In spite of an unusual growing season, John Wilde and sons Doug and Matthew are making a decent cotton crop this year, especially on 500 subsurface drip irrigated acres.

The family operation near San Angelo, Texas, includes cotton and corn. The corn is mostly for rotation and they say cotton still pays the bills.

John said several irrigated fields pushed four bales per acre, some a bit more. Dryland acreage was more erratic.

He said one irrigated field that Matt managed did quite well. “It was planted with FiberMax 9170-B2 Flex." In October he estimated the field would top four bales per acre. Harvest proved him out.

“It made 4.11 bales per acre or 2055 pounds per acre net lint,” he said. “Irrigated yields are good and dryland are poor due to heat and drought.”

“We had an unusually hot growing season,” said Texas AgriLife Extension Integrated Pest Management Specialist Rick Minzenmayer. Minzenmayer works Reynolds, Tom Green and Concho counties, in the Southern Rolling Plains area of West Texas.

“We had a lot of days above 100 degrees, 15 or 20 days,” he said. “That’s unusual.”

In early December Minzenmayer said most of the irrigated cotton was out and in the process of being ginned. Overall, quality was good to excellent, he said. “But many growers had issues with leaf grades and discounts because of bark.

“This year has been a challenge preparing the cotton crop for harvest. With the new longer season cotton varieties, it becomes a challenge to kill it, especially when we receive late season rainfall. This year we received significant rainfall late in the season; the cotton was drought stressed most of the growing season and the crop responded by starting to regrow. Regrowth is very difficult to manage.

“Preparing the 2009 cotton crop for harvest has been the most challenging I believe in my career,” Minzenmayer said. “None of the harvest aides worked as well as in previous years. Even when we used higher rates and more volume per acre it was difficult to defoliate completely and prepare the crop for stripper harvest.

“Some of the irrigated cotton growers, including John, Matt and Doug, hired pickers to harvest some of their irrigated cotton. It’s difficult for a cotton stripper to do a good job in cotton that's over 30 inches tall and still green. A cotton picker will harvest tall green cotton much easier and in most cases do a much better job. But using a picker to harvest the crop adds to the overall production costs.”

He said irrigated cotton yields are exceptionally good. The Wilde’s irrigated cotton around the home place averaged between 4.1 and 4.25 bales per acre. Dryland cotton yields vary significantly from one community to the next, but overall are better than we expected. Dryland cotton yields average from 300 to 700 pounds depending on the area.”

He said delays were not as bad as some growers feared. “Overall, we experienced few delays and growers took advantage of open weather.”

An early December cold front delayed dryland growers from finishing up, he said, “but more than 80 percent of the cotton is harvested in the Southern Rolling Plains.”

Doug said growers endured a year of extremes, a dry spring and a wet fall. “But we had no unusual pest problems. Pink bollworm infestation has not been a major issue. The amount of Bt cotton planted in this area is a big factor.”

“We saw no real problems from Lepidoptera this summer,” Minzenmayer said. “Some fall armyworms have come in, but mostly on forage crops and permanent grass.”

Extension specialists and growers in the area are watching other issues, including potential for glyphosate resistant weeds. “Most farmers are using rotation and multiple modes of action (with herbicides) to help prevent weed resistance,” Doug said.

Rotation to grain sorghum or wheat allows growers to change herbicide. Fallowing wheat acreage in summer may cause some concern, however. “Fallowed wheat makes it easy to use Roundup to keep wheat stubble clean until another crop goes in,” Doug said.

Growers can’t use a phenoxy herbicide in the summer because of potential damage to cotton, John said.

“We used a pre-emergence herbicide on cotton this year,” Doug said. “That may allow us to delay the first Roundup application (on Roundup Ready Flex varieties).”

“A good percentage of growers are using a yellow herbicide and some are still doing some cultivation,” Minzenmayer said. “They need to make certain they incorporate pre-emergence herbicides.”

Randall Conner, executive director of the Rolling Plains Cotton Growers Association, says 2, 4-D tolerant cotton is a big concern for Texas cotton farmers, especially in the St. Lawrence and Lower Rio Grande Valley areas. “We need 2, 4-D to kill stalks after harvest, at least until we get the Boll Weevil Eradication Program completed. And we need other areas to control volunteer cotton.”

“Volunteer cotton has become the area’s biggest weed concern,” John says.

email: rsmith@farmpress.com