UNPREDICTABLE PLANTING PROJECTIONS
We had expected a large drop in cotton acreage in Missouri for 2013 because of the corn, soybean and wheat prices. When the National Cotton Council’s Planting Intentions report was announced on Feb. 8, Missouri had the smallest percentage drop in the Mid-South with 31.6 percent. The projection is for us to drop from 350,000 to 239,000 acres. This is much less than the 500,000 acres planted in 2006. However, a lot can happen prior to planting.
Our projection was 400,000 last year, and we were not able to get the fields planted due to the drought. The good news for now is that we finally have good moisture levels in the fields and water in the ditches. According to the Drought Monitor for Feb. 5, our entire cotton growing area has lost its abnormally dry status. While driving around in Dunklin and Pemiscot Counties, I saw water standing in the middles. Still, we also had plenty of moisture at this time in 2012.
Even under drought conditions last year, the USDA is projecting a yield of 1,033 pounds in Missouri for 2012. Our irrigation potential helps us to overcome the extreme moisture deficits. We expect that the resistant pigweed populations will continue to be a challenge for our producers this year. During the fall, I was expecting herbicide carryover for this season. I still recommend taking soil samples and planting broadleaf seeds to see if there is crop injury before planting the entire field.
PLANTING DECISIONS UNCERTAIN IN SE
This has been a winter of indecision for many producers wondering what to plant in the Southeast. Cotton prices have risen some and will help keep acreage close to what was planted last year. With no contracts for peanuts, some producers are looking at the possibility of corn and soybeans, but little infrastructure is left of what we had at one time.
Many of our cotton producers have been making very good yields with the new varieties, and there is a lot of new technology coming along that will help with weed and insect control. Many producers have made the best yields ever over the last three to four years, proving that companies have made advances in breeding high-yielding varieties that do well across many environments.
Producers need to be concerned about root-knot nematodes in cotton and using better rotations as many of the fields that I visited in 2012 had potassium deficiency that was the result of nematodes feeding on root systems. Rotations with peanuts will help while soybean rotations may make the problem worse. Plan ahead to ensure that future crops have the best environment for making high yields.
PRECIPITATION DELAYS FARM OPERATIONS
The rain has continued to fall throughout Louisiana in February, adding to an already saturated soil. We are appreciative of the aquifer recharge, but at some point enough is enough. Let’s save some of this precipitation for July and August. The excessive wet weather has us concerned about our fertility programs and weed control.
Every sunny day sees our aerial applicators busy with winter burndown operations, but we are concerned that we may not be able to effectively eliminate some maturing weeds. Producers who conducted fall burndown operations are giving themselves a deserved pat on the back. Weeds such as henbit are particularly worrisome since they are especially difficult to control when mature, and they serve as a green bridge for a variety of arthropod pests such as spider mites, plant bugs and a number of caterpillar species.
Wet weather is also delaying fertilizer applications such as phosphorus and potassium, but we still have some time before we plant, starting around mid-April. We are wrapping up the last of our production meetings, finalizing seed selection and making what we hope are the final repairs to our tractors and implements before taking to the field.
PREPARING FOR THE 2013 SEASON
Although Georgia’s statewide cotton acreage is projected to decrease in 2013, there is still substantial optimism for cotton in southwest Georgia. Many producers in this area are suggesting that their cotton acreage will remain stable, and some are actually indicating that they will slightly increase their cotton acreage. The reasons vary, but these decisions are most commonly a result of the intended reductions in peanut acreage and the recent increase in cotton prices (as of mid-February).
Competition with corn and beans is certainly a reality. But this varies widely from region to region and producer to producer. A lot can happen between now and planting time. However, the outlook for cotton remains positive.
Much of Georgia’s Cotton Belt was blessed with significant rains in mid-February, replenishing ponds and soil moisture. Hopefully, this will continue into planting to give our producers a good start. Many producers have made their variety decisions by this point, but it is still important to consider the most yield-limiting factor in some fields, as some of these factors may influence which variety to plant.
Although water is the most common yield-limiting factor (in which variety response to episodic stress may influence variety decisions), nematodes have become more of a problem in some fields due to the loss of Temik.
MAKE A CHECKLIST FOR FINAL PREPARATIONS
For many with too many irons in the fire, the easiest way to keep up with all you have to do is through lists. Given that March has arrived, you should be going through your final checklist to prepare for the upcoming growing season. Equipment maintenance was likely one of the first things on the list, particularly for those of you with grains who will be headed to the field when this issue of Cotton Farming arrives in your mailbox.
Variety selection decisions have been made although they may undergo some last-minute adjustments. In addition, pest management plans should have been discussed although they are subject to change, depending on presence or absence of specific pests.
The variable that is most difficult to plan for is the weather. With the unpredictability of the weather, keeping some cotton in your cropping mix may pay dividends when fall arrives. Mississippi has been blessed with bountiful harvests for the past few seasons. However, adverse weather conditions can have a substantial impact on crop performance, particularly where irrigation is not an option.
There is no question as to why cotton acres are declining; however, if the weather doesn’t cooperate in 2013, you may be thankful that you decided to plant a portion of your crop to cotton.
PLANNING FOR A DRY YEAR
Cotton producers in the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend of Texas are quickly approaching their typical planting date for cotton. These regions received some rain since the beginning of 2013, but planting moisture and deep soil profile moisture are quite limited. Cotton acres are expected to drop substantially in the RGV, but to a lesser degree in the Coastal Bend.
The Upper Gulf Coast and portions of the Blacklands received some good rains this year, and the soil profile is in good shape for this time of year. The largest percentage drop in cotton acres is expected in these two production regions as producers shift to various grain crops. In the Rolling Plains, a substantial amount of wheat was planted behind failed cotton, and this wheat crop has received sufficient rain to keep it alive to this point.
