By Adam Russell
Poor weather conditions in the Rolling and High Plains could mean subpar cotton yields for many producers in the state’s fiber region, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo, said wet conditions delayed planting and late-season cool and cloudy spells denied cotton fields adequate heat units for the plants to reach their full potential.
“Across the Panhandle, cotton is in boll development; however, the maturity level of the bolls varies drastically between varieties and even between fields as a result of planting dates,” she said. “While many producers like to plant the medium and medium-long maturity varieties due to the potentially greater yield potential, we will likely not see the upper bolls mature in many of these fields this year.”
Bell said the combination of high temperatures and sunny days have been few and far between since August.
Wet, cool, overcast weather in the Texas Panhandle has hindered cotton production by preventing much of the crop from obtaining adequate heat units.
“Since August, heat unit accumulation has been low. Our daily highs were in the upper 80s in August,” she said. “We did have a brief seven to 10-day period in September with highs in the mid-90s, but most days have been overcast. We generally assume it will take 50-60 days from flowering to mature a boll, but this year we are seeing it take 70 days or more due to low heat unit accumulation.”
There is also concern cotton in the High Plains could experience freezing temperatures sooner than later, Bell said. A cold front was expected to bring near-freezing temperatures to most of the two regions and northern counties were under a freeze watch.
“The duration of the freeze will be the greatest concern, but with daily temperatures in the 50s, cotton maturity is quickly slowing down,” she said. “Looking at the extended forecast, daily lows are projected to be in the 40s and 50s and we only have a few days with daily highs in the low-80s before daily temperatures drop back into the 60s and 70s, so I do not foresee any significant accumulation in heat units in the next week to 10 days.”
Weather in the previous two years was ideal for cotton, Bell said, and resulted in very high yields with good quality. In 2016, warm temperatures persisted into September and early October, which allowed cotton to collect late-season heat units and finish nicely.
“This year has been a roller coaster year,” she said.
Early dry conditions were causing problems in the Rolling Plains as well, said Dr. Emi Kimura, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Vernon. Producers faced dry conditions during planting time and many did not get their fields planted within the good planting dates.
“Many producers planted late, and now they need more (of a) growing season, more time for the bolls to mature,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to mature late cotton at this point.”
Kimura said late-planted fields did make some bolls and some have opened, but the potential of those fields has diminished due to the recent weather. The region received 6 inches of rain during one event in September, which was unusual, she said.
The wet weather has also created conditions for other problems such as diseases, Kimura said, but the disease issues would be less influential on yields than the lack of heat units at this point.
“There was continuous rain and overcast weather the first week in October, and there were some bolls opening so fiber quality may decrease if the lint remains wet,” she said. “They’re really desperate for heat units right now. Rain over the next three weeks would be a problem, and if a freeze comes early that would be really bad.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Temperatures were warmer than average for this time of year. Much-needed rainfall was received as pastures were beginning to turn brown. Grain harvest started to wrap-up and cotton harvest was in full swing. Planted oats for winter grazing was completed and winter wheat did well with recent rains. Livestock were in good condition but supplemental feeding will be needed soon. Counties reported good soil moisture and range and pasture conditions. Overall crop and livestock conditions were good.
ROLLING PLAINS: Cool, wet weather prevailed and helped improve the soil moisture profile. Producers worried about a dry spell were more positive due to recent rains. Pasture and rangeland were looking better due to the recent rainfall, as was winter wheat. Producers who planted their wheat acres were seeing growth. The rain slowed the peanut harvest and producers were waiting for the soil to dry to finish planting fall forages. Some producers began boll-opener and leaf-drop applications in anticipation of cotton harvest. Livestock were in good condition and had plenty of grazing material. The wheat crop looked promising, so there should be plenty to hold cattle through the winter.
COASTAL BEND: Rainfall continued to fall over different areas of the region, which has hindered some field work. Gin yards, which continue to run at full throttle, still had cotton modules staged with turnouts and quality remaining good thus far. Some cotton stalks remained due to wet field conditions. Hay was being cut and baled. Winter pasture planting continued and should finish within the next two weeks. Pastures and livestock were doing well, but flies on cattle continued to be a problem.
