Southwest Cotton: Weeds and Pests Pick Up as the Crops Perk Up

Palmer amaranth - pigweed infests a High Plains cotton field. Photo: Texas A&M AgriLife

Larry Stalcup, Contributing Editor

Here is this week’s issue of AgFax Southwest Cotton, sponsored by the Southwest team of PhytoGen cottonseed.

Plants are perking up after continued hot, dry weather has awakened rain-stunted fields from the Upper Gulf Coast to West Texas and up through the Panhandle. Oklahoma and Kansas are also banking on bright skies and higher temps to help crops catch up.

Aphids and fleahoppers in the Blacklands have growers carefully managing insecticide mixes to hold back both menaces. Scouting is underway to catch bollworms, stink bugs and other late mid- to late-season pests further south. Thrips are in the picture in many areas with young cotton stands.

Sprayers are making up for lost time in many areas now dry enough for weed treatments. But intense heat that’s pushing 110 degrees has western Arizona growers worried about fruit loss.



Tom Studnicka, Studnicka Consulting, Belle Plaine, Kansas: 

“After a cold, wet start, only about 50% of the cotton I was supposed to watch got planted. What did get planted is up and has a good stand. It is from 1 to 3 leaves. We started with post-herbicide treatments and weeds are in check for the most part. Guys are using preplant and pre-emerge programs, which have helped keep fields clean. We’re spraying for a few thrips, but overall pressure is minimal.

“Corn has finally taking off after the springtime wet conditions. It looks good. Dryland soybeans are just coming up. Early irrigated beans are starting to take off. We’ll be swimming in soybeans after many growers planted them instead of cotton. Wheat harvest should start any day now after a few early test cuts. It, too, was delayed.”

Kerry Siders, Texas A&M AgriLife IPM Agent Hockley, Cochran & Lamb Counties: 

“We finally got most cotton planted after May’s cold wet weather. There are pockets of cotton that look exceptional. But we have cotton that’s all stages, from dryland that’s just coming up to irrigated that’s at 4 to 5 leaves. There are likely squares in those terminals. Some fields are still being replanted after being hit with cold, blowing sand, seedling disease and driving rain and hail. We have good soil moisture but many fields have a little crust. Most guys have made passes with sandfighters or rotary hoes.

“Other than a few cotton aphids, there is limited insect pressure. However, weeds are popping up after the rains, including pigweed. Since more growers planted conventional varieties due to the cold, wet weather, there is more herbicide drift damage on cotton with dicamba or Enlist technology. Edges of fields have suffered damage.

“Growers need to make sure their pre-emerge applications are holding up after the excessive rain. I’ve seen clean fields; especially those planted into corn or sorghum stubble or old cotton stalks. Those fields held up better against the weather pressure.

“Also, peanuts look good. They are usually bulletproof to early cooler conditions.”

Ben McKnight, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Cotton Specialist, College Station: 

“Cotton has responded well to the 90-degree weather and sunny skies. It has bolted and is really growing. Fields finally dried out after continuous rain. Unfortunately, many growers were unable to get herbicides applied during the wet conditions.

“There are more weed flushes than regular, and guys weren’t able to get post-emerge herbicides applied to later cotton. More applications of Roundup and Liberty are going out to try to hold back pigweed, grasses and sunflower in the Brazos Bottom area. But the wet fields likely stalled enough herbicide treatments to prevent large pigweed from emerging. That will be difficult to manage in isolated areas.

“Treatments for fleahoppers are also needed. Cotton is at pinhead square and a few fields are approaching match-head square. Fields were being sprayed late last week and treatments are continuing this week to prevent square damage. I’m surprised disease damage has not occurred in the College Station area after the wet spring.”

Joe Renfro, Nutrien Ag Solutions, Southwestern Oklahoma:

“A couple of little showers helped the dryland that finally got planted. It’s just coming up and a few fields are showing first true leaves. Irrigated fields that were planted early are coming along. It’s squaring up well. We’re monitoring a rash of thrips that busted loose when wheat harvest started. Fleahoppers are also showing up. Treatments are going out to keep them in check.

“Weeds are the worst I’ve seen in a long time. Post-emerge applications of dicamba, Roundup and other herbicides are going out. There are probably still a few pres being applied on the youngest cotton. Chemical supplies are slower to arrive, apparently due to the demand and production slowdowns caused by the pandemic.

“Wheat is not a bumper crop, but yields are better than we expected. Late showers and cooler weather helped wheat that was hurt by dry weather and the April freeze. Yields are close to average in the 20- to 30-bushel range, but a few fields are hitting 40 bushels. There’s even good-looking corn in the areas that turned it on. Stalks are 5- to 8-feet tall.”

