Cotton – Southeast – A Tough And Unreliable Planting Season Winding Down – AgFax

    Cotton planting. ©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

    Pam Caraway, Contributing Editor

    Owen Taylor, Editor

    Here is this week’s issue of AgFax Southeast Cotton, sponsored by the Southern Cotton Team of Amvac Chemical Corporation.


    Cotton planters are exiting fields, mostly. On a wide basis, farmers either finished planting or gave up on their final acres. Some were able to work around rains, but others were caught short by too much rain in the wrong place and at the wrong time. This week, a slimmer number of farmers were still planting or replanting cotton. Some in the lower Southeast also will double crop cotton behind small grain harvest. But for many, a tough and unreliable planting season has come to an end.

    Cotton acres will be down in most areas. That’s not a surprise, considering the weak cotton market. Even before the pandemic, grower surveys pointed to lower plantings. But persistent rains and spurts of cold weather have taken an extra bite out of the final number, based on comments over the last two weeks.

    Dry conditions linger over parts of our coverage area. In a few places, growers are watering up cotton.

    Grasshoppers remain active in parts of the lower Southeast. Thrips pressure varies. This year, poor weather conditions slowed cotton growth, which made seedlings more susceptible to thrips activity. Treatments are going out as needed. Aphids are turning up in a few places.

    Peanut acres are up as farmers look for better economic footing. The main hitch with peanuts so far this year has been iffy seed quality. A couple of Midsouth crop consultants recently mentioned similar problems there.



    Phillip Roberts, Extension Entomologist, University of Georgia, Tifton

    “Our cotton is about 85% planted, and we will finish this week. We’re off to a good start. But depending on where you are, you’ve also faced some degree of challenges. As a whole, though, the month of May went along pretty well.

    “When planting finishes, the number of acres likely will be lower than what we expected going into this season, and we might be down more than 10%. We’re only going to plant so many peanuts, so some of those extra acres will go into soybeans or might not be planted at all.

    “Insect-wise, it’s pretty quiet. Thrips numbers leveled off. Aphids are showing up, but they aren’t heavy. A few oddball fields are under pressure from threecornered alfalfa hoppers (3CAH) and grasshoppers. In every field where 3CAH damaged the crop, the common denominator appears to incomplete burndown. When farmers planted in those fields, weed hosts were still holding those insects, and the insects moved onto the cotton. Let’s remember that when planting starts in 2021. Ideally, you want to see nothing but dead weeds when that planter starts running.

    “We’re behind a little on weed control, but we’ll catch up.”


    Ron Smith, Extension Entomologist, Auburn University

    “Cotton is in a wide range of stages, from still in the bag to pinhead square. The bulk of the acres are between first and fourth true leaf. Cotton is growing fast. We have warm temperatures and good moisture – although a little too much moisture in a few places.

    “I drove through Alabama, south Georgia and northwest Florida last week, and I saw plenty of peanut fields that were running way behind where they were this time last year. And I also didn’t see any cotton that was as far along as farmers would expect in late May.

    “We’re still dealing with pests, including thrips, grasshoppers and cutworms. One person called this week about slugs. I am slightly surprised we are still seeing problems with grasshoppers and cutworms. Whether to treat cutworms depends on damage and the age of the cotton.

    “Whether to treat grasshoppers is a tricky call. Generally, grasshoppers pose a risk up until the third or fourth true leaf, and cotton is at the highest risk from grasshoppers or cutworms during the seedling stage. If thrips are butchering the top two leaves, I recommend a foliar spray.

    “I envy my agronomy and weed science friends who don’t have to deal with issues that change every day.”


    Steve Bullard, CCA, BCT Gin Co., Quitman, Georgia

    “Everywhere you ride, the only thing you see are peanuts. Our peanut acreage numbers are growing and growing. The peanut expansion is coming out of cotton, of course, and our cotton acres could be down 25% to 30% this year.

    “We may need to add to our peanut handling equipment. Our peanut seed sales are up over 50% from 2019. Part of that buying is by people who usually save their seed. But this year they bought seed because they wanted to increase pest protection with a seed treatment.