Producers are still weighing several factors on planting cotton versus sorghum, but many expect much more sorghum in the Rolling Plains.
On the bright side of reduced cotton acres, the shift to more grain acres will provide producers with a great opportunity to manage problematic weeds and glyphosate-resistant weeds with different herbicide chemistries at preplant, preemergence and postemergence applications. Additionally, crop rotation research has consistently shown yield advantages to rotating crops, whether from breaking the life cycle of key pests or other benefits with soil health.
For those producers who have postponed selecting their cotton varieties for 2013, information on both large-plot and small-plot cotton variety trials can be found at www.cotton.tamu.edu. Also, two new publications on managing weeds in cotton can be found on the same Web page.
BIG DECISIONS AWAIT PRODUCERS
It was a long four weeks of harvest, but I’m feeling pretty good right now. With warm weather quickly approaching and soil temperatures beginning to creep up to acceptable levels, we will begin to see planters in fields across Arizona. In fact, in some areas of western Arizona, planters are already busily at work placing seed in the ground.
When to plant can be a challenging decision. Some areas of the state have time constraints on the back end of the season that necessitate early planting in order to get cotton out of the field in time for other fall crops to be planted in a timely fashion. In some areas of the state, producers are attempting to capitalize on the long growing season to produce a true, full-season cotton crop planted in early March and not harvested until late December.
Other areas of the state have reduced seasons due to higher elevations and cooler temperatures. In order to maximize the crop production cycle, an early planting is preferred to avoid any damaging frost that may come early in the fall. Regardless of the reason for getting “in” early, care should still be taken in order to obtain a healthy and vigorous start to the season.
Seed costs and other production costs make it economically dangerous to perform the task of planting any more than one time. Research conducted over the years at the University of Arizona has demonstrated the importance of having adequate soil temperatures to encourage strong seedling emergence and avoid early season seedling diseases. A favorable five-day
weather forecast and minimum soil temperatures at four inches of 60 to 65 degrees are recommended as optimum planting conditions. Soil temperatures in the range of 55 to 60 degrees are marginal and below 55 degrees is likely to result in slow germination and increased probabilities of seedling disease and poor stands.
In most cases, your patience will be rewarded by waiting for a cold front to pass or the chance of a rain shower to pass prior to planting. A simple meat thermometer can be used to measure soil temperature right in the field on your farm. Also, Dr. Paul Brown maintains the University of Arizona’s Meteorological Network (AZMET) at cals.arizona.edu/azmet that tracks soil temperatures in a wide variety of locations across the state. This information is free and available along with an actual planting forecast for all the cotton producing regions of Arizona, so check it out.
COTTON ACRES REDUCED IN NORTH ALABAMA
With record cotton yields in Alabama in 2012, it seems strange to be predicting a sharp decline in cotton acres in Alabama in 2013. The largest percentage of cotton reduction will be in the northern third of the state where acreage could be reduced by 50 percent. Rotations to wheat, corn and soybeans are possible for most farmers in this area.
The profit potential for these crops is outshining cotton this year. Cotton acreage in the rest of the state will be down, but the percentage loss will be much less than northern Alabama. Many of the sandy soil acres in the southern part of the state are in a peanut-cotton rotation. Predicted reduction in peanut acres in 2013 may actually help maintain cotton acres in this part of the state in 2013. Final cotton acreage numbers in Alabama are still a question at this time and may largely depend on planting conditions for corn this spring.
CAN VIRGINIA DUPLICATE 2012 CROP?
The 2012 growing season was a record book year for cotton production in Virginia. Ample rainfall and a quiet hurricane season produced an average yield exceeding 1,100 pounds per acre. The only negative to beginning a career in cotton during 2012 is that it may very well be the best I experience during my career.
High yields remove more nutrients than lower yields, and soil sampling during the early spring will help prevent any nutrient deficiencies. Potassium leaching on sandy soils is also a concern given the high rainfall totals for 2012. To prevent potassium deficiency for the 2013 growing season, I encourage producers to do some soil sampling – especially fields containing sandier soils. Virginia Tech offers free soil analyses to commercial producers as well as soil test recommendations. Maintaining adequate soil nutrient levels is essential to achieve yield goals.
As producers gear up to plant, selecting the proper variety will be critical to achieve yield goals for 2013. Proven varieties continued to lead the pack in the 2012 Virginia OVTs and county variety strip trials; however, 2013 will see the introduction of several new varieties with a wide range of traits beneficial to Virginia producers. I look forward to working with our producers in 2013 and hope we have yields similar to 2012.
SPREADING PLANTING DATES IS AN OPTION
Cotton planting season is coming soon, and we probably need to rethink the timing of cotton planting, particularly since many producers are planning to reduce cotton acreage this year. I think we would all agree that planting several varieties is a good way to manage risk.
If we knew what weather was in store for 2013, we could all probably pick one variety and do well. We don’t know the weather, so planting various varieties helps manage risk associated with unknown weather.
Spreading the planting date is similar. If we knew the weather ahead of time, we could pick a short planting window. The best planting date varies from year to year. Therefore, spreading our planting dates over a reasonable period helps manage risk similar to utilizing multiple varieties.
Data in North Carolina suggest that we should not start plant-ing before we get a five-day window that will accumulate at least 25 DD60s (higher is better, of course), and we should plan to conclude planting by May 25. Early planted cotton will be more subject to thrips damage, and thrips damage can result in a maturity equal to cotton planted a week or two later. Planting from May 25 through June 5 will often result in slightly reduced yields, whereas planting after June 5 is risky – especially if there is no moisture to obtain a quick stand.