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In Missouri Bootheel: Cotton growers working to catch up

Bobby Phipps has seen better — make that much better — Bootheel cotton crops. “The cotton crop we have isn't a particularly good one,” says the Missouri Extension cotton specialist. “I don't believe the USDA projections. They've projected us at 724 pounds. That's 50 pounds above our five-year average. Honestly, I see us around 550 pounds. I don't know what they're basing their estimate on, but it will be a shock if they are correct. I hope like heck I'm wrong, but if our crop is even average we'd better be happy with it.”

Missouri's cotton crop was in a major tailspin through May and into June, says Phipps. Since then it's pulled out of that somewhat, “but not a whole lot.” Much of the crop was simply planted too late and won't catch up.

“We're running normal DD-60s. Last year, we ran 400 above normal. This year, we're running 300 below last year so there's little to point to that will positively impact the crop.”

The Bootheel has a lot of cotton that hasn't cut out yet.

“It should have because our last effective bolls hit on Aug. 10. Here it is eight days past that and the cotton is still blooming. We've got a lot of late cotton, and that will shortly present a problem.”

Late in the growing season, a variety of insect pests are showing up. Armyworms, bollworms and budworms are all being reported. “There's a mix of smaller populations — no strong trends,” says Phipps. “We're not having the same problems this year we had last year with budworms. They're around, but they seem to be a mix of bollworms and budworms. “Today (Aug. 18), I did take a call from a producer who had to spray Bt cotton for bollworms. He was certainly above the threshold. That's a rough blow after paying for Bt, and then having to spray on top of that.”

Overall, the crops' general appearance is okay. But Phipps believes the appearance is deceptive.

“I'm very concerned about this late blooming. Many producers didn't get into fields until the end of May. Whether they planted late or had to replant, it was still late. We're going to be facing an interesting and problematic defoliation time this year. “We've had a lot of ends replanted and spot replanting. That's lead to all kinds of maturity levels within a single field. And, to be honest, up here there seems to be a good deal of variation even within the rows. The crop just isn't uniform as it normally is.”

Regarding defoliation, Phipps offers this advice: use lots of pressure and water. And make sure to use very good, reliable defoliation products.

“This isn't a time to skimp on defoliation. If we aren't careful there will be some plants that are left with a skirt, some with leaves that don't fall off and some that dry down immediately. I'm afraid we'll have a bit of everything. That means producers will have to do a top-notch defoliation job.”

Bootheel producers are still a few weeks away from defoliation. It will be almost a month before some of the crop is ready. Phipps says over the last couple of years, defoliation has begun around Sept. 10.

“Our crop is rather tall and lush. I hope growers aren't too tempted to try to chase bolls in the top to make their crop. Doing that risks the bolls at the bottom. The season will catch us, not the plant. It's true that the bolls can come along, but bad October weather will come along too. At this point, you should base your crop on the calendar and not what the plants are looking like.”

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