    “We are having some trouble gaining cotton and peanut stands. The weather has been highly variable, and we can’t seem to slip into a happy medium. It’s either plenty wet or too dry. We have seen a little seedling disease in our cotton. In our peanut stands, we’re pretty skippy, either due to poor seed quality or because of heavy rain. In other areas, we can’t seem to get the rain.

    “We’re on schedule with our pest protection and our herbicide applications. We just need rain on the dry fields to activate herbicides.”


    Eddie McGriff, Regional Extension Agronomist, Northeast Alabama

    “Everybody is behind because of rain. We received about 4.5 inches in Cherokee County last week. All that forced cotton replants in some low areas where we didn’t gain a good stand. We need to plant soybeans now. The rain held up the start of wheat harvest, and we hope we don’t lose too much test weight because of that. It’s been a rough year for wheat, and we already had lost some acres to the wet winter.


    “We’re trying to go through and spray weeds. They’re bigger than usual because all this weather delayed herbicide work.

    “Despite the struggle with rain, we don’t want the water to turn off when we’ll need it most in June and July. We’re already close, in fact, to reaching our annual average rainfall, so we sure hope it’s not an average year for rainfall.

    “Cutworms are a little heavier this year, and pyrethroids are a good option. If you can spray close to dark, you’ll gain better control. That timing catches cutworms as they come out of the soil and climb up those seedlings.”


    Brandon Phillips, Phillips Ag Services, LLC, Fitzgerald, Georgia

    “We’ve planted 85% to 90% of our intended cotton acres and probably are at the 95% mark with peanuts. The acres left to plant are either too wet or they’re behind wheat or oats.

    “In our limited amount of mid-April cotton, we’re applying our first plant growth regulator (PGR). In about two weeks, we’ll come back with the first PGR applications on the bulk of the cotton acres. We are starting to sidedress nitrogen, as well.

    “Aphids are building on cotton that ranges from 5-leaf to pinhead square. Nothing looks like it needs to be treated yet. Thrips have gone away. At-plant applications are providing excellent early-season control of aphids and thrips.

    “A few plant bugs are showing up in pinhead square cotton in adjoining counties. Scouting reports are showing higher populations of plant bugs in corn. That’s concerning in my area because we have three times the acres of corn that we usually plant. Needless to say, we’ll scout hard for plant bugs this year.

    “We’re in the middle of putting out herbicides. We may have to hand-pull some problem fields. But if we can apply our herbicides this week, we should be okay. We are behind because of all the rain – or because we’re dry. Moisture depends on which field you’re talking about. On one side of Fitzgerald, we’re too wet. On the other side, we’re irrigating corn and watering up cotton.

    “Our peanuts range from just going in the ground to 45 days old. Herbicides are going out on peanuts and we’re starting fungicide programs. So far, disease pressure is low, although we are seeing a little aspergillus crown rot.

    “A lot of peanut farmers are frustrated because of their stands and it’s due to poor germination. This year, it isn’t one company’s problem, it’s an industry problem. I’ve seen issues with people who saved seed and with people who bought certified seed. This wasn’t really an unexpected problem. University of Georgia Extension warned about seed quality issues at the winter meetings, but a lot of farmers were complacent. The quality issue seems to be a result of weather conditions during the 2019 season.

    “UGA recommends 4 to 6 plants per row foot. We’re not hitting there. We’re putting out 175 lb/A of seed, spending $150 an acre for seed, and then only getting half of a stand. We’ve had to replant peanuts. Some farmers are going in right behind where we planted the first time and putting out another 100 lb/A to fill in the skips.”


    Scott Graham, Extension Entomologist, Auburn University

    “Thrips are pretty light in north Alabama. A couple of sprays have gone out, but they’re not as bad as they were last year. Grasshoppers continue to catch our attention. We are recommending 0.75 lb/a of acephate when the seedlings are just pushing through the soil. 

    “We have a few snail issues in south Alabama. The snails don’t feed on the plants. The biggest risk they pose is they cover up the plant and cause it to snap from their weight.