EAST: Dry conditions continued to worsen across the district with no reported rainfall in most counties. San Augustine and Jasper counties reported light precipitation. Recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey were still being made in Jasper County. Panola County reported warm-season forages stopped growing due to low moisture and high temperatures. Jasper County reported growing conditions were excellent, while many Cherokee County producers decided against planting cool-season forages due to dry conditions. Gregg, Shelby and Smith counties were still harvesting hay. Pasture and rangeland conditions were excellent in Marion County but poor in Panola County. All other counties reported conditions were fair to good. Grass and fall gardens planted in Marion County were being watered due to lack of rain. Subsoil conditions were adequate to short in all counties. Topsoil conditions in most counties were adequate to short. Cherokee and Gregg counties reported very short topsoil conditions, while Marion County reported a surplus. Cattle prices were doing well in Gregg and Shelby counties. Livestock condition was fair to good with some supplementation being used in Wood County. Smith County cattle were still calving. Shelby and Wood counties reported wild pig damage. Upshur County implemented pest control measures, and farmers in Smith County also dealt with insect and disease issues.
SOUTH PLAINS: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels continued to be saturated due to overcast and wet conditions. The area received another 0.5 inch to 1 inch of rain. Cotton maturity levels slowed due to lack of heat units and a warm October is needed to finish the cotton crop out. Dryland bolls are mostly open. The peanut harvest continued to be delayed due to wet conditions. Planting for winter wheat was also delayed due to weather conditions. Sorghum continued to mature but the corn and sorghum harvest halted as over 2.5 to 3 inches of rain ad accumulated over the past two weeks. Pasture and rangeland benefited from the recent rain and cattle were in good condition.
PANHANDLE: Temperatures were near normal for the most part and some moisture was received in most areas of the region at the first and last of the week. Soil moisture was rated mostly adequate. In Hall County the rains helped wheat farmers but hindered cotton producers as more heat units were needed. Cattle and pastures looked good, while terraces and county roads suffered due to record rains. In the Lipscomb County area, mycotoxin levels in corn was a problem. Ochiltree County rain halted pretty much all farming and harvest activities.
NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to short with some counties reporting very short. There was some rain but not enough to make a significant difference. Temperatures ranged in the mid-60s during the mornings to the mid to lower 90s during the day. Pastures were showing stress and stock tanks were shrinking. Soybean plants were yellowing and some leaves were starting to drop. The hay harvest continued, and wheat and oats continued to be planted. The cotton harvest was still underway. Cattle looked good, as did pasture conditions. Fall armyworms were reported in some of the pastures. Pecans were starting to fall.
FAR WEST: Highs were in the 90s and lows in the 50s with rain ranging from 0.5 inch to 6 inches. Pima and upland cotton fields looked generally good with some upland fields defoliated and likely ready for harvesting soon. Foliar diseases such as Alternaria and bacterial leaf spot increased due to the cool, cloudy weather. Some more acres of wheat were sown and alfalfa growers were irrigating and will likely cut hay in a couple of weeks. Weeds and mosquitoes were becoming an issue. Pecan farmers were watering for the last time this season, preparing for harvest. Pawnee pecan farmers were expecting the first harvest soon. Winds harmed some pecan trees and caused pecan drop in parts of the region. Producers continued to provide supplemental feed to livestock and wildlife.
WEST CENTRAL: Weather was seasonable with warm, windy days and cool nights. A few scattered showers were reported in some areas but there was no measurable rainfall for the week. Most areas needed additional rain for soil moisture and growing conditions. Stock tanks continued to decline due to lack of runoff. Small-grain planting increased and wheat planting resumed in full swing. Wheat planted before rains were doing well, but armyworms continued to be a problem. Some cotton producers sprayed defoliants with boll openers as they started to prepare for cotton harvest. Range and pasture conditions continued to improve and forages responded to recent rains. Warm-season grasses came back to life and winter grasses emerged. Livestock remained in fair to good condition.