Moisture Graces Cotton Belt; Creates Planting Challenges For Some

Drought has improved in much of the Cotton Belt this year, potentially clearing way for better yields.

Published on: Jul 16, 2012

Last year the story about the Cotton Belt was all about the drought. Texas was in the kind of historic drought they write novels about. And by the end of the year large sections of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida were just as bad.

This year is a world away from those epic conditions. Some dry areas remain in Texas but the situation is hardly recognizable as related to the terrible drought last year, or, for that matter, even to a few months ago. There remains a small area of extreme drought reaching out from the southeastern quadrant of New Mexico into the Lone Star State.

Moisture Graces Cotton Belt; Creates Planting Challenges For Some
Moisture Graces Cotton Belt; Creates Planting Challenges For Some

Some rainstorms spinning off a couple of tropical storms in the spring have greatly helped the drought in the Southeast this year. Once the rains started up, they kept a'coming. In Florida the exceptional drought is now gone. And the drought-damaged areas have largely been rolled back out of South Carolina, too, leaving just a tad of extreme drought along the Georgia border and a bit of severe drought in the Western part of the Palmetto State. In some cases ,though, too much rain at planting time caused skippy stands and prompted replanting, which in some states has created a diverse crop in multiple stages of development.

Drought conditions in Georgia are much better now, too, although there is still a large area of exceptional and severe drought in a band across the midde of the state. That band crosses over into eastern Alabama, too.

Mississippi State University Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds says varied conditions have led to a widely varied crop progress this year in parts of the Mid South this year. Some growers had to replant because of poor stands as late as the middle of June. He's advising other growers to consider plant growth regulator applications to reduce height.

There is no yield advantage from PGR application. Research has shown a favorable relationship between a reduction in height and pounds of lint per acre, however, Dodds says. In research, Mepex reduced plant height 19%; Mepex Gin Out, reduced height 21% while yielding 1,296 pounds of lint per acre; Stance, 16% height reduction, 1,286 pounds per acre; and Pentia, 18% height reduction, 1,330 pounds per acre.

"Reduced height allows for greater penetration of broadcast applied herbicides, insecticides and harvest aids," Dodds says, "as well as helping with picking efficiency at the end of the year."

Selma, Ala., farmer Jay Minter says growers haven't received "a ton of rain, but its been spotty enough that everyone has gotten their fair share, some maybe a bit too much in some places. … But we still don't have a big bank of water in the soils. Hopefully, we can get into and stay in that summertime pop-up (shower) pattern."

In Florida there has been an issue of phenoxy herbicide drift this year. Estimated acreage injured has now been raised to about 15,000 acres. The degree of injury varies.

For  San Joaquin Valley cotton growers, one of the most important production decisions is to get the plant into a vigorous fruiting cycle and to hold the early fruit so the plant is manageable for the remainder of the season, says Peter B. Goodell, Extension advisor, University of California Davis.

 "In the 2012 season, the early development has promoted rapid growth and fruit set, favoring the plant over thrips. Lygus will be the primary insect pest to monitor by frequent field inspections (twice weekly is recommended in that area) and monitoring retention.

Be sure to read more in depth coverage about conditions in the Cotton Belt in the August issue of Carolina-Virginia Farmer magazine.

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