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Cotton crop a mighty mixed bag of tricks

Crop progress at this time of year across the Cotton Belt is, well, “all over the map.” As June got under way, there were some areas where cotton was nearing lay-by, and other areas where growers were still replanting failed stands.

Cotton crop progress in Texas, for example, has been as diverse this year as the state itself. Lindy Patton, Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation president and CEO, hears from the entire state, with the foundation’s 20 zones in Texas and New Mexico.

“It’s probably the biggest mixed bag I’ve ever seen,” Patton says. “Some producers had received rain, but some were extremely dry at mid-June.”

Patton says it appears far south Texas will see a really good crop in the Rio Grande Valley. The coastal bend needed rain, while the upper coast was hanging on.

In central Texas, the cotton looked good in parts of the Blacklands, and the Ennis and Waxahachie area. The Rolling Plains had been hammered by it all: repeated hailstorms, extremely high winds, major storms, and blowing sand that blasted the tender young cotton plants.

The High Plains saw huge variations in rain. Hale County got some heavy rain during June recorded at the Texas Tech Mesonet site — as much as 4.28 inches in 24 hours at Abernathy. It rained seven hours straight in one storm at Idalou, flooding fields and closing highways.

Contrast that with the Rolling Plains. There, Gaylon Morgan, AgriLife Extension statewide cotton specialist, College Station, observes that even where there is some irrigation, such as the Haskell-Knox County area, timely rains will be needed the remainder of this summer.

Cut cotton down to size

Given the growing season’s early start, if these were the good ol’ days, you’d be proud to walk in the Mid-South’s high cotton. But since warm weather in March led to much earlier-than-normal planting, putting the brakes on cotton height may be in order.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi State University Extension cotton specialist, reports blooms from one north Delt is the Fourth of July.

In mid- to late June, he was advising growers to think about plant growth regulators to reduce height, though there’s no yield advantage from PGR application.

Tough Alabama ’hoppers

As of late June, west-central Alabama’s crop was “in good to excellent shape,” says Jay Minter, who farms outside of Selma. “Or at the least acceptable in most places,” he adds.

The area is definitely better than it was at this point last year, he notes, when conditions “were just awful when we were fighting to get a stand, already watering heavily, and the plants were just starving out there.”

The area’s early thrip pressure was light, but it had early problems with grasshoppers. A light pyrethroid application took care of both pests on his farm.

Early-planted cotton in Georgia was nearing flowering in late June, with the rest of the crop developing nicely throughout the state, says Guy Collins, a University of Georgia cotton agronomist. Very little replanting was needed. Stands were good and, similar to Alabama, the rains have come with an early start to tropical weather patterns, though the state remains in critical drought.

Quick change in NC-SC-Va.

The weather was very dry in the Carolinas until tropical storms Alberto and Beryl threatened the coastline, the earliest prehurricane season event of the kind since 1908. Once the rains started, they kept coming at a good pace.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but we don’t have a shortage of rain right now,” says Tre Coleman, executive vice president of the South Carolina Cotton Board. “The crop is anywhere from just been planted to almost at lay-by. Airplanes are busy right now because a lot of people can’t get into the fields with the repeated rains. The good thing is that it got the cotton off to a really good start.”

In the middle of June, worm pressure was beginning to build, but it was too soon to know how bad it would be this year. With all the moisture, Coleman doesn’t expect a really well-formed taproot on plants. When he spoke to us, cotton was also entering a point where some intensive heat units were needed.

Ronnie Burleson is a farmer in the Piedmont region, near Richfield, N.C., who is currently on the N.C. Cotton Producers Board. He says early cool conditions in his area led to skippy stands that he hopes fill out as the season progresses.

A big problem in the state is resistant pigweed, but Burleson says growers are dealing with it by using multiple chemistries and well-timed overlapping residual applications.

“I think everybody has gotten on board and understands how serious a problem it is,” he says. “Everybody pretty much understands what they have to do to keep things under control.”

“There has probably been less replanting [Down East] this year than in some other years,” says Keith Edmisten, North Carolina State University Extension cotton specialist. “I’d say most coastal plains fields look pretty good.”

Thrips are typically bad in Virginia and North Carolina, but Edmisten notes they hit a little harder this year than they usually do on average.

Good moisture has had an added benefit this year. “That has been a good thing when we are so dependent on preemerge herbicides to help us with resistance,” he says, “especially with Palmer amaranth.”

Turning up the heat

In California, hotter weather has settled over the San Joaquin Valley, indicating the arrival of summer. First irrigation has wrapped up across a wide part of the crop. And forecast highs range from 102 to 105 degrees F, depending on location. Plants aren’t carrying enough of a load for such a spike to heavily threaten retention.

Farm Progress cotton state editors Richard Davis, Brad Haire, Len Richardson, J.T. Smith and Cecil Yancy contributed to this report.

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OVERCOMING OBSTACLES: Overall, NCSU cotton specialist Keith Edmisten is pleased with what he’s seen of the North Carolina cotton crop in 2012, at least so far. Thrips have been pretty bad, resistant weeds are tough and there was some replanting — but overall, growers have managed the problems and the crop has held up well.

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REBOUND: The 2012 Cross Farms cotton at Ovalo, Texas, endured extremely high winds, blowing sand, excessive heat and hailstorms — hard raindrops to no rain. Nevertheless, it was perking up as summer set in.

This article published in the August, 2012 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.