Southeast Cotton: Hot and Dry Days Hit Hard

Thrips damaged cotton. ©Debra L Ferguson Stock Images

Karli Stringer, Contributing Editor

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

Welcome to the AgFax Southeast Cotton newsletter. This weekly crop report covers Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. We’re excited to have you onboard for AgFax’s 31st year of publishing crop newsletters.

This newsletter is a continuation of the legacy left behind by the AgFax founders, Owen Taylor and Debra Ferguson, who passed away in an automobile accident in December 2020. Their dedication to the integrity of these crop reports and the other AgFax newsletters was recognized across the nation in the ag media industry. Farm Journal is honored to continue the AgFax tradition.


The Southeast is experiencing extremely dry and hot conditions. Planting efforts have slowed or stalled as growers make decisions to risk planting in a dry spell or wait it out.

Thrips are, as expected, a topic of conversation across the Southeast after a cool and moist start to the planting season.



Ron Smith, Professor and Contract Researcher, Auburn University

“We think we’re about 75 percent done with planting, but we’re having to replant in northern parts of Alabama where we had a bad mixture of early planting, heavy rains and cold nights.

We’re still planting, but the soil has gotten dry over the last 10 days, and we aren’t sure if there is enough moisture for seeds to germinate.

“We’ve got some moderate thrips, more than what we’d expect for this time of year. All of the green vegetation around the fields is drying up, so the thrips go straight for our plants. So, we’re already doing some control spraying for thrips.

“We’ve gotten into a pretty sensitive situation because this weather has also brought in spider mites, and it’s pretty difficult to control thrips without flaring up spider mites.

“There is a tremendous snail problem in southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. We thought the snail problem was bad this year, but it looks like it is only getting worse. They don’t eat the plant, but they’ll weigh it down so much that it falls over and dies.”

Phillip Roberts, Extension Entomologist, Tifton, Georgia

“We’re about 65 to 70 percent planted, but the weather is giving us a hard time. It is very dry, and we’ve lost the moisture that we need to obtain a stand in most dryland acres. Some growers have decided to plant in the dry dirt and others are trying to wait for rain. What we do have planted looks like pretty good stands so far. The first half of May gave us adequate moisture to get going. Out here, we’re about 50 percent dryland and 50 percent irrigated, but I’d say everyone is wishing for rain this week.

“I would say 2021 has been a very normal year for thrips. Our cotton that was planted in April had moderate to high pressure, and we did have to supplement some seed treatments with a foliar spray. The cooler weather that we had for the early cotton just made a perfect scene for those thrips, but the later the cotton was planted, the less thrips we’re seeing. I’m expecting to see that from here on; seed treatments should be enough to control it.

“We’ve had an oddball this year. I’ve gotten several calls about the white margined burrower bug. These are little black bugs with a white line around the body. Most of these that we’re seeing are still immature, so we’re finding these black beetles with a red abdomen. For the most part, these are found in reduced tillage fields. They are a sucking insect that feed on seedlings, so you can usually spot them hanging out on the bottom of cotyledons. It usually takes a lot of these bugs to cause damage, but I’d still suggest keeping an eye on them. It’s been uncommon, but we’re seeing them this year.”


Dominic Reisig, NCSU Extension Specialist, Entomology, Plymouth, North Carolina

“It has been really dry and hot pretty much everywhere, so most of the state is just hurting. The extreme eastern part of the state has very organic soil and they typically do well in this type of weather, but everyone else is just sandy soil and they need rain.

“As far as pests, it’s really too soon to say what summer will look like. We’ve had some southern corn billbugs come in moderately this year and the damage is apparent. We’ve been checking levels of stinkbugs and have seen some in the southeastern region. Nothing crazy yet, though. We are just keeping a watch on things right now.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about if we should spray for thrips, but it’s difficult to give an answer when everything is dry because the plants may not take up the pesticides very well.

In soybeans, we’ve already been spraying for grasshoppers, but again, it’s still pretty early and anything can happen.”

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

“We have gotten roughly 60 percent of our cotton planted. This week we’ve experienced some hard-hitting weather — we’ve got extreme heat and drought right now. We really need some rain. Some of my customers are just dusting in seeds, which means they’re just barely covering the seeds with soil and any little bit of rain can help it sprout.

