Specialists Speaking - January 2008
Have A Plan That Works
Challenges in our Land Grant Institutions are many. The cost of business increases while real funding shrinks. Base monies from state and federal budgets barely keep the doors open and offer little extra to support actual work. (Yes, tractors and lab equipment cost money to purchase, operate and repair. Even high school and grad student workers don’t work for free.) External grants direct our efforts. Production-oriented, practical problems are sometimes the target of these grants; sometimes not.
Thankfully, in cotton there are healthy supporting agencies such as Cotton Incorporated and the likes of the Georgia Cotton Commission. Other commodities are not nearly so fortunate.
Land Grant programs wrestle with how to address the missions of teaching, research and outreach in a modern age. Among the most critical issues is the source of the next generation of practical ag scientists. Who are they? Where will they come from? Who will train them? The need is great. Opportunities for young, knowledgeable, well-trained scientists – whether they’re county agents, Extension specialists, crop consultants, industry personnel, research scientists, etc. – will be incredibly great.
Cotton farmers in Missouri are facing a dilemma. With wheat, corn and soybean prices up substantially, how much cotton do they plant? For some producers, existing contracts will play a role in their decision.
As some producers realized last year, they are not set up for corn or wheat. While they switched some of their acreage, they did not have the field storage and equipment to harvest their crop. Many producers will need to purchase combines, grain buggies and storage bins if they want to stay with grain crops or to have someone custom harvest their fields.
They will need to review their herbicide use records and see if they have herbicide for carryover issues. In dry years, the potential is greater unless we have enough rainfall during the winter to either leach the herbicide out of the root zone or to degrade it.
Soil type will certainly play a role in switching to other crops. Much of our sandy ground has been in cotton since this was probably the best choice. It might be hard for center pivots to keep up with the additional moisture required for corn during a dry year.
This year it was easy to see that the ground outside the circles was doing poorly almost all season long. Some producers are switching to furrow irrigation with surge valves to better irrigate their fields.
Producers are looking for answers and solutions to many questions related to variety selection, fertilization and other production practices.
A new year brings opportunities. In order to take full advantage of the next year in cotton, it is constructive to look back on what we learned in 2007 as we look ahead to 2008. Cotton production in 2007 in Louisiana could best be described as a roller coaster.
The ups included a good, fast start and an excellent finish to the year. The downs included some of the heaviest plant bug pressure in memory and some torrential rains across Louisiana. When all the acres were harvested and the bales counted, Louisiana set a state record yield. So what went right and what can be learned?
A major point of emphasis that can be gleaned from 2007 is that cotton farming is often all about timing. The first 40 days of a cotton plant’s life are deemed by most to be the most critical as they set the stage for the entire year. In Louisiana in 2007, the year started fast, moisture was adequate, and cotton generally grew off and became established quickly. Mid-season was more challenging. Locally heavy rains, high plant bug pressure and the challenges of dealing with a changing agriculture landscape led many to seriously question the yield potential in the crop. However, we were reminded that a cotton plant is a perennial and its ability to tolerate the weather and insect-related stress in mid-season is truly remarkable.
With near perfect heat unit accumulation and ample moisture from the last week of August through the first two weeks of September, a record crop was set, mostly at the top of the plant. Timing was everything, and when things went right, bolls were set and weight per boll was likely as high as it’s ever been.
If anything, we should be reminded by 2007 that you can never give up on a cotton crop as we look forward to 2008. The coming year will bring its share of challenges, not the least of which will be either stagnant, or even reduced acreage once again. This time, the changing agricultural landscape will include more wheat and soybeans rather than the increased corn of 2007.
These are just some of the things to consider as opportunities in managing cotton as we look forward to 2008.
The landscape across the delta of Arkansas looked much different in 2007. Although Arkansas reduced cotton acres by 29 percent from 2006, the reduction in acres from the 10-year average was only 12 percent. Corn was planted on the majority of acres that were rotated out of cotton followed by grain sorghum and soybeans. For some of these fields, this was the first time that a crop other than cotton was planted since records were taken back in the 1800s.
Crop rotation provides countless benefits to producers from increasing fertility levels to building productivity of soils. Rotation can also benefit the control of many pest problems such as nematodes and resistant weeds. However, crop rotation can also bring complications.
The main complication in Arkansas with respect to the heavy corn rotation was tarnished plant bug control. Fields that bordered corn were especially affected by the tarnished plant bug this past season. Adult populations were so heavy and flushed so often that thresholds were reached in two to three days. In some cases, edges of fields directly beside corn were stripped completely from plant bug damage.
In future seasons, this should be taken into account when decisions are made on field selection and planting strategy with a heavy cotton and corn rotation. Arkansas cotton acreage in 2008 will most likely decrease another 10-15 percent due mainly to wheat plantings and excellent prices for soybeans. Although acreage has decreased, yields remain high and Arkansas will harvest the second highest yield on record at an estimated 1,056 pounds of lint per acre.
