Farm Progress

Drought, early season pests concern HP cotton experts

High Plains cotton producers face a plethora of weather and pest problems as they finish planting the 2013 crop.Moisture remains biggest concern as planting proceeds.Early-season insects could be trouble as wheat crop dries down.

Ron Smith 1

May 15, 2013

6 Min Read
<p> HIGH PLAINS Cotton farmers face multiple challenges as they plant the 2013 crop. Drought, early-season insect pests and herbicide resistant weed populations are among the obstacles sanding in the way of a decent crop.</p>

Texas High Plains cotton producers face a plethora of weather and pest problems as they finish planting the 2013 crop.

Reports from the Texas AgriLife area cotton specialist and integrated pest management agents indicate that drought continues to be the crucial factor as the region moves into its third consecutive season of limited rainfall.

Planting is well underway, says Extension cotton specialist Mark Kelley, Lubbock. “Things are definitely rolling out here,” he says.  “But, as was the case the previous two years, we have a mixed bag.  The highest rainfall total I have heard was from Rickey Bearden at Plains. He got around 1.25 inches from the latest weather events, which will definitely help get things going. Other producers still need more help getting stands established.  I have a producer in Lubbock County, near Acuff, who needs a bit more moisture on his drip irrigation to get cotton to germinate.” 

Kelley says dryland farmers will need more rain to have any hope of making a crop.

“I was just over in Crosby County with Mark Appling.  We are planting a large plot variety trial under a pivot, placing seed just above the moisture, and he is planning to water it up.  Due to the lack of ‘beneficial rainfall’ in this area, and the declining well capacity, Mark is planning on irrigating half the pivot circle and not watering the other half after stand establishment.  So, in essence, the non-irrigated half will be dryland.

“We keep hoping for the best out here, but planning for the worst,” Kelley says.  “These guys, and gals, have definitely proven they can overcome adversity with faith and sound management skills.” 

Manda Anderson, IPM specialist for Gaines County, says rainfall has been scarce. “Sadly to say, we still have not received any significant rainfall.  Some fields got from 0.1 to 0.2 inches of rainfall over the weekend.  Farmers north of Gaines County have received some rain.”

Early-season pest concerns

She is concerned about early insect pests, especially in fields planted near wheat.  “The drought has keep most of the weeds from emerging outside of the fields,” she says.  “Therefore, the only green vegetation out there at this point is the wheat and emerging cotton and peanut plants.  So the thrips have only one place to go after the wheat is harvested and that is to the young cotton and peanut plants.”

She doesn’t expect much thrips damage to peanuts. “But we encourage farmers to monitor cotton plants as they start emerging through the 5 true-leaf stage.  The warm conditions should help the plants jump out of the ground and grow rapidly, but they still will be susceptible to thrips damage for a period of time.”

It doesn’t take many to justify treatment.  “Just 1 thrips per true leaf is the threshold.  Monitoring the fields once or twice a week will help producers pick up developing thrips populations.  Only treat if thrips are present.  We don’t want to make any revenge applications—those applications that occur after the thrips have already come in and caused damage.”

Kerry Siders, IPM specialist for Hockley and Cochran counties, expects nothing unusual from pests this spring. “So far, thrips are not noticed in advance coming from wheat and other host plants,” he says. “We are not seeing anything in particular yet in terms of plant bugs on weed species currently present.  This does not mean those pests won’t develop.  And I will be interested to see if we pick up any Kurtomathrips again this year.”

He has concerns about herbicide resistant weeds, however.   “Weed management is the big concern, especially with resistant pigweed.  Most producers seem to be doing an excellent job in my service area of utilizing pre-plant incorporated and pre-emergence herbicides.”

And some growers have had a little rain.   “We did receive approximately one inch in Levelland proper this last weekend,” Siders says.  “But rainfall has been highly variable throughout the rest of the county.”

Lots of thrips

Monti Vandiver, IPM specialist in Farwell, Texas, is seeing a lot of thrips. “I have seen large numbers of thrips in wheat, which will likely move into adjacent cotton as the cotton emerges and wheat desiccates,” he says. “Cotton will need to be monitored closely from emergence. The first week is critical in thrips management.”

He says farmers may have to act fast to prevent damage. “Insecticide applications made after visual damage occurs are too late to provide adequate protection. We are continuing to refine thrips action threshold, which will take into consideration growing conditions as well as the thrips numbers in the field.”

He says acephate applied at emergence may be necessary if producers used no preventive insecticide seed treatments. “Follow-up applications may be necessary, based on threshold (one thrips per true leaf under good growing conditions or one-half thrips per true leaf under poor growing conditions). If a preventive insecticide seed treatment is used, then subsequent insecticide application should be based on the same threshold, but the thrips population should include immature thrips, which is an indication that the seed treatment is beginning to lose effectiveness.”

Anderson said seed treatments such as Aeris, Cruiser, or Avicta CC should provide 14 to 21 days of protection post-emergence.  “All cotton, regardless of whether growers used a seed treatment, needs to be monitored weekly for thrips,” she said.  

“The best way to tell if the seed treatment has worn off is if you start picking up immature thrips.” She agrees that foliar insecticide applications will be justified with one thrips per true leaf.  “But if the cotton is developing slowly (due to cooler weather), then the threshold should be adjusted to an average of one-half thrips per true leaf.

“Foliar acephate is usually effective; however residual activity is likely less than a week.”

Scott Russell, Extension IPM agent for Terry and Yoakum counties has seen a lot of thrips in wheat fields and cautions cotton farmers to be vigilant in scouting for the pests. “I have been in numerous wheat fields the last two days and the thrips are abundant,” Russell says. “I encourage growers to use a good, complete seed treatment for insect, disease and nematode management. This will help get the crop off to a good start. If producers are planting cotton in the proximity of wheat being carried to harvest, I encourage producers to be alert to possible thrips infestations.”

He says dry winter weather is not usually conducive to high populations of thrips. “But be aware that seed treatments only provide 18 to 24 days of control (depending on rainfall, irrigation and temperature).”

He also cautions farmers about resistant weed management. “Individuals should be using residual herbicides to aid in the management of glyphosate resistant careless weed.”

Cotton planters, Russell says, “are just beginning to roll and peanut planting continues.”

And it’s all taking place in continued dry conditions. “Portions of Yoakum County received up to an inch-and-a-half in isolated spots last Friday,” Russell says. “However, most of the area received about half an inch. Producers are still waiting planting rains for dryland fields.”


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About the Author(s)

Ron Smith 1

Senior Content Director, Farm Press/Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 40 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. More recently, he was awarded the Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award by the Texas Plant Protection Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Johnson City, Tenn. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and three grandsons, Aaron, Hunter and Walker.

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