeks have been adequate to keep pace with needed heat unit accumulations. “But we have not had much sunshine,” he added. “We’re okay on heat units; we just need more to finish the crop.”
Texas AgriLife Extension cotton specialist Mark Kelley, in a Southwest Farm Press interview following the PCG meeting, said High Plains cotton still has potential to make a good crop. “We’re seeing big bolls on irrigated cotton. We have good first-position boll set, but we also have some small stuff that could produce low mic cotton. We need some sun but the yield potential is still there.”
Dryland cotton that was planted early is in pretty good condition. “Bolls are fairly mature and will crack open,” Kelley noted. “If they are soft and squishy, however, they may not. That’s why we need more sunshine. These cloudy days do not help.”
Hoping for late freeze
Kelley also voiced concern over an early cold snap. “We don’t need an early freeze. A typical early November first freeze date would be good. I’d like to see the first freeze even a little later than that.”
He also commented on an issue that came up during the PCG meeting, cotton leaves drying up on the plant. “Will it open up?” He said a potassium deficiency is one possible cause of dying foliage.
Observers in the meeting said the issue is apparent “in a significant number of fields, especially on dryland and with limited irrigation.”
Jason Woodward, Texas AgriLife Extension plant pathologist, said via video chat that shallow root systems may be part of the problem. “I am concerned about how widespread the problem is,” he said.
Kelley said harvest prep could be “challenging” this fall with a late crop and indications of some juvenile leaves forming. PPO inhibitors such as Aim EC, ETX, Display, Resource and Sharpen “will do a good job and will help,” he said. “Also use a good crop oil concentrate. Defoliation will need all the help it can get.”
Participants at the weekly Plains Cotton Growers meeting, which typically attracts parties from all facets of the High Plains cotton industry—Extension and Research scientists, marketing representatives, government officials, farmers, and politicians—also discussed weed control, or lack of it, in an increasing number of fields across the High Plains. The problem shows up in dryland and irrigated fields and includes glyphosate-resistant pigweeds. In some cases, farmers have used hoe hands to remove weeds from cotton fields.
The issue was a key point at the Deltapine field day as well. “Weed management has been the No. 1 topic in cotton this year,” said Dallan Maas, Monsanto area business manager. “The Southwest has been late to the party with resistant weeds, but we have experience from other areas and new tools to work with.”
The new technology, including varieties with traits conferring either dicamba or 2, 4-D tolerance, will not be “a silver bullet,” he said, but “part of a program.” Larry Martin, Monsanto area sales manager, said farmers can no longer “just rely on Roundup.”
A recommended weed control program includes: 1) start clean using burndown herbicides to control winter weeds; 2) go back to pre-emergence herbicides; and 3) use products with alternate modes of action for later weed control applications, along with Roundup applications to glyphosate-tolerant varieties.
Farm bill meetings
Cotton farmers also should begin getting records in order to help make decisions on new farm law options, Verett said during the PCG conference.
“We are close to sign-up,” he added.
Mary Jane Buerkle, PCG director of communications and public affairs, said several farm bill education meetings will be held in coming weeks to offer guidance on the various program options.
She provides the following:
Agenda links at website: http://www.plainscotton.org/mj/agconferences/agconferences.html
Sept. 29 - Farm Bill Meeting, 8:30 a.m.-noon, Ollie Liner Center, 2000 S. Columbia Street, Plainview.
Oct. 10 - Farm Bill Decision Aid Tool Meeting, 8-11 a.m., South Plains College Sundown Room - Student Center, 1401 College Avenue, Levelland. Full complimentary breakfast hosted by the Levelland Chamber of Commerce Ag Committee. More info: (806) 894-3159.
Oct. 22 - Farm Bill Decision Aid Tool Meeting, 9-11 a.m., Cochran Activity Building, 200 W. Taylor, Morton. More info: (806) 766-5215.
Oct. 29 - Farm Bill Decision Aid Tool Meeting, 9-11 a.m., Lighthouse Electric Cooperative, Floydada (corner of Hwy 70 and Hwy 207). More info: (806) 983-4912.