“Our planters are already moving to pivots and we’re planting under those. We had a summer like this in 2019 so we’re prepared for the worst. We’re ready to keep it all under those pivots and may even be watering three times a day, if needed. We’ve seen it happen where the seeds sprout up in the high heat and die. We need to keep the surface temperatures cool. I would say we are about 15 to 20 percent behind in planting; normally we’re already at about 80 percent planted by now.

“I’m seeing everything from cotton just being planted all the way up to the 6-leaf stage. I’d say about 75 percent of the early cotton was sprayed for thrips. I think that cotton is finally outgrowing those thrips and that population is falling off. There’s not much else in pest control on our radar right now.

“We were seeing a little bit of seedling disease when it was rainy and cold, but nothing bad enough to take out a stand. We would see it on one or two plants, but nothing to be worried about.

“With our peanuts, I’d say we’re about 90 percent planted in my area and we should be able to finish without any moisture problems. I’m seeing peanuts everywhere from just being planted all the way up to 28 days old.

“Last year, we saw the worst quality of peanut seeds I’ve ever seen in my 22 years. This year, we have the best quality I’ve ever seen. If we planted 8 to 9 seeds to the foot, we are getting 7 to 8 growing. We’re having to keep an eye on it, though, because anything above 6 to the foot can be too thick of a stand. We’re excited for such great quality, though, after a year so bad it made us gun-shy.

“We don’t have any insect issues worth mentioning, and no diseases. I suspect aspergillus will become an issue later on, but as of today, I haven’t seen any yet.”

Eddie McGriff, Regional Extension Agronomist, Northeast Alabama

“Well, we had to replant several thousand acres of cotton in northern Alabama because of the issues the weather has been giving us. The last week of April brought great planting conditions; we had great moisture and just perfect soil. Then the first week of May hit with unusually cold temperatures followed by a week of heavy rain. By mid-May, most of our early cotton stands had seedling disease.

“Now, we’ve replanted and we’re at about 85 percent planted. We have some good planting conditions right now, but the soil is drying up fast. Planting is taking longer than usual for us, so hopefully we can get that last bit in the ground soon. The oldest cotton I’m seeing is at a 1- to 2-leaf stage.

“We’re seeing some very heavy thrift pressure right now, and I have told our growers if they can spray when the cotton is at the 1-leaf stage, it would be an ideal time to hit those thrips.”

Jennifer Bearden, Extension Agricultural Agent, Okaloosa County, Florida

“We are fighting to get our cotton in the ground in a timely manner. The soil just did not warm up for us as quickly as we’d like, so that put us behind. Then, we got going and now it’s so hot and dry we’re battling that now. I would bet we’re about 50 percent planted.

“It’s really early, so there’s not many issues with insects or disease. Deer are always a problem this time of year, but again, weather is our biggest issue right now.”

Jeremy Greene, Clemson University Entomologist, Blackville, South Carolina

According to USDA estimates, we are about 73 percent planted as of May 23. We are mostly drylands, so the sandy soil is causing growers to stop planting with these hot and dry conditions. We are looking at temperatures getting close to 100 with no real chance of a good rain in sight, so the weather is definitely slowing us down on planting.

“We aren’t seeing a lot of insect activity yet, just the common thrip problems. At our research plots, we’ve been looking at the different options for thrips control. Generally speaking, we’ve seen that things we’ve added into the furrows with seeds are working better than seed treatments. Seed treatments are still looking okay, but those add-ons in the furrow just seem to perform better.

“We planted on the early side, so we expected to see some high numbers of thrips. We haven’t really seen anything too crazy yet, just some leaf injury. I’ve had a few grasshopper calls, but still nothing too scary yet.

“There’s not much going on with our soybeans. We aren’t quite into the time we’d expect some insects’ we have some beans just now sprouting. Other than a few calls about grasshoppers, we haven’t had much excitement with that crop yet.”

AgFax Southeast Cotton is published by AgFax Media LLC
Ernst Undesser, 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: Farm Journal, 8725 Rosehill Rd., Suite 200, Lenexa, KS 66215
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