Specialists Speaking - November 2008
Big Decisions Ahead In '09
Missouri cotton producers have been blessed this year with better weather conditions than last year. With the rainfall during the spring and some timely rains during the season, we were never in a drought situation. However, many non-irrigated fields and field corners did not do well because it was so dry. We were also very lucky that we had minimal losses due to the winds of Hurricane Ike.
The USDA projection in
the October Cotton and Wool Report is now at 1,048 pounds per acre,
which is much better than most of us expected earlier in the year.
We should end the year with 307,000 acres. This is almost 200,000
acres less than two years ago.
According to the Oct. 12 Missouri Crop Progress and Condition Report, we are 20 days behind last year and four days behind normal with only 37 percent of the crop harvested.
As producers are finishing harvest, they are making their plans for next year. Although many producers are making better-than-average yields, the costs for production have also increased. The potential for weed resistance to glyphosate is certainly on most producers’ minds. We are most concerned about horseweed and Palmer amaranth resistance in southeast Missouri.
As weed resistance problems grow, we will need to stay on top of the resistant weeds and get them out of the field before harvest. “Big weeding” will be part of our weed control strategy.
Agriculture is in a time of transition. Producers have to make decisions on what crops to plant in the midst of uncertainty in what their costs will be. Crop costs are being loaded on the front end in many cases with higher seed and technology costs, which puts more risks on the farm from unexpected droughts, storms and pests later in the season.
Ten year forecasts call for less cotton acreage. However, cotton and peanut for the Southeast are the most drought-tolerant of the row crops normally grown in Coastal Plains soils. Producers should consider cotton, peanut, grass and cattle on the droughty soil types since these crops do well most years even without irrigation. Likewise, cover crops can be used for cattle feed during the winter months when rainfall is not limiting, and conservation tillage planting methods work well for cotton after cattle grazing.
Some of our systems’ data show that cattle help to recycle nutrients, especially nitrogen, and that less nitrogen is needed on cotton to make top yields. Yields were shown to be higher when cattle are in the system prior to cotton due to more nitrogen being available in the root zone, and cotton plants have a higher nitrate concentration during the fruiting period.
Where cover crops are used and not grazed, low amounts of nitrogen need to be used to gain substantial growth from the cover crops. We have found that cover crops will degrade slowly and release nitrogen to the crop during the season, resulting in less nitrogen being applied on cotton and less growth regulator since the release is slowly available to the cotton crop.
My good friend and fellow UGA Cotton Team member Phillip Roberts says I should title my contribution this month “Lessons Learned From a Cotton Picker.” And he’s right. The cotton picker seat is a great vantage point to grade your crop before it even gets to the gin.
How good a crop you make this year can start right now. I know it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of harvest, rushing to get all your cotton out of the field on time. But if you can slow down just enough to make some mental notes, or better yet, write them down, it may go a long way to making a better crop next year. Especially make a note of poor areas in fields, with short stalks and low yield. Take note of bad weed infestations and even make “weed maps” to concentrate on later.
Of course it’s easy to tell when you get into “high cotton,” when the seeds are pinging heavy on the metal shoots. Why is it better in those areas? What did you do different? Or is it just a better soil? Speaking of soil, it’s not too early to be thinking about taking soil samples for nematode and nutrient analysis. In fact, right after harvest is the best time to take nematode samples.
Hopefully, all the cotton is in and ginned as you’re reading this article. The process never ends for a cotton farmer. You have to make decisions on whether you’ll plant cotton and how much you will plant given commodity prices and futures outlooks.
One of the decisions you will be making soon is variety selection. Probably many of you will wait until the spring to decide how much cotton to plant. Producers should use this time to evaluate variety performance on their farm and gather other sources of variety comparisons. Don’t forget to make the most use of your own farm data in terms of yield and fiber quality.
This is also a good time to go out and evaluate your tillage system. If you are in no-till on soils with hard pans and believe that cotton roots are following old root channels into the subsoil, evaluate the situation. Go out and pull/dig cotton roots. Are the roots growing down through the hard pan or are they turning sideways at the top of the hard pan? Some areas had timely enough rains that root development may have not been that important this year. Others of you had enough drought that improper root development could have been costly this year.
