Mid-South update: Cotton crop turns corner, much already at cutout

Delta cotton has turned around. A few weeks ago, the thinking was that this could be a disastrous year for Delta cotton. Late planting dates, flooding in some areas and weather-ravaged, young cotton made the season's prospects appear dismal. Now, the current viewpoint of Delta Extension personnel on the cotton crop is generally positive.


“After the spring we had, I wouldn't be surprised if some cotton growers are still licking their wounds. Our cotton looked terrible. Thank goodness the weather turned in our favor,” says Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist.

Some of Arkansas' oldest cotton has already reached cutout. Robertson thinks the calendar might catch the state's youngest cotton. “It's going to be a close race to see if it'll reach NAWF 5 before our latest possible cutout date.

“Regarding yield, we're still in the hunt. Three weeks ago, I was in northeast Arkansas looking at cotton that was mostly first flower. I just knew that if we didn't get some rain and relief from high temperatures, those fields would be cutout in no time. But those fields got rain and, taken as a whole, July has been fairly mild.”

The big deal right now is tobacco budworms are giving non-Bt cotton “fits.” Farmers are even seeing budworms in the northern part of the state. There are reports that in some non-Bt fields, four applications to control budworms have been made.

“When you're fighting budworms you're spending a lot of money — $15 treatments plus application costs.”

Robertson says farmers also need to watch for stinkbugs. “I was in a field the other day that was sandwiched between a bayou and cornfield. It seemed like every boll we popped open had been fed on by stinkbugs. Folks need to start popping bolls and not just rely on shake sheets.”


“We started off with a horrible crop and it's made a wonderful recovery. Fruit retention looks fantastic. Overall, we're looking at a decent, although expensive, crop,” says Bobby Phipps, Missouri Extension cotton specialist.

Some of the state's crop is cutting out, although the crop is behind because of late planting.

“We got a lot of the rains up here that normally hit the Corn Belt but don't drop down into lower Delta states. This year, we were hit with quite a few. Fields around Sikeston certainly didn't miss many.”

But after the early rains, little moisture has fallen. Phipps says he's irrigating test plots and farmers all around are watering their fields. “We've had a lot of irrigation this summer and that's odd considering what the spring brought us.”

Another odd occurrence so far north is Missouri fields seeing an influx of tobacco budworms. Some insecticides are in short supply as numbers of unforeseen sprayings mount.

“In the south part of the Bootheel — around Hornersville — they're seeing a lot of budworms. We have a few plant bugs and mites and whatnot. But the budworms are on everyone's radar screen,” says Phipps.


Fruit retention has been extremely high across Louisiana and a “pretty good crop” has been set, says Sandy Stewart, Louisiana Extension cotton specialist. With a few exceptions, there aren't many fruiting gaps.

“Most people are fairly pleased with the way the crop looks — especially considering what we were looking at a few weeks ago. With the hot temperatures we get in August and into early September, once we see one open boll I think the rest will open very quickly,” says Stewart.

There are still dry areas in every region of the state. Some areas just seem snake-bit in not being able to catch afternoon showers, says Stewart.

But as a whole, “we've had just enough water fall to get us by. The crop in the southern half of the state looks better than fields further north. That's due to the fact that southern fields have gotten a few more rains. In the northeast part of Louisiana, there are more dry pockets.”

One thing that has helped Louisiana is insect pressure has been light. Farmers are spraying for tobacco budworms and bollworms, but that's not unusual.

“So far, we haven't had the huge moth flights we were worried about and plant bugs and stinkbugs have stayed quiet. Hopefully, this isn't the calm before the insect storm.”

It's been a surprise that the insect pressure has been so mundane, says Stewart. Entomologists suspected this would be a very bad year for pests and that hasn't materialized. “That can change overnight, though, and we need to keep a sharp eye out.”

Something Stewart has gotten calls on lately is late-season foliar or supplemental nitrogen applications. He thinks many of the questions are being asked because some of the cotton is taking on a yellow nitrogen-deficient look. To a large degree, that yellow hue is because of the heavy boll load plants are carrying.

“We also may not have as good a root system as we normally do because of early-season conditions. While some cotton may indeed be nitrogen-deficient, it needs to be remembered that there's only so much nitrogen you can get into a plant by flying on a foliar application of some dry material. At this point, since most of our cotton has reached cutout or is very close to it, I'd caution against that expense. In general, I don't think it'll be cost-effective in most situations.”


A lot of the Delta portion of the Mississippi crop has reached cutout, says Ann Ruscoe, Extension agent for Coahoma County. Some fields have reached that point prematurely because of dry conditions. However, in most areas fields got adequate moisture and should be able to finish the crop out without additional watering or rainfall.

“Actually, in some cases the recent rainfall — anywhere from 1.5 inches to 4.5 inches — may be detrimental to the crop,” says Ruscoe.

“Most of our growers are applying a great amount of Pix. This excess moisture we've gotten has resulted in a need to slow the plant down. Putting the brakes on the crop is more of a problem than anything else right now.”

Fruit setting has been good and insect pressure has leveled off. One thing Ruscoe will be watching for is a late-season flush of worms or plant bug infestation. Also, she has noted stinkbugs in other crops, “so we can expect to see them move into cotton a little later.”

It appears, at least in the far western part of the state, that “we have an average crop. Here's the thing, though: almost every year, we enter August looking really good. It's from August to harvest that tends to tell the tale for us. If we can just keep from stubbing our toe on something for these last few weeks, it should be a nice crop. A favorable fall is what we need.”


Tennessee's cotton is up and down. The state has some fields that look good and others that are spotty, says Chisholm Craig, Tennessee Extension cotton specialist. “It all depends on when a field got rains and when it was planted. We had a really wide planting window: from mid-April through June 21. As a result, we have a wide range of maturity and cutout is all over the place. We have cotton that hasn't started blooming and we have some that has cutout for 10 days. The majority of the state is pretty close to NAWF 6.”

This crop won't be any better than average, says Craig. “I don't think this crop, as a whole, will reach the yield levels we had last year. Some areas are doing well and will — but not the state overall. It all depends on whether or not you got timely rains and planted at a good time.”

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