Texas Plains Cotton: Conditions All Over the Place, Growers Finally Able to ‘Stop Putting Out Fires’

Photo: Larry Stalcup, AgFax Southwest Cotton

General Status

This morning at the Plains Cotton Growers advisory board meeting, Shawn Holladay’s thoughts were shared about the situation. “We’re finally to a point where we can stop putting out fires, so to speak, and really begin managing this crop.”

When I thought on the subject, I have had that same conversation with our Plains Pest Management growers at least a dozen times this week, “We are finally at a point where we are not working to keep cotton alive and can start to manage it a bit.”

It is as close to impossible to try and cover this crop’s status with a description as I can recall. Crop status varies not by the region, county, or area, but by the field and sometimes even the yard. There are also some tough replant choices being made out there on failed acres, which we do not have to move far to find.

The reasons for the failed acres ranges from drought, hail, wind, flood, and disease. While this crop has been through a lot and our hard-working producers have been shuffling like zombies to keep up with pressing issues our surviving acres are not in bad shape.

We noted our first PPM scouting program’s cotton blooms this week on our oldest fields. Most other fields are not too far behind. While the July 4th target date for first bloom is a good goal to shoot for a July 20th deadline is much more realistic for most fields and most years. This range from July 20th to our average last effective bloom date of August 24th is still a very good window of effective blooming for profitable yields in West Texas.

Even the few fields that I can find that are not likely to meet this deadline I note to be our lower input fields that can rarely take full advantage of the full effective bloom window due to moisture restrictions.

If these lower input fields usually get dealt a smaller effective bloom window, does it matter very much if the window is shorter on the front end rather than the back? We will have to see what the fall brings before anyone will know with certainty, but from a heat unit and realistic yield expectations for these types of fields stand point, we should not expect major issues… hopefully.

Meanwhile, the pests are never completely quiet. We have started finding economic populations of fleahoppers in cotton, yellow sugarcane aphids in sorghum and mites in corn are increasing steadily, sorghum is still anxious about when and if the economic sugarcane aphids will arrive and we are bracing for fall armyworms and other Lepidopteran pests that are likely to immigrate from the South eventually.


This week our PPM cotton ranged from pinhead square up to 8.2 NAWF (nodes above white flower) with most fields coming in at ½ to ¾ grown square stage. Our earliest cotton fields are coming into first bloom with that bloom at the 7th – 9th node.

Herbicide Resistance Info

Most fields are only now able to be managed for any factor other than weeds, emergency irrigation, and ‘blow’ prevention or some other surprising or pressing similar factor.

Fertilizers are hurriedly being applied in a race to get the bulk of needed N out ahead of bloom and a few healthier and higher input fields are already in need of some plant growth regulator applications.

Fleahoppers were again spotty but did reach economic threshold in 4.1% of our PPM cotton fields this week. In these fields there were not enough beneficials to hold emerging fleahopper nymphs below threshold or had fleahoppers quickly move in field from preferred host destruction.

There were a few fields we were concerned about fleahoppers coming into this week where beneficials had a helpful impact on the fleahopper population. For our problem fields, an already higher than liked natural square drop had a sharp increase in fresh drop caused by fresh fleahopper feeding. These troubled fields had an increase in square drop of 8% – 12% this week alone.

Most fields improved in square drop this week with our fields ranging between 1.2% drop (98.8% retention) to 18.6% drop (81.4% retention) unless fleahoppers were an ET issue. In these cases drop increased to 21% – 29.7% drop with more damage to be incurred soon without treatment.

On the new Texas A&M AgriLife Cotton Fleahopper Guide is a list of fleahopper control products. This product list is backed by a 2016 efficacy Dr. Suhas Vyavhare conducted in one of our PPM Swisher fields last year. The link to the new Texas A&M AgriLife Extension cotton fleahopper guide is here.

We have started finding a few more Lygus in our fields, but the fleahoppers were the only pest of note this week.

Sorghum and Corn

Our youngest PPM corn is at V5 and oldest is at late blister stage. All of our pest focus is in the older corn as nothing of not was found in the younger. Our spider mite rating on our 0 -10 scale actually dropped to 0.38 thanks to the arrival of mite destroyer beetles that cleaned many of the colonies from developing into an issue. We are still not finding any Lepidopteran pests of note even in blistering corn this week.

Our early planted sorghum fields are in range from boot to bloom this week. This places these fields at risk of midge and headworms, but we found no issues with these pests yet. The yellow sugarcane aphids increased slightly for most fields and ranged between 0.5 and 3 on our 0-10 greenbug damage rating scale, which is still below ET for these fields.

Our youngest fields ranged in stage around V5 with some noted very light FAW feeding but no serious pests of note. All stages of our sorghum are on high alert for the sugarcane aphid, but none have been found in our fields and I have no reports of any found in Hale, Swisher, or Floyd yet. Reports from the South indicate a much lighter year for SCA in sorghum there.

Moth catches for bollworms took a slight increase this week but are still hardly significant compared to populations decades ago for July. FAW numbers were down with weather being considered a factor in egg survival.

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