The start of 2008 is different from any year that I can remember since working in the field of agriculture. Most of the commodity prices are up, and cotton is moderately priced. This allows producers many options for crop rotation and should aid overall yield of commodities on the farm in the long run.
Much of the Southeast has been in a peanut/cotton rotation for the past decade or more. High wheat prices led to more wheat being planted in the fall of 2007, and therefore soybean, cotton or peanuts could be planted after wheat with least yield impact on soybean in most years. However, corn prices make it a viable option to rotate with cotton and allow another year out of peanut or soybean.
Producers should consider their fields carefully and determine what fields are suffering low yields due to poor rotations (nematodes or diseases) that have reduced yields over the long term. Soil fertility and nematode samples information should be available to help make these production decisions. After deciding on a rotation plan, start choosing crop varieties carefully for your area since the best varieties often yield 10-20 percent more than other varieties in state trials.
Cotton varieties are changing in Florida and the Southeast with new genetic technology for cotton, so producers need to look for new varieties that provide them with similar or better yields than they had with older varieties. These are exciting times for producers with new technology for cotton and other crops and high prices for most of the commodities but also very challenging and risky times with record prices for fertilizers, fuel, and technology.
Therefore, it is more important for producers to make the right decisions than ever before on each part of the farm operation with much to gain or lose from those decisions
As we move into the new year, we have a lot to be thankful for in the High Plains region. First, we had another record-breaking year for yield and quality thanks to an outstanding finish for the 2007 crop. Second, we had a lot of good genetics out there in producers’ fields.
As we wrap up the 2007 year, a lot of decisions will have to be made soon concerning the 2008 crop. Genetics continue to be very important for our producers. We need to take note that the fall conditions were such that many cotton varieties performed very well. We can’t forget about the necessity of storm resistance in our region. Just remember what happened in 2004 during the harvest period.
A lot of good information is coming together for our winter meetings. Don’t forget to take a look at Dr. John Gannaway’s Experiment Station cotton variety trial data. These tests have large numbers of entries and sites and provide a wealth of information on variety performance issues.
There are several Extension trials that can also be scrutinized. Dr. Terry Wheeler and Dr. Jason Woodward will have several locations of data pertaining to disease resistance issues. These trials included seed treatments for seedling disease; varieties that were screened for verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt and bacterial blight; and root-knot nematode management.
Our producers are certainly aware of high fertilizer prices. A sound soil fertility management program is going to be required for 2008. I suggest producers do a thorough job of sampling fields for residual fertility before initial 2008 fertilizer applications.
One management concern that producers tend to overlook is deep sampling for nitrogen (N). Some fields may have a significant amount of residual N in the profile (at least 12 inches deep, and perhaps down to 24 if possible).
As we head into 2008, there is a large amount of uncertainty about cotton acres in Mississippi. Although Mississippi cotton producers produced excellent yields in many parts of the state, it appears as though acres will decline again in 2008.
Increasing costs of fertilizer, lime and chemicals, as well as increased prices received for grain crops, are driving this decline. It will take a significant upswing in cotton prices to buy these acres back.
For those producers who choose to plant cotton with “built in” insect protection, it is important to begin gaining experience with newer Bollgard II or WideStrike varieties now. Cotton varieties containing Bollgard I technology will not be re-registered after the 2009 growing season.
Producers trying any new variety (including B2RF or WRF varieties) are encouraged to spread their risk by planting them on small acreages.
All of us in the cotton patch know how important nitrogen (N) is to the yield equation. It is the most heavily applied and most expensive nutrient used for cotton production. In fact, N fertilizer prices have increased two-fold over the past couple of years.
Recommended N rates are based on the N required to produce a crop at a realistic yield goal and are reduced by credits for the estimated residual soil nitrate to a specified depth in the profile. In past columns, I’ve discussed our long-term N studies. And the results from those studies indicated that in many instances we were finding N in the soil profile – down to three to four feet.
We wondered about the cotton plant’s ability to utilize the N from lower depths. Results from recent studies show that the plant does a good job of obtaining N from the surface to about a 24-inch depth, but at greater depths the efficiency is greatly decreased.
With the escalating price of N fertilizer today, that’s money to be saved. But the only way to know if you have any residual N is to take an annual soil test.
After a very disappointing cropping season in 2007, Alabama farmers have planted more wheat this fall than I can ever remember. Plans for 2008 otherwise are still very fluid, mainly because of the continuation of the abnormally dry weather in most of Alabama. Northern Alabama received about 2.5 inches of rain in November, but this is still only half the normal rainfall for November. At this writing, rainfall for the year is only 26 inches (24 inches below normal for the year).
The major concern is whether
winter rain will help replenish subsoil moisture. In 2007, without
subsoil moisture our dryland conditions can change rapidly. We had
a good-to-excellent cotton crop set in late July only to see it disappear
within two weeks because of no rain and 100 degree temperatures. In
2008, winter rains may again affect planted acreage.