Tyler Mays, Texas A&M AgriLife IPM Agent, Hill County: 

“It’s hot and finally drying out. Fields are seeing good growth, with cotton ranging from just starting to square to match-head square. Squaring has attracted swarms of fleahoppers, and cotton aphid numbers are also increasing in Hill County. Fields are being treated, but it’s difficult to control both fleahoppers and aphids without hurting beneficial insect populations. Many guys are spraying a mix of acephate and Imidacloprid to suppress aphid population growth.

“Lower-level fields are showing nutrient deficiencies after setting in water for so long. And while the warmer weather has helped cotton growth, it has also spurred weed populations. After not being able to get spray rigs in the field due to wet conditions, guys are finally able to get over-the-top herbicide applications made. It will be a battle to keep weeds under control.

“Wheat harvest is finally in full swing. Tests weights are down in a few fields and there are issues with preharvest sprouting in the heads. Those were caused by the wet weather and late harvest.

“Corn is performing well, and most is past pollination and into the milk-to-dough stage. More mature sorghum is in the boot stage and has started flowering. Sugarcane aphid numbers are light, but with the warm weather, growers need to be cautious of large sugarcane aphid populations. There are also reports of heavy midge populations in the Brazos Bottom.”

Randy Norton, University of Arizona Extension Cotton Specialist, Safford: 

“The earliest cotton in Yuma is at peak bloom and has good fruit retention. But with temperatures headed to 113 degrees or higher this week, we could see fruit shed. Cotton that’s early to mid-bloom in central and southeast parts of the state shouldn’t see as much pressure. But as it progresses, growers need to keep cotton watered and healthy, and hope for relief to come from rain in the monsoon season.

“There are no significant insect issues after early season pests. Weed pressure is also light. Many growers planted dicamba or 2,4-D alternative technologies to handle glyphosate-resistant pigweed that is spreading across much of the state. They are good tools in our area. More growers have also worked pre-emerge herbicides into their weed control programs.”

Murilo Maeda, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Cotton Specialist, Lubbock: 

“After more than a week of hot weather, planting has progressed rapidly in the region, especially south of Lubbock. Many dryland acres were planted into good moisture. Cotton planted toward the latter part of our planting window looks great.

“Warm soils and good moisture have many fields at close to a full stand in about a week. That’s something we don’t normally see around here. A few early planted fields suffered from seedling diseases and others with hail and blowing dust, if not a combination. But those were isolated cases.

“Plenty of rain usually also means plenty of weeds. Folks should try to keep them under control as much as possible to avoid them from competing with cotton for resources. Even if excessive rain has growers in a tight spot, they should try not to rely on single herbicide chemistry. They should take full advantage of residuals.

“By ensuring the crop can take full advantage of moisture, fertility and sunlight early, it should pay dividends. That’s especially true if we end up with a short season. Moving forward, it will be important to manage the crop for earliness. As the season progresses keep an eye on irrigated fields with potential for excessive vegetative growth. We don’t want growthy cotton.”

Stephen Biles, Texas A&M AgriLife IPM Agent, Victoria, Calhoun & Refugio Counties: 

“We’re in the middle of a morning (June 15) crop tour around Victoria. Despite up to 30 inches of rain in May, we have the potential for a good crop in our part of the Upper Gulf Coast. Depending on how a field drained and the variety planted, many fields are doing well. They’re in the first or second week of bloom and have 80% to 90% fruit retention. However, poorer draining fields lost nearly all squares on the first 5 to 6 fruiting branches. But even if they are short of squares, the excessive rain will cause more vegetative growth. PGRs will be important.

“Weeds have been a challenge due to the rain. In April when there was no rain in the forecast, many growers were hesitant to put down residuals because they needed rain to incorporate them. Then we received an 8- to10-inch rain. It diluted herbicides that had been applied. And we couldn’t get spray rigs into the field. Herbicide coverage was poor. Also, pilots didn’t want to apply sensitive herbicides that could drift onto other fields. Farmers are continuing in the catch-up mode and we’re seeing more herbicide applications to try and keep weeds from making seed.

“On the insect side, we’re monitoring closely for fleahoppers that can damage squares. Since much cotton is blooming, we’re also scouting for bollworm eggs, small worms and stink bugs for any evidence of feeding. There have been a few aphids, but early season aphids rarely show an economic loss.

“Corn looks good after rain hit it at the right time for filling kernels. Fields are starting to dry down. If that continues we should start shelling corn about the first of July. There’s more sorghum this year. For the most part, pest populations have been low. We’re not finding many stink bugs or headworms and there are only isolated patches of sugarcane aphid. SCA numbers were likely reduced from the beat-down from heavy rain. Most sorghum is beyond bloom, nearing soft dough and turning red.

