The 2013 Mid-South cotton crop is late.
July 4 in the Mid-South is traditionally a time when yellow blooms formally announce the up and coming cotton crop. For this season however, Independence Day blooms were few and far between, signaling both the lateness of the crop and a big shift from cotton to grain this spring.
But there is a crop out there amongst the fields of grain. According to Darrin Dodds, Extension cotton specialist with Mississippi State University, the state’s crop “is not looking bad overall. A lot of producers don’t think the crop looks as good as it has in the past, but a lot of that is because we’re two to four weeks behind. We got started so late because of the rain and cold weather.
“Typically, around July 4, we’re accustomed to seeing cotton blooming or starting to bloom. A lot of our cotton didn’t start blooming until last week (mid-July), and there is some that will probably start next week.”
Dodds said rains have been spotty in Mississippi, with the eastern part of the state receiving “a fair amount of rain since July 1, while parts of the Delta are still really dry.”
The usual insect suspects, plant bugs and spider mites, have been troublesome so far, Dodds said, “but from an overall crop condition standpoint, the crop doesn’t look too bad.”
Many Mississippi producers are hoping that August and September will provide enough good weather to make some ground on the cotton crop, Dodds noted. “Last year, those months turned off abnormally cool. We need really warm weather through September. We certainly need to have a fall where the rain stays away.”
Dodds says growers should focus on making management decisions to make sure that the crop isn’t further delayed in maturity. “If you let some plant bugs get by you now, and they drop some fruit off the bottom of the crop, typically cotton will put some on the top to compensate for that. The problem is this year, we may not have the time to fill out a top crop. I’ve been urging growers to be more aggressive on their insect sprays to protect that fruit.”
Arkansas cotton producers, “are still about a week to 10 days behind normal,” said Tom Barber, Extension cotton specialist for Arkansas. “But we’ll take what we can get this year.”
Barber says weed control has been tough for Arkansas cotton producers this year, particularly for pigweed. “We have some grown up messes, and we have some clean cotton. Most of the clean cotton either got timely rains to activate pre-emergence herbicides, or it was LibertyLink cotton.”
Barber said a large percentage of the state’s cotton acreage is in the northeast part of the state this year. “If you get south of I-40, you have to hunt around to find a cotton field.”
Producers have been doing their best to keep the crop on schedule, Barber said. “We’re fruiting about one node higher than average this year. There is not a whole lot we can do to catch it up other than what Mother Nature can do for us. The worse thing we can do with an already late crop is to make it later by applying excess nitrogen.
Barber urges producers to “monitor fruit retention and stay on top of threshold applications with plant bugs, bollworms and spider mites to help this crop stay on track. But it’s hard to make a late crop early unless it’s burned up.”
The Louisiana cotton crop “is looking really good,” said interim cotton specialist and entomologist David Kerns, with the LSU AgCenter in Winnsboro. “We’re getting well into bloom and the cotton is fruiting up real nice. We had real good, early fruit retention, and it’s getting rain right when it needs it. A lot of plant growth regulators are going out, and the crop is jumping.”
The crop is still a week behind in maturity, according to Kerns. “We’ve had some fairly cool conditions with the rain we’ve been getting. If anything, it’s helped us hold on to a little fruit.”
The insect complex “is your normal motley crew,” Kerns said. “At bloom, we saw the plant bugs come in. We’ve dealt with spider mites pretty much since the crop came up. The aphids have been sporadic, but not excessively heavy. With the cooler conditions and the moisture, we may see them kick off in the next week or so. We’ve had a few flights of bollworm, but for the most part, the grain crops have been more attractive to them.”
Louisiana planted the lowest cotton acreage in recorded history this year, just under 128,000 acres. Noted Kerns, “It’s just the economics of the situation, with the grain prices, and that fact that it’s more expensive to produce a cotton crop. Farmers are in the business to make money, so that’s what they’re going to do.”