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Mid-South begins planting cotton crop

Most have it covered, but if farmers haven't gotten marestail and cutleaf evening primrose sprayed by now, the weeds are likely to cause problems. A mild winter coupled with a wet spring has had many growers scrambling to control the weeds.

“By this time of year, the only thing they can do is cultivate in some way: disking, bedding, or trying to rip it out. Generally, the window for treating these weeds is February through March. With all the rain this year, though, that timetable has been complicated. Farmers have to get those two weeds out because they're such harsh competitors with cotton plants,” says Don Plunkett, Arkansas Extension cotton verification program coordinator.

Most fields Plunkett has seen have received at least one timely application to knock the weeds back — either a strong rate of glyphosate or some 2,4-D was used early. As long as some stunting of the weeds was accomplished, things should be okay, says Plunkett.

“Most farmers were able to get into fields between showers. For example, I know of a field that had some 6-inch marestail in it in early April. The farmer put out 20 to 26 ounces of highly active glyphosate. The farmer was able to stunt the marestail and then bed up. Those fields look good.”

But Plunkett has also seen some fields that, because of rainfall, haven't gotten the marestail (or horseweed) completely under control.

“I've seen fields where the marestail was about a foot tall and growing. That's going to require work to get the weeds knocked back. It'll take some effort to get rid of those weeds this late.”

In dealing with weeds and field preparation, Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist, says many growers “caught a window where they hipped up good beds. One grower hipped beds, knocked them down with a do-all, then hipped up again. By the time he had his beds as he wanted them, the weeds were pretty much under control.

“But in the process of doing things like that, a lot of growers' fields lost moisture and now they need a shower before planting. How ironic is that after all the rain we've gotten?”

A few scattered cotton fields were planted around April 15, says Robertson. “One of the growers who planted (on April 15) told me that his cotton had emerged by April 20. It jumped out the ground, and he feels fortunate to have found a nice period to plant.”

Soil temperatures are running over 70 degrees in some fields. On April 16, Plunkett found the soil temperature at 9:15 a.m. on stale-seedbed ground to be 70 degrees.

“That was really surprising, especially on a stale seedbed. I think by April 29, if the weather cooperates, we'll be planting cotton like crazy. I urge caution because I've seen it over and over again: we'll have better planting conditions in late April than early May. Farmers need to keep an eye on the weather report and select the best seed lots they can get,” says Robertson.

How is the cotton verification program progressing? “We still have some wet fields. One of the verification fields still hasn't been bedded because of frequent rains. We need to put some lime and fertilizer on it,” says Plunkett.

Plunkett says another verification field in southeast Arkansas was hard to bed up due to wet soils. After three attempts, “we ended up leaving a part of it in a reduced tillage situation because we never could bed it up. Let me tell you, if there was ever a field that needed an early application of 2,4-D, it was that one.”

But rain prohibited such a spraying, says Plunkett. The farmer used a strong rate of glyphosate, and that seems to have done the trick.

“I have nine fields in the verification program — all the way from Chicot County in the south to Mississippi County in the north. The fields run from 86 acres to 35 acres. A trend that's continuing is the big switch to minimum tillage and conservation tillage. Most farmers are using hooded sprayers and doing things to reduce labor costs. I see that wherever I'm at in the state.”


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