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Rains putting farmers on edge

“If it sounds like I’m a little grouchy right now, it’s because I’m out in a field looking at cotton I planted last Friday,” says Chism Craig with a laugh. “It got beat into the ground by rain Saturday night and looks like it’s 2 inches deeper than when I left it.”

Craig, Extension cotton specialist with the University of Tennessee, says that if a Tennessee producer has cotton up, “there’s a great chance he’s got seedling disease, too. The problem is we don’t have much cotton in the ground to get diseased.”

Prior to the rains, Craig says 20 percent of Tennessee’s cotton may have been planted. However, much of that planted cotton is in the Dyer/Tipton County bottoms – “an area where cotton is typically planted a bit earlier because producers use beds that warm up quick.

“I got a call from an Extension agent today who said they lose everything in those bottoms when the Mississippi River gauge hits 30 feet in Memphis. It isn’t written in stone, but the river is supposed to crest on May 21 at just over 32 feet. Some growers are reportedly trying to get some levees put up, but others are just resigned to losing what they’ve planted because the water is already so high.”

This is the second year in a row producers have faced this situation in the Tennessee river bottoms. Last year, 25,000 to 30,000 acres were lost in much the same scenario.

“In 2002, the cotton was planted, was up and looked great. Then the rains came, and we suddenly found ourselves with a whole lot more soybean acreage,” says Craig.

“I’m in charge of statewide variety testing and of the four test locations one, at Ames Plantation, is planted. I got a call this morning telling me that will need replanting because 8 inches of rain fell on it. The forecast isn’t great – it’s supposed to rain some more this week. And the lows are supposed to get into the mid-40s.”

Craig says producers aren’t in panic mode yet, but as of May 12, “we’re getting very nervous. We like to have most of our cotton planted by May 20. Our biggest cotton counties – Haywood and Crockett – are way behind in planting. I talked to a Crockett County agent this morning and he said the county was about 8 percent planted. And that isn’t counting acreage that’s flooded and needs replanting.

This year, Tennessee producers showed a lot of interest in late maturing varieties. Craig is telling farmers that he believes the planting window for those varieties is closed.

“I’m a little concerned about that, though. When we put all our acres in early maturing, short season varieties and we get some type of catastrophe, the lack of diversity could hurt us,” says Craig.

In Arkansas, Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist, says there’s going to have to be some replanting. But a lot of the cotton he’s seen looks “really good” considering the recent weather.

“We were just shy of 40 percent planted last week,” says Robertson. “We haven’t planted anything much since (May 4). I’ve got tests scattered across the state, and it looks like the middle of this week before I can get back into any of it – probably on into the weekend.

“People are getting nervous about planting. But some of the better cotton we had last year was planted around May 23. As long as we can get the seed in the ground by May 25, we should be okay. But this wet weather pattern just keeps hanging around and I don’t see how we can miss some more rain this week.”

The Missouri Bootheel continues to get rain, says Bobby Phipps, Missouri Extension cotton specialist.

“Right now, I’m standing in a field in Pemiscot County that’s had 15 inches of rainfall on it since it was planted. Considering that amount of rain, though, the crop is looking remarkably healthy. But regardless of what happens in this particular field, we’ve got other acreage that will have to be replanted.”

Phipps said Missouri is “about a third planted overall. We’re looking at a rainy forecast for the week, so I doubt much more will be planted this week. Maybe we’ll get lucky, though. We’ve got to hope.”

Bootheel cotton producers prefer planting from May 1 through May 10. Phipps says once it reaches May 20, it’s getting very late.

Phipps has this piece of advice: don’t pull the trigger too quickly on replanting. If you’ve got one plant per foot and the spacing is rather uniform across the field, “our study data shows it’s best to leave the crop alone. Cotton plants can lose a leaf or two and be just fine. Our studies show that even when all the true leaves were removed from a four-leaf plant it recovered and only resulted in a 10 percent drop in yield.”

In northeast Louisiana, “where we have about 85 percent of our cotton,” says Joel Faircloth, Louisiana Extension cotton specialist, “the crop is emerging and looking good. However, in central Louisiana around Alexandria, the situation is completely different.” Central Louisiana is suffering from very dry conditions.

“We have farmers just waiting to plant, and if they don’t get their cottonseed in the ground within the next 10 days, they’re going to be forced to look at alternative crops. It’s unbelievable, but we’ve escaped most of the wet weather experienced across the Delta. We actually need rain in certain areas around here,” says Faircloth.

Most of the storms and heavy rainfall that have come through Mississippi were north of Highway 82, says Will McCarty, Mississippi Extension cotton specialist.

“We’ve had some hail damage but I haven’t got a handle on how much replanting that will mean. What replanting I am familiar with is a response to extreme, heavy-packing rain that occurred within 24 hours after cotton was planted.”

In northeast Mississippi, McCarty says fields were deluged the week of May 4.

“That’s going to further delay their planting efforts. That area has been extremely wet this year already and planting has hardly begun there,” he noted.

“South of 82, planting is well ahead of average and cotton is emerging fairly rapidly. The crop looks good right now. There were some flooding conditions in the Big Black River area that resulted in some replanting earlier this year. But that’s okay now and, especially in Sharkey County and Yazoo County, a little rain would be welcome. To give you an indication, I’ve seen some corn being irrigated around there.”

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