Specialists Speaking - January 2009
Technology: Vital For ‘09
Missouri cotton producers would really be hurting if it were not for improved technology. Boll weevil eradication has certainly affected our cotton production in Missouri with about a five dollar return for every dollar invested. The program has reduced insecticide costs and increased yield. The maintenance phase is even more economical.
I can remember what farming was like with only conventional cotton varieties. Now about 98 percent of the cotton varieties grown in Missouri contain herbicide-resistant traits, insecticidal traits for the heliothine complex or both. It won’t be long before we have multiple herbicide-resistant stacked genes. However, the technology does have a dark side with marestail, Palmer amaranth and Johnsongrass having glyphosate resistance.
The technology has definitely improved with cotton seed treatments. Producers can now reduce spray applications due to the available control for many of our early season pests. Seed treatments have certainly had an impact on moderate levels
GPS has changed things on the cotton farm. Aerial applicators can do a better job of spraying. We have remote sensing and other tools available. Two years ago, I had a request from our Extension nematologist to take samples and, if possible, to get a GPS location. I told him that our Extension agronomists were using them. The new picker/module builder also eliminates the need for module builders, boll buggies and tractors.
There are many decisions for producers to make before planting in 2009. With cotton and input prices being so widely different, it will be hard for most producers to see a lot of profit in 2009. However, considerations such as rotations for other crops and impact on yield and value of those crops should be considered.
Cotton is an excellent rotation for peanuts and fits well in rotations with corn. Peanuts and soybeans do not make a good rotation, but cotton and corn fit well into a rotation with soybeans. It is best to have corn planted after soybeans in this rotation and then follow it with cotton.
Producers will have a major adjustment in varieties in Florida for 2010 and should start looking at the newer ones in 2009. About 95 percent of the cotton in Florida was one variety for several years, and it has been a high-yielding variety with wide adaptability. Things changed from the fall of 2007 to 2008, and they are changing again. So don’t count cotton out but be prepared to grow a high-yielding crop as cheaply as possible.
Now that Christmas has come and gone, and hunting season is drawing to a close, the task of growing food and fiber will soon be at hand once again. Although we have just christened a new year, there are several very important decisions that need to be made relatively soon. The first of which is deciding what crop you’ll grow in 2009. Some have already made this decision while others are waiting to see what the markets hold prior to deciding what to plant. It is universally accepted that cotton acres in Mississippi will decline for the third year in a row; however, to what magnitude they decline is yet to be determined.
Variety selection is another very important decision that needs to be carefully considered. Everyone knows that 2009 is the final season for varieties containing single gene insect protection. As a result, nearly 40 percent of the varieties planted in Mississippi in 2008 contained dual gene insect protection compared to only 14 percent in 2007. Many varieties containing this technology performed very well in yield trials in 2008 and deserve a look.
It is often said, for good reason, that variety selection is one of the most important decisions a cotton farmer will make for the entire growing season. The variety and associated traits in that variety set the stage for harvest at the time of planting. With that being said, the highest proportion of input costs associated with a production decision is usually invested on the day of planting. All other input decisions become supplemental after the variety is selected.
Just how much effect does a variety actually have on crop performance? One of the best sources of information for variety performance is the university official variety trials or OVTs. If one considers a “what if” scenario – that is, if a variety is planted that is not one of the top five highest yielding ones in the OVTs – what will be the likely outcome?
As one example, at one location in the Louisiana OVTs during 2008 the top five varieties averaged a yield of 1,254 pounds of lint per acre. The middle five varieties yielded 1,086 and the lowest five varieties yielded 924 pounds of lint per acre. The OVTs attempt to minimize, as much as practical, variation among varieties from outside stresses and allow the cotton varieties to perform at their highest genetic potential.
What will the Arkansas cotton acreage be in 2009? This is the most popular question by far as we move into a new year full of questions and uncertainty. Questions concerning production costs, carryover stocks and the price of cotton in 2009 have many producers throwing their hands in the air. The good news is that certain inputs, such as diesel fuel and fertilizer, seem to be decreasing; however, commodity prices are decreasing as well.
Assuming something will be planted in 2009, producers will have to make difficult decisions on several key issues. The first and foremost will be which crop to plant and how to determine a good crop mixture.
In the past, producers have stayed with cotton through the good and the bad because more often than not cotton has paid the bills. Variety selection in 2009 will be more important than years past. This will be the last season that BG/RR will be available on a wide scale, and producers will have to do their homework to determine which variety will yield best on their farm.
It will be more important to try new varieties this year on small acreage to prepare for a technology shift in 2010.
The weather has already been unseasonably cold here in west Tennessee. Statewide cotton yields for Tennessee in ‘08 were the second highest in history. The problem was that we only planted about half of our average acreage. Barring a tremendous turnaround in demand and higher prices, I don’t foresee Tennessee producers planting many more acres in 2009.
