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Mississippi cotton mixed bag

From “almost too dry” in the South Delta to flooding in the northeast part of the state, Mississippi cotton growers have seen some of everything during the 2003 planting season.

“We jumped out to a fast start in the beginning,” says Will McCarty, Mississippi Extension cotton specialist. “About 10 days ago, we were ahead of average on planting, especially in the central Delta. As of May 15, the state's cotton crop was 70percent to 75 percent planted.”

The North Delta, he adds, has been extremely wet this spring. “Northeast Mississippi has been very wet with almost no planting yet,” he said. “But in the South Delta, we actually have some areas that need rain, which in some cases is also delaying planting. We'll lose some cotton, especially south of Vicksburg where there's no levee protection.”

McCarty predicts some Mississippi growers will be replanting after “optimum” planting dates. In an ideal world, the state's entire cotton crop would be planted by mid-May, but all is not lost yet, he says. “It's a pretty mixed bag and the clock is ticking. Time is not in our favor right now, and more rain is in the forecast.”

Cotton, he says, is an indeterminate perennial, and growers aren't close to giving up on the state's crop. “In 1991, over 50 percent of the state's crop was planted after June 1, and we harvested what at the time was a record-high yield per acre. I'd prefer to see the cotton crop planted relatively early. But when push comes to shove, it's not as risky as it used to be to plant later in the season.”

That, says McCarty, is partly due to the advent of Bt cotton and the success of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program. Bt cotton helps to control late season pests, and both developments are easing many late-season production problems. “We can, however, still have weather problems,” he says. “This is pretty quickly developing into a push-come-to-shove year. We just can't seem to get a break. But if we have to, we can plant cotton up until the first few days of June and still have a cotton crop.”

Ideally, all Delta cotton should be in the ground by May 25, says Charles Ed Snipes, Extension cotton specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss.

“We're pretty much OK until May 25, but we get kind of nervous after that date. That's not to say we haven't made some great crops after that date, though,” says Snipes.

As of mid-May, Snipes said the Central Delta — where growers didn't receive excessive rains — was in good shape, with most of the cotton planted or emerging. North Delta growers, he adds, have been fighting excessive water and rain, resulting in planting delays. Meanwhile, South Delta producers appear to be in good shape overall, he says.

April-May rainfall in the Delta has been all over the board, with some areas receiving only trace amounts of rain and other areas receiving more than 7 inches of rainfall at a time.

“We're almost in need of rain in some places,” says Snipes. Replant decisions, he says, are yet to be determined, but growers in the North Delta are “behind the eight-ball.”

If you have enough cotton in the field to make the replanting decision a difficult one, McCarty advises keeping what you have in the field. Calendar date also is significant, he says. “A stand you would plow up on May 1 probably would be kept on May 25.”

If replanting is necessary, he recommends continuing to use fungicides as a stale row, and using a burndown herbicide to kill the old stand of cotton and any weeds that may have emerged on the row. In some cases, the bed may need to be freshened before planting. “These decisions should be made on a field-by-field basis. Make replant decisions quickly, and then act quickly before a lack of moisture limits your options, McCarty advises.

In those fields with questionable stands, take into account the date, the potential plant population, current plant vigor, any large or frequent skips in stand, soil type, irrigation capability, and seed availability, he says.

e-mail: [email protected].

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