“Of course, all crop analysis is subject to change if we get into dry conditions. We must continue to be vigilant about looking at our fields.”


Kyle Aljoe, Crop Quest Consulting, Dimmitt, Texas:

“Cotton and other crops are in all kinds of conditions due to all kinds of weather. We lost cotton fields to pounding rains, while others still can’t catch a rain. There are even fields of young cotton that were burnt from static electricity caused by 70-mph dry winds. For cotton that’s left, we’re trying to take care of weeds and spray for thrips. PGRs are even being used in a few fields to promote growth.

“Cotton acres were down already after many growers switched to forage sorghum for sale to local feedyards and dairies. Replants were needed on many of those sorghum fields hit by the cold wet spring. Cornfields range from 8-leaf to still being planted. I watch several triticale silage fields. We’re three to four weeks late in getting it cut. We’re all ready for a break in bad weather conditions.”

Robert Flynn, New Mexico State University Extension Soils/Agronomist, Artesia: 

“Fields south of Artesia look good. Cotton is 3- to 4-inches tall but guys are about three weeks behind. Many farmers planted cotton in place of alfalfa. But further south, where fields depend on water from the irrigation district, acres are down due to a water shortage.

“Fields that are up are clean and there are no major insect reports to speak of. Pressure on crops will likely pick up as we see more 100-degree plus weather. Although many fields went from alfalfa to cotton, alfalfa is still a major crop. Yields from the second cutting were strong.”

Cody Noggler, Crop Quest Consulting, Northwestern Texas Panhandle: 

“Most everything is drying up, even after a 1-inch rain Saturday night (June 12). We’re seeing more heat units and the cotton is growing well. The irrigated fields look good. Cotton ranges from first leaf to 5 to 6 leaves. There are just a few acres of dryland. Fortunately, I haven’t lost any cotton I watch to hail or other weather.

“We’re spraying for thrips in many fields, while aphids are not yet an issue. So far weeds are under control. Guys applied a good burndown and the pre-emerge herbicides are holding up very well. To handle volunteer corn, we’re throwing in Roundup with the acephate applications for thrips. There are no pigweed flushes I’m aware of, but we must be ready for them.

“With the heat, corn looks much better after the cold spring. Seed milo fields also look good. The wheat crop should make strong yields. The dryland wheat doesn’t look bad after timely rains.”

Justin Chopelas, JWC Consulting, Odem, Texas/Coastal Bend: 

“Our weed pressure is unprecedented in this part of the Coastal Bend. It was so wet that sprayers couldn’t get in the fields for about 30 days. It has dried up, but we’re still turning in mud holes in fields.

“We’re throwing all the Roundup and Liberty we can at weeds, but those and other herbicides are in short supply. Grasses and pigweed are thick in some fields. We’re trying to get in and cultivate where grass is really bad. The canopy is finally starting to close, which will help. But there will be spots where grass will lower the quality of cotton at the classing office.

“Meanwhile, cotton is finally growing and getting back to being more green than yellow, which was caused by waterlogged fields. Plants are at 5 to 8 NAWF and fruit loss seems to be minimal. Much cotton still has good potential. Cotton on higher ground has responded well to PGRs. It could yield 1,200 pounds per acre or more. In areas hurt worst by too much water, it’s like starting over. Overall, plants are from 8 to 24 nodes. It’s as spread out as I’ve ever seen.

“For insects, we had a substantial bollworm egg lay. We have to spray 2-gene Bt cotton that is no longer resistant to bollworm damage. The 3-gene Viptera cotton is holding, but we’re finding a little bollworm damage. The stink bug and plant bug complex are really light.”


Shurley on Cotton: Prices Post a “Triple Top” 

Thompson on Cotton: 90 Cents Squarely in the Crosshairs 

Weekly Cotton Market Review – USDA   

Drought Monitor Weekly: Warm, Dry Out West, Cool, Wet Down South 

Cleveland on Cotton: Demand, Production Concerns Breath New Life Into Contracts 

Texas Plains: Checking if Fields Survived the Weather, Not Many Pests Yet

Texas Blacklands Cotton: Fleahopper, Aphid Populations Explode

Texas LRGV: Cotton Mostly Clean, Sorghum Midge Still a Problem

AgFax Southwest Cotton is published by AgFax Media LLC
Ernst Undesser, Editorial Director. It covers cotton production in Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Working-Copy%5B1%5D.jpgThis weekly report is distributed during the main cotton growing 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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