When we have Extension meetings, I try to be optimistic about cotton and tell my producers that if they can be profitable with 65 to 69 cents per pound of lint return (loan +/- premiums and discounts, equities, counter cyclical payments and seed) then by all means plant cotton. If they cannot make a profit at those levels, they should consider growing another crop. These sound like harsh words coming from the one person at the university level who champions cotton production, but for cotton to come back in our area we need to have producers who are still in business.
Needless to say, cotton production is still interesting in the north Delta. Here’s to a productive and profitable 2009.
It it is difficult to place a dollar value on new technology, but as we begin to use new production practices, some savings may become more evident. New technology may present advantages of cost savings, time savings and/or making a specific operation easier or more convenient. The economy of scale is important as operations increase in size, and investments have the potential to be spread over more acres, but at some point the time required for routine management decisions becomes a limiting factor.
Techniques, such as use of transgenic cotton varieties or utilization of precision farming techniques, can remove some of the pressure of having to make timely day-to-day decisions that must be made.
If transgenic properties of cotton varieties help us spend less time with worm or weed control, more time can be spent on other parts of the operation.
As Alabama’s cotton crop began to be defoliated and picked, I started to have a feeling I had underestimated the yield potential of this year’s crop. After two very poor cotton crops, however, I did not want to become overly optimistic. Well, most yields are in and according to the latest estimate Alabama may average well over 800 pounds of lint per acre in 2008.
These yields will be very close to a state record. The question is what caused these high yields and why did no one, including myself, see this coming? Alabama generally received more rainfall in 2008, but we were still well below average rainfall in most areas.
Even though most of the cotton in Alabama is grown without irrigation, I did note this year that most of the upper bolls seemed better developed than normal.
Some of the possible reasons we made high yields in 2008 include: 1) more rotations, reducing nematode problems, 2) fewer cotton acres but on better soils, 3) late rainfall from hurricanes in July and August, 4) better new cotton varieties or 5) lower night temperatures increased yields.
The truth is probably a combination of several of the above factors. But the one factor that remains true is to never underestimate the yield potential of cotton and its ability to recover. I had to learn this again for myself in 2008.
With the 2008 cotton season behind us, it is time to make decisions for the 2009 season. Many of these decisions can be made during the cold winter months. A representative pre-season soil sample from a management area can provide a basis for planning a 2009 nutrient management plan. A significant amount of work has been performed in Arizona to develop and validate soil fertility and testing guidelines for Arizona cotton.
This work has resulted in critical soil test levels for Arizona cotton. These critical values can be found at the Web site listed below.
Accurate soil test values can help to determine whether a particular nutrient will be needed in the form of supplemental fertilizer – thus helping to increase the efficiency with respect to fertilizer applications while supplying the crop with sufficient quantities of a particular nutrient for proper growth and development. Soil test levels above the critical value indicate a low probability of a positive crop response to fertilizer applications of that nutrient. For soils that test lower than the indicated critical level for that nutrient, research has indicated a high probability of a positive yield response to fertilization with that nutrient.
For more detailed information on this topic and others relating to cotton management practices in Arizona, interested parties can visit http://cals.arizona.edu/crops/cotton/cotton.html.
As we move into 2009, plenty of difficult decisions will have to be made. Cotton prices and input costs have a lot of producers concerned, and for good reason. The fall rains across the High Plains were substantial enough to result in good sub-soil moisture in many areas for the 2009 crop. Although fertilizer prices have moderated – as have most energy-intensive inputs for now – the need for a sound fertility management program exists.
We encourage producers to acquire good soil samples and submit those to a soil testing laboratory as soon as possible. In the High Plains, we still need to focus on the basic nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, zinc and sometimes potassium. Our soils are generally high enough in potassium to produce high- yielding crops.
We have a lot of sub-surface drip irrigated fields that are sandy, so be on point there. Generally speaking, we really need to focus our attention on nitrogen and phosphorus. Some fields that have had high phosphorus fertilizer, compost or manure applications over several years may not necessarily need a lot of that nutrient. Banding phosphorus helps considerably in our soils.
Nitrogen is important, and as I have noted in Extension meetings across the area, I think we need to take a hard look at residual nitrogen deeper in the soil profile. We are planning to provide good information during winter meetings for our producers to ponder. We need to fine-tune management as we have never done before, especially as it relates to fertilizer applications.
It’s my gut feeling that cotton acres won’t take a huge drop. Let’s face it. We are set up to grow cotton with pickers, gins and the rest of the infrastructure. Despite droughts, tropical storms and early freezes, it looks like it might be a record yield in ‘08. Your crystal ball is as good as mine for predicting fertilizer prices. However, personally, I am optimistic that we have seen the last of the record-high fertilizer prices.
Variety selection will be crucial since this is the last year for our main variety that’s been planted on 85 percent of our acreage. It’s time to look ahead and learn as much as possible about what we’ll plant in 2010. Only time will tell, but I think cotton will always have a home in Georgia.