Louisiana cotton, corn need rain

In mid-spring, rains have been too plentiful in some regions of the Mid-South. Louisiana is not one of them.

John Kruse, the new LSU AgCenter corn/cotton specialist in 2010, says Louisiana has been dry for several months, forcing some producers to begin irrigation early and others to reconsider planned acreage.

Kruse, who came to LSU from the University of Georgia, spoke with Delta Farm Press on May 7. Among his comments:

Bring us up to speed on the moisture situation in Louisiana. I understand it’s been dry down there…

“That’s right. Those farther up the Mississippi River will probably have a hard time imagining the situation here — it’s just really, really dry.

“A few farmers already had to start watering corn over a week ago. That’s pretty rare for Louisiana at this time of year and the fact it is happening is a bit of a concern. Like always, we’re hoping for some timely rain here, quickly.

“Corn is mostly up at the V-3/V-4 stage. Unless folks have irrigated, it’s starting to curl a little.

“Generally, there’s a real difference between cotton that’s north of I-20 and cotton that’s south of I-20.

“The farther north in Louisiana you travel the more timely rains they’ve had. Cotton there is a little further along, is emerged and doing pretty well.

“Cotton growers south of I-20, in the central swath of the state, have had to stop planting. Now, they’re waiting for more rain before they plant. It’s so dry some growers are talking about possibly abandoning cotton plans and going with soybeans.”

Any concerns that particular switch may lead to nematodes and black root rot?

(For more on problems in Arkansas, see http://deltafarmpress.com/soybeans/soybeans-black-root-rot-0426/index.html and http://deltafarmpress.com/soybeans/root-knot-nematodes-soybeans-0426/index.html.)

“Those are issues to be concerned about. Some of that depends on where you’re located. The Macon Ridge is a bit tougher ground to farm. Nematodes can certainly be a problem in lighter soils. In heavier soils, nematodes are less of an issue but soil-borne diseases can be a concern for late-planted crops.”

Has the planting season been dry throughout or have the rains stopped just in the last few weeks?

“Back in January/February, it was very wet and cold in Louisiana. In fact, many growers believed that late burndown would translate to late planting. Everyone worried there would be a cascade of events.

“Then, by late February, growers were able to start burndown programs on a timely basis. The first week of March had dried down enough that growers were planting. Most growers got corn in the ground inside the optimum planting window.

“But then the rains shut off. March was drier than February and April was drier than March. Now, May is drier than April and we’re continuing this unwelcome trend. That’s true more for the central part of the state than the northern part, where timely rains have made the difference.”

Weed control in the current environment?

“Just about the time everyone began worrying burndown wouldn’t work properly, the weather changed. For 90-plus percent of growers, they were able to get burndown done well.”

Some acreage may switch to soybeans but what was the planned acreage of cotton?

“The March estimate of USDA expected Louisiana growers to plant about 200,000 acres. That would be down from 2009’s 230,000 acres.

“Most of the northern Louisiana cotton growers were able to get their cotton in. The central part of the state, where the balance of the cotton is grown, has been less successful. Of the whole cotton crop, probably two-thirds has been planted by now. The third left is likely concentrated in the central part of the state.

“As for how many will abandon cotton for soybeans? I couldn’t tell you. It really depends on when we get the next rain.”

What about corn acreage?

“In 2009, Louisiana had around 620,000 acres of corn. From anecdotal evidence and reports I’ve seen, that amount should be consistent for 2010. Acreage may be down 5 percent or so from last year as some growers may have switched to rice or soybeans.

“Initially, there was a lot of talk across the Cotton Belt that a lot of corn acres would switch back to cotton in 2010. But Louisiana growers took a different approach.

“In my opinion, that’s because the two previous growing seasons have been very frustrating for (Louisiana) cotton. First, Hurricane Gustav tore up the cotton crop in 2008. Then, last year, growers were heading towards harvest with very good cotton. But it began raining and never let up and a lot of growers’ yield and quality suffered.

“Two years in a row of hard times with cotton means there was less optimism about jumping back into cotton. They’re a little gun-shy.”

Research initiatives?

“There are some things that are early in the pipeline. This is my first year as the cotton/corn specialist for the LSU AgCenter and I’m still getting my feet on the ground and learning the issues that are of concern to growers.

“I will say that a lot of folks, with a loud and clear voice, want answers on fertility in corn. Louisiana has historically been a very strong cotton state. But in the last five years or so, we’ve gone from slightly less than 800,000 cotton acres down to around 200,000. That’s a drastic drop in cotton acres.

“A lot of those cotton acres shifted to corn and these growers want to optimize their corn crops. There’s a general sense amongst them that they aren’t doing everything they can. So corn fertility is definitely high on my to-do list.

“For cotton, there’s a lot of interest in nutrient issues. Growers want to optimize nitrogen because it’s a large expense. But the questions from cotton growers are more broad-based. I’ve been asked about PGR work, for example.

“Overall, my focus will be on nutrients, irrigation and some factors related to soils. My background is as a soil scientist and I want to study some things from a soil chemical point of view — crusting and other issues.”

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TAGS: Cotton
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