Weather issues, low prices, financing worries, and high production costs top the list of management concerns as farmers try to complete harvesting 2018 crops and begin making planting decisions for 2019.
Ray Smith, Texas Plant Protection Association chairman of the board, Biological Research Services, Inc., College Station, Texas, cites nine key issues Sunbelt farmers will face as they make 2019 planting decisions. Those include:
- Unpredictable climate — “Weather killed Texas the last two years,” Smith says. “This year we had drought early and then wet, wet, wet in south Texas.”He says in late October, south Texas cotton, corn, and soybean farmers still had crops in the field. “Cottonseed was germinating in the burr. Cotton looked like May with regrowth. Last year we lost a lot of crop in south Texas with modules floating away after the hurricane. Here we go again with the same thing. Also, we have lower prices, yields are down. It’s a problem that affects the bottom line.” He says harvest on the High Plains is also delayed by weather, including an early freeze.He says similar conditions in the Delta and Southeast are creating similar harvest problems for soybean, corn and cotton farmers. Analysts are still totaling up the agriculture damage from hurricanes in the Carolinas, Virginia, the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia. Latest estimates put Hurricane Michael ag losses at $3 billion.
- Credit line at the banks — “Bankers are already looking at credit lines,” Smith says. And farmers are struggling. “Some farmers will go out after two bad years in a row” he says. Some Southeast growers suffered their third hurricane in as many years, putting survival for many in jeopardy. “Many still have crops in the field to get out.” And costs are up.
- Weed resistance — Parthenium ragweed, Smith says, is a new problem spreading all over Texas, “like horseweed did in Tennessee. This weed came out of Florida and got into south Texas citrus, moved north into central Texas and is spreading. Roundup will not touch it.” Sharpen will kill it, applied postemerge. “It is a prolific weed that must be managed.” He says it spreads from highway rights-of way where it will proliferate and get into farms, possibly into mature cotton.
Farmers in the Delta and Southeast are waiting on word from EPA on dicamba registration, a product many have relied on to control resistant pigweed. “Resistant weed problems are still here,” Smith says. “We don’t have another Roundup. We have good products but nothing like Roundup, a systemic herbicide.” He says Liberty is good but must have good coverage.“Dicamba and 2, 4-D are good, but they must be applied correctly and at the right time. These products control weeds differently than Roundup. Farmers can’t expect weeds to be torched in two or three days.” Effective application depends on good volume and proper droplet size. “We have the tools, but farmers have to manage weeds effectively to manage the traits. We can’t just spray over the top like we used to like Roundup.”
- Seed contamination of traits — Seed trait contamination, Smith says, “is a real concern in some areas.” He says reports of dicamba and 2,4-D trait contamination in the bag creates problems. “When we try to control late-season regrowth with 2,4-D we miss the tolerant plants.” He says better sanitation with planters and at the gin may be necessary.” He adds that with different herbicide traits, farmers need a designated sprayer for the new technology. “And make certain to clean out sprayers.”
- Water spray volume — Smith says farmers may be tempted to cut back on water volume in sprayers to improve efficiency and save costs. “They need the higher water volume, up to 15 gallons per acre, for adequate coverage,” he says. “If they go back to 7 gallons, they are not getting control and they are wasting money on traits by deviating from the label.”
- Farm input costs versus commodity prices — “The price of commodities versus the price of farm inputs is far out of balance, “Smith says. “Farmers have to make big yields to break even. Unfortunately, a lot of producers will go out this year. Some had big yields but can’t get it into bins.”By harvest-time, input costs are already sunk. “They still pay for traits, Roundup Ready, Bt, and the new technology. Seed costs more than $100 per acre.” But farmers need those varieties,” he adds. “They can’t go any other way.”
- Cost of residual chemicals on top of traits cost — “Traits are necessary to make a crop” Smith says, “but we still need to use residual herbicides. Otherwise, we waste trait money and herbicides. We need to apply residuals at least twice a season for adequate weed management.” He says producers are paying for traits and still having to go back to old chemistry, at $40 an acre, to keep cotton clean, adding to inputs. Reports from the Delta indicate similar issues with Bt cotton varieties requiring insecticide applications to control worms. Specialists say the cost of the insecticide is usually justified.
- Skimping on inputs — “When producers skimp on things, they cause problems and waste pre-emerge investment. They think they have to cut back, but if they get bad weather or other delays, they lose that investment. Weeds get away from them. “Production problems are compounded by weed resistance. Resistance is biology. Weeds grow and multiply and they will mutate to survive. We will always deal with resistant weed problems.”
These issues pose serious challenges for 2019 farm management. “They are all related,” Smith says.
Additional trips across the field, added weed or insect control applications, and other in-season costs add to the per acre cost and subtract from the bottom line.
Low prices and uncertain harvest create additional uncertainty.