(Photo by Jill Bock, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Due to a late start, area cotton farmers are playing "catch up" for the rest of the season, agricultural experts say.
"With this late of a crop, we can't afford to make any mistakes," noted Missouri Delta Research Center Cotton Specialist Bobby Phipps. "The crop's not good, but it's better than it was a week or two ago."
Early rain and cool weather forced cotton farmers out of their fields, delaying their work and causing them to be two to three weeks behind, said agronomy specialist Mike Milam who oversees cotton grown in Missouri's Bootheel.
"The cotton crop has definitely emerged. We had a lot of rain peak at the end of April and in early May. Since then it's been very cool and now the weather is heating up," said Milam, who works at the Dunklin County University of Missouri Extension office in Kennett.
Sixty-eight percent of the cotton crop is squaring and 6 percent is setting bolls, with 86 percent of the crop rated in fair to excellent condition the Missouri Agricultural Statistic Service reported Monday.
"We only have about 10,000 acres (in south Scott County) planted with cotton," said Scott County Farm Service Agency Director Kenny Vowels. "And they're a little behind. The early, wet weather hurt us. Some even had to replant. But since then, the good warm days and warm nights have been good for the cotton."
Although New Madrid County cotton farmers are also behind, the crop is doing well, noted agronomy specialist Jeff House of the New Madrid County University Extension office. He said the current, dry, hot and humid weather has actually been good for the crop.
"Cotton is a tropical plant, or it's actually a tree -- and does well in these conditions," House explained.
Ideal weather for cotton farmers would be no temperature higher than the mid-90s and at night, temperatures in the low 70s or high 60s, noted Milam.
"We're starting to see fairly decent growing weather," House said.
Boll weevil eradication has started and will be sprayed wherever traps are set, Phipps said, adding that it might even help cut down on the mosquito population.
The experts said they haven't seen a lot diseases either. "We're past the seedling diseases," Phipps said. "It's getting to the point where farmers will start irrigating. The main disease they need to watch for is the lygus bug."
Milam agreed. Some cotton may be experiencing sulfur deficiencies on the soil due to the lack of attention by farmers to the problem, he said.
"Over all, the insect situation is light," Milam said. "I do see potential of tobacco budworm and cotton bollworm emerging, but we'll just have to wait and see what happens. If we have the heat unit by the end of the season, we should be OK."
Of course, no one ever knows what the outcome will be at season's end, Milam said. Some years there's enough heat units in the fall, and in other years, it gets cool early, damaging the crop, he pointed out.
But so far so good.
"Everything's coming along well," Vowels said. "A little more rain wouldn't hurt, and right now everybody, especially soybeans and corn farmers, could use a good rain."