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Has time to recover: May rains slow Mississippi cotton

Some of Mississippi's cotton crop suffered significantly from recent rains, while for other fields it was an easy hurdle to overcome.

In the Delta, one of the least affected areas, some cotton is behind in development but should catch up by the time it reaches maturity.

“A good portion of the cotton in the Delta was planted in mid- to late-April, so a good bit of it now is practically a month old,” said John Coccaro, Mississippi State University Extension Service district director of agriculture and natural resources in Stoneville.

“Cool temperatures and rain have given us a crop that is more like two to three weeks old developmentally. We lost some days — maybe even a week — of development.”

Because the crop was planted earlier than normal, chances are good that the Delta crop will bounce back from the delay in development and reach maturity on schedule.

“We have a long time before the crop matures, but I wouldn't expect the rains to have a real major negative influence,” Coccaro said. “However, some fields in low-lying areas may have actually had some cotton drown out in the last few days of rain.”

Recent heavy rains in Webster County, Miss., are causing growers concern, and some of the lower areas may need to be replanted. “After it dries out, we will evaluate stands and see what will be our next step,” said Dennis Reginelli, Extension agronomic crops area agent based in Macon. “We also still have some producers in Noxubee County who have not completed planting, and they are worried that one more rain will put them behind in their planting schedule.”

Reginelli said the rain, coupled with recent warm weather, also is causing weeds to sprout up quickly.

Thrips, a common concern for young cotton plants, have not been as much of a problem as usual, Coccaro said. Many growers applied insecticide on the seeds at planting, and it has proven to be effective in preventing the insects. Plenty of moisture is needed to keep the insecticide active, so growers have been observing fields to see if spraying is needed.

“I've heard some folks talk about a little less common pest: slugs,” Coccaro said. “There's not a lot on our radar screen as far as insecticides to control slugs. People have tried different things and have been fairly unsuccessful.”

The slugs do not seem to be specific to any type of soil or any ground level. The slugs feed at night, so daytime observation is not particularly helpful.

“Farmers have looked at granular fertilizers that have a pretty high salt content. A researcher in Tennessee made some applications later in the afternoon or at night when the slugs were active, and the slugs thinned down by about half,” Coccaro said. “Normal insecticides have not been very effective.”

Many producers are anxious to apply Roundup to their fields as they dry, but Coccaro advised being extremely cautious when spraying to avoid drift problems. Corn and rice are particularly sensitive to Roundup, so producers should be careful when spraying and pay attention to wind speed and direction.

Coccaro believes Mississippi's cotton acreage will be around 1 million, down about 200,000 acres from last year. The decrease is due in large part to increased soybean and corn prices, which persuaded growers to shift some cotton acres to those crops.

Moderate, seasonal temperatures and plenty of sunshine should allow for a decent crop.

“Moisturewise, we're in really good shape. But cotton is a sun-loving plant, so if we can get a couple weeks of sunshine, we'll be fine,” Coccaro said. “The soil drying out some won't hurt and might even help the cotton plants to develop better root systems.”

Keryn Bruister Page writes for Mississippi State University Ag Communications.

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