Cotton harvest has progressed rapidly in Alabama this season due, in large part, to the reduced acre-age. It has been a busy year with many farmers harvesting crops of cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans in one season. This has stretched many producers with very little time between harvesting the various crops.
While these many crops make it great for crop rotations, there are also many challenges. The first thing you must consider is whether there are any cropping restrictions based on the herbicide program you used this season. This may limit your crop rotation choices.
Possible disease and insect problems must be considered, and this is why in Alabama we are generally discouraging farmers from planting wheat after wheat. Instead of planting cover crops of wheat or rye for no-till cotton, farmers will be planting cotton into residue from wheat, soybeans and corn.
At this writing, most Alabama farmers are still unsure about their plans for next year.
As we move into Nov-ember, cotton harvest is approximately 75 percent complete and many are ready to put this season into distant memory. The USDA has forecast another record yield for Arkansas at 1,125 pounds of lint per acre. If this yield is realized, it will be the most remarkable comeback in the history of cotton production. Many cotton producers in Arkansas watched as their record crop deteriorated during the rain and wind in the months of August and September.
Will Arkansas have another record cotton crop? I certainly hope so. However, realistically from most reports it appears that the average Arkansas cotton yield will be just that – average.
The 2008 Mississippi cotton crop is extremely variable in terms of when it will be harvested. Harvest is well underway or completed in some areas of the state and not yet begun in others. Generally speaking, harvest in the south Delta is nearing completion; however, significant yield losses due to hardlock and boll rot (in some cases a bale or more) have been observed.
As you move farther north in the Delta, nearly all areas have received at least one defoliation application; however, some areas will need a follow-up application in order to remove stubborn leaves. Producers in the hills are completing defoliation applications; however, the harvest situation is similar to that of the Delta with some producers nearing completion with others that are not yet started.
As input costs continue to rise and profit margins become tighter, it has become more important than ever to remain informed on the latest research results and production recommendations. The 25th annual Cotton Short Course will be held at Mississippi State University on Dec. 1-2.
The event will feature speakers from Mississippi State University, USDA, as well as from surrounding institutions. If you’re interested, register at: http://msucares.com/crops/cotton/shortcourse08/index.html.
At the 2008 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Nashville, Tenn., I participated in a panel charged with the task of discussing the challenges and opportunities of the 2008 cotton season. At that time, we were facing record high fuel prices, and fertilizer prices were in the middle of a strong surge upward. The essence of my comments were that even though we were facing certain challenges, it was an opportunity to critically evaluate our production systems and see where we could become more efficient.
Over the course of the 2008 season I have seen producers implement innovative practices, some seemingly insignificant, that have helped them remain competitive and keep production costs down. Many of these practices involved reducing the number of trips over a field, combining fertilizer and PGR applications among other practices.
It is important to continue implementing those cost-reducing practices that were developed over the course of the 2008 production season and investigate ways to further reduce costs to remain competitive.
With water limitations and some difficult pest problems in parts of the San Joaquin Valley in 2008, we experienced a wide range of cotton yields and some reasons for dissatisfaction with the cotton situation for the year. This mixed-to-worse situation in 2008 followed a low pest, easier and higher yield year in 2007. So, it makes it seem even worse in many ways.
Part of the problem in many areas of the SJV was the mix of crops grown and proximity of cotton to other crops that made lygus control situations even worse. This resulted in a lot of variation in how the crop was produced, ranging from good overall fruit distribution in some areas to poor early set and heavy late maturing fruit set in others.
As you work through harvest numbers and evaluate performance of the 2008 crop across your fields, trying to make decisions about 2009 cropping plans that might include cotton, it may be more important than in the past to sort out production and field selection strategies. Are you going to target putting cotton into some of your weaker ground, or do you plan to put cotton mostly in stronger ground where you have a history of attaining high yields?
Let me offer an opinion. We still should broaden our thinking to evaluate production practice changes that could address water and production input costs. We should also monitor changing pest situations associated with cotton no longer being the dominant annual crop in many areas.