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Valley farmers planting, but drought and wind cause early damage

Valley farmers are fighting wind and drought. Most farmers in the lower Valley have seeded or are in the process of seeding their fields with early mixed reports. Wind damage is being reported on small cotton seedlings.

Agriculture production in the Rio Grande Valley generally starts early and ends late, in some cases providing year round farming opportunities because of mild winters that extend the growing season.

In spite of a slow start to spring planting, most farmers in the lower Valley have seeded or are in the process of seeding their fields with early mixed reports.

“Prior to now, very little cotton has been planted, but we are starting to see more cotton being planted this third week of March. Some cotton that was planted three weeks ago is already at two to three true leaf stage and some planted two weeks ago has the cotyledon seedlings at about two inches tall,” reports John Norman, editor of The Row Crops IPM Newsletter for the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV).

Norman says reports for the newsletter are gathered from producers all across the Valley with the help and contributions of Valley IPM Extension agent Danielle Sekula.

The Valley is in about the same place they were this time last year with some measurable rain in January but mostly dry conditions since then. But Norman says steady winds have been the real culprit so far.

“Wind speeds have been averaging out daily at 12 mph with 40 mph winds some days…soil moisture is pretty much gone,” he said.

As a result, wind damage is being reported on small cotton seedlings which are just now emerging and Norman says some reports indicate that some cotton is going to be replanted because the wind prevented it from getting a good stand after moisture dried up.


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Pest activity in cotton has been low throughout the Valley so far, an encouraging sign, but there have been reports of low populations of cotton aphids over the last two weeks.  Norman says as aphid populations grow, farmers will see a sticky sugary substance called honeydew, and eventually growers may start to see a black-colored fungus called sooty mold start to grow if populations are high.

“We are glad to see the orange eggs of the ladybug beetle under leaves and the newly emerged larvae feeding on immature aphids in cotton fields throughout the valley. Ladybug beetle larvae can consume hundreds of aphids a day while the adult can consume about 50 per day,” Norman said.

Weak stands for early sorghum, floppy corn reported

Wind has damaged early grain sorghum as well. Leaves have been wilting and shriveling up on sorghum throughout the valley.

“In some dry land fields in Willacy County, grain sorghum that was planted a month ago is barely standing about 3 inches tall. It is experiencing stunted plant growth,” Norman reports.

He says parts of Hidalgo and Cameron County are seeing very light levels of corn leaf aphids and sugar cane aphids being controlled nicely by lady bird beetle adults and larvae. Norman urges farmers to watch for corn leaf aphids, which are usually green in color and like to feed in the middle whorl. On the other hand, Norman says sugar cane aphids are yellow and usually found feeding on the under sides of the leaves. Sugar cane aphids secrete a toxin while feeding that turns the leaf yellowish red and causes it to wilt.

In corn it was reported that rootless corn syndrome or “floppy corn” is already an issue throughout the valley due to the drought.

“Corn that came up good is standing anywhere from 4 to 8 inches but has been flopping over and dying because the winds have just been too strong for too long. Any soil moisture that was in the ground has dried out making soil hard, cloddy and more difficult for the corn plant to achieve good nodal root development and anchor itself in the ground,” Norman reported.

He says without good nodal root development after the seminal root has dried up we expect to see stunted plant growth and plant death.

“If you have access to water, check soil moisture in corn fields to see if it’s time to irrigate to avoid this or keep from getting worse.”

In some parts of Hidalgo County heavy cutworm levels that have been migrating from winter weeds into corn to feed have been reported. Cutworms are caterpillars that are the larvae of night flying grayish and brown moths. Cutworms like to cut off newly emerged seedlings at the surface and feed on them during the night.

The Row Crops IPM Newsletter for the LRGV, Pest Cast as it is known regionally, as a joint publication project between Texas AgriLife and the Cotton and Grain Producers of the LRGV. Sponsorship opportunities exist for the popular newsletter. More information is available through Webb Wallace by calling 956-491-1793. Pest Cast is published regularly throughout the growing season.


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