    “We are keeping a close eye on daisy fleabane because it hosts plant bugs, which is an important pest to watch as more of this cotton moves to pinhead square. Populations in daisy fleabane will give us an idea about the potential pressure we might expect in cotton. We’ve gone back and forth between cool and wet and hot and dry conditions, and that can influence daisy fleabane populations.”


    David Butcher, NC Ag Service, Inc., Pantego, North Carolina

    “It’s been very wet the last couple of weeks, and we’ve lost cotton in places. Some has been replanted, but we’re running out of time. Most of our cotton is between first true leaf and the fourth to fifth true leaf. We’re probably running 2 to 3 weeks behind where we were last year at this time. The cotton simply isn’t growing because it’s been cold and wet. We need warm and dry.


    “Our cotton acres will be down at least 10% from last year, maybe 20%. We’ll have a clearer idea after we figure out what was replanted. The fields that don’t make it into cotton will shift to soybeans. Corn varies from ankle high to waist high. It all depends on the drainage.

    “We’re mostly spraying for thrips in the cotton. We can find a few scattered kudzu bugs in some of our soybeans.”


    Jeremy Greene, Clemson University Entomologist, Blackville, South Carolina

    “We are in that period when insects tend to be quiet – roughly from the end of the early-season “thrips window” to first bloom. Thrips are winding down. A few are out there, mostly immatures that are appearing as the at-plant insecticides activity tapers off. Late applications of acephate could drive up spider mite populations. Also, grasshoppers are out and about, but they don’t seem to be causing any widespread losses.

    “As cotton approaches bloom, we need to scout closely for tarnished plant bug. The key window runs from two weeks before first bloom to two weeks after bloom. I suspect that’s when we face the most significant risk of plant bug damage in South Carolina. We will start surveying for tarnished plant bug soon – both in pre-bloom and post-bloom periods. Until we get to bloom, we’re just looking for a problem – and hoping we don’t find one.

    “We are in a beefed-up second year of trials for cotton leafroll dwarf virus, which aphids transmit. We are testing management options, determining the impact of spraying, looking at varietal differences and evaluating 15 different insecticides. We have a number of combinations in the ground for checking on this virus/vector issue. With this coordinated effort across the Southeast and Midsouth, we should have some answers at the end of this season.”


    Steve Brown, Extension Cotton Agronomist, Auburn University, Alabama

    “It’s good cotton growing weather, and with the warm temperatures, cotton is beginning to respond. It doesn’t quite feel like June yet, but we have some good looking cotton in spots across the state.

    “In Belle Mina, cotton has turned the corner. Around Tallassee, cotton looks good where growers treated aggressively for thrips. Near Selma, some acres suffered hail damage, then eight inches of rain fell, and then deer feeding started. Growers are looking for deer-proof cotton.”


    Guy Collins, Extension Cotton Specialist, North Carolina State University

    “Our cotton acres are going to be down – significantly down. A few folks are still struggling to plant, but most have thrown up their hands. The hard part about determining the number of acres is figuring out how much people replanted before they gave up.

    “We’ve had plenty of delays this this season and stop-and-go planting due to heavy rain and wet fields. All that is complicating management. We aren’t behind yet, but the delays are frustrating.  We can catch up if we have a week or two when we can consistently be in the field.

    “A lot of thrips applications and herbicide sprays are going out. Pay attention to thrips because our cotton is growing slowly. We have cotton that’s four to five weeks old and cotton that’s a week old, and they’re both about the same size.

    “The forecast says we’re moving into a fairly dry period with higher temperatures, so we expect this cotton to start growing soon.”

    AgFax Southeast Cotton is published by AgFax Media LLC
    Owen Taylor, Editorial Director.
    Working-Copy%5B1%5D.jpgThis weekly report is distributed during the cotton production season. It is available to United States residents engaged in cotton farming, field scouting and other qualifying ag professions. Mailing address: 142 Westlake Drive, Brandon, MS 39047. Office: 601-992-9488.
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