Challenges abound for cotton, soybean, peanut growers

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Cotton has had a difficult beginning this year, with a lot of waterlogged fields, marginal stands, replanting, insects, wildlife damage, and some of the toughest weed pressure we have seen in Mississippi in years.

Growers have shown great resilience in working with the situation at hand, but many of them are becoming discouraged as new challenges emerge almost every day. I can’t recall cotton planted past the 10th of June, but this year we added another week to that. We will need a late fall and a lot of good fortune for this one to finish well.

Throughout my career I have heard farmers comment about the “art” of planting cotton. The true practitioner of this art is able to pick the best time, the right depth, and the right combination of settings and methods to get a stand of healthy plants while in some cases his neighbors may be required to replant.

These people are a constant source of amazement for all of us, and oddly enough if you bother to ask them what their special ability is they don’t seem to know either. If there is one it’s probably their attention to drainage in their fields.

This year has been one of the most difficult in recent memory for achieving good working stands of cotton, soybeans, and peanuts. Each time it seemed to be the “right” time to plant and growers rushed to get seed in the ground another wave of heavy rains followed, saturating soils, flooding some areas, and crusting fields that were tilled. This year no method has been the prefect combination.

Those who credit no-till for their hardships have seen tilled fields fail to emerge, and those who blame tillage have seen reduced tillage and no-till fields have similar issues with stand establishment. In a word, it’s been a nightmare.

Among the crops commonly planted in the Hills, corn has probably performed best this year.

This crop has proven its capability for dealing with low temperatures and periods of soil saturation. More than a couple of area producers have learned first-hand why we strongly suggest that corn and other crops be planted on a prepared row rather than flat. The small amount of elevation offered by the row, along with the furrows to carry away excess water, have proven their worth in allowing corn and other crops planted on beds to survive the periods of heavy rainfall this year has brought to us. Even this strategy has failed in some cases.

Soybeans and peanuts have suffered the same fate as cotton.

I have seen soybeans planted the third time in some instances, and peanuts planted into poorly drained fields have simply rotted during emergence. Some of these fields have borderline stands and some have plant populations that promise economic losses from the beginning, one of the most discouraging scenarios a farmer can endure. Replanting has not been an option for many growers as the result of continued rain.

A comment that has emerged this year as it commonly does in years with difficult beginnings is that a tough start can often produce a good finish. I sincerely hope this is one of those years, since this beginning is one of the most challenging in my memory. And the hurdles keep coming in the form of high levels of Heliothis in corn which may portend later problems with these pests in other crops, and some of the heaviest grassy weed pressure we have seen in years.

I have seen Mexican beetles and kudzu bugs that are not common to this area, and we’re still in the month of June. Threecornered alfalfa hoppers, a very common insect in dry years, have been fairly light in soybeans, but as I run the net in beans I am picking up surprising numbers of tarnished plant bugs that really don’t like soybeans very much. My guess is that they are waiting for a move to cotton as soon it starts fruiting.

All I know to say is that we need to be scouting fields thoroughly since we may be in for a fight this year. Let’s hope I am wrong.

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