Resilience In Missouri

By Andrea Jones
Portageville, Mo.

Missouri had many agricultural adversities in 2013. Due to the temperatures and the ability to accumulate enough DD60s to produce a mature crop, cotton is grown in five counties in the Missouri Bootheel.

Having said that, Missouri cotton acres were down 31 percent from 2012 – largely due to improved grain prices. The weather in April and the first part of May was cold and wet. The soil temperature didn’t reach above 60 degrees until May 10. Cotton planting opened full throttle on May 10 despite starting nearly three weeks late. We received 4.5 inches of rainfall from May 21 to May 31. The 4.5 inches of rain prevented cotton acres from being planted after May 21. Therefore, a majority of planting was from May 10 through May 21. The temperatures were below average in June and July, resulting in DD60s being lower than previous years.

We also faced harsh conditions such as weed and insect pressure. Much like other states, Missouri fought both weed and insect resistance. Thrips had to be sprayed an average of three times, and plant bug applications averaged nine spray applications.

The 5.5 inches of rain in August didn’t help circumstances. That said, the late rain accompanied by standing water and cloudy days facilitated a heavy fruit shed leaving virtually no top crop.

Tough decisions made this past fall included: Do we continue irrigating past the Aug. 15 termination date to push the late crop further along? Do we continue to spray for plant bugs so late in the season? Do plant growth regulators really cause earliness, and, if so, should we still make applications? Should we defoliate early to shut down the crop even if the crop is only 20 percent open? We had a freeze in mid-October, and some folks hadn’t defoliated, and others had only the desiccant applied but no boll opener. The question in this scenario was, what did the freeze do to green bolls that hadn’t opened? Will the freeze only affect the top bolls or all of the bolls? If we thought we had the answer to each of those questions, the combination of those dilemmas really made all of us scratch our heads!

After all these hardships, Missouri had a late harvest, resulting in a decent crop. The USDA estimated Missouri’s yield at 976 pounds per acre. Being in this area, I’ll tell you that the crop was really good or really bad. The southern counties, Pemiscot and Dunklin, had above-average yields and some record-breaking yields. Farther north in the Bootheel, the yields declined. All in all, 2013 was a productive year.

In my opinion, the future of Missouri cotton is favorable. Cotton producers are here to stay. The Missouri cotton farmer has always shown resilience and bounc-ed back after trying years. We have so many assets on our side. Water is plentiful for irrigation, and we pride ourselves not only in yield but also supplying the best quality.

2013 is behind us, and we look forward to a productive 2014 cotton season. At the University of Missouri, I look forward to conducting variety trials to help producers find the best varieties in this fast-changing industry; however, that aspect makes variety selection tougher than ever. I also look forward to conducting on-farm studies to help improve water-use efficiency, seed treatment for early season insects, nematode control and nitrogen management.

I have always thought that Missouri cotton production might be the best kept secret in the Cotton Belt. A lot of folks in our state know about the quality of the cotton we produce. But, in addition to that quality, we have the aforementioned resilience to survive the challenges of each season.

Let’s look ahead and continue this momentum.

Good luck in the coming year!

– Andrea Jones, Portageville, Mo.

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