This year was anything but a good one for cotton producers in the Rio Grande Valley. Severe drought accounted for the fact that only about half of the acres planted were actually harvested.
All of this in spite of the optimism of cotton producers who planted more than 256,000 acres, a 10-year record high, with over 197,000 of those acres in dryland. With the exception of a few areas that received some rainfall, dryland producers had either a very poor stand or no stand at all.
Lack of soil moisture at planting also stressed irrigated cotton, resulting in a less than adequate yield in some fields. The yield of 112,000 bales was the second lowest during the last 10 years mainly due to a reduction in the number of acres harvested in the Rio Grande Valley. The drop in yield totals is also striking when this figure is compared to the 328,000-plus bales ginned in 2004.
So, with a bad year behind them, how does a farmer prepare for the 2007 season? This question was addressed at the Valley Cotton Meeting, held at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in Weslaco on Oct. 17.
Manda Cattaneo, Extension agent, IPM, feels that next year holds good prospects for cotton producers since the Valley has experienced considerable rainfall recently, some areas having four times the amount as the same period last year. “And it look good for the next two months, too. Predictions are for heavier than normal precipitation. All this rain will add deep moisture to the soil at planting time and leach salt out of the soil as well,” Cattaneo said.
She stressed the importance of looking at the variables the farmers themselves have control over. “Using good cultural practices is important.” Consider crop placement, weed destruction and a good fertilizer program. “Avoid using broad spectrum insecticides, if possible, so that no harm is done to the beneficial insects.”
Farmers are urged to take advantage of the Extension's free soil testing program. Farmers should send samples from all of their fields to be tested in order to identify which nutrients are needed and the rate of fertilizer necessary to correct the deficiency in order to meet the specific crop demand.
The type of cotton seed a farmer plants is also important. Growers have the option of conventional or transgenic varieties. Though over 76 percent of the cotton planted in the Valley was one of the conventional varieties, if a farmer's acreage is in an insect-prevalent area it would probably be worth the added expense to plant insect resistant seeds.
She warned producers to stay away from the hairy leaf varieties since they are associated with white fly populations.
One less problem going into the cotton season will be the boll weevil; Cattaneo sees this as a victory for the producer. Charles Allen, program director of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, also reported on the success of the eradication program at the meeting.
Though cotton producers had a bad year in the Rio Grande Valley, it wasn't because of damage by boll weevils.
Sixteen cotton-growing zones have been mapped by the foundation, some of which came into the program as early as 1994, and some that have had 100 percent success with eradicating the weevils. The Lower Rio Grande Valley, one of the last zones to join the program, is only in its second year of involvement, and actually first full year, and has already made great strides in dealing with cotton's No. 1 enemy.
The program reported an average of 8.2 weevils per trap during August and September 2006, compared to 37.9 per trap for the same period the previous year. There has actually been an 84.32 percent reduction in weevils over the year that the program has been in effect.
Because of the climate, the Lower Rio Grande Valley has always had a more difficult battle with boll weevils than other parts of the state, although Allen said that the Coastal Bend area has its problems, too, because of heavy rainfall. In spite of this, that area has seen a 97.12 percent reduction in weevil populations. “So we're making strong progress all over,” Allen said. In fact, 121,000 fewer acres had to be treated in 2006 than in 2005, and that's a real success story.
“Time is money,” he noted, and stressed the importance of timely stalk destruction by chemical and mechanical means since standing stalks cause boll weevil reproduction, slower progress with eradication and a more costly program. It also means more spraying in the upcoming year and a greater secondary pest threat.
Overall, the message emphasized at the Cotton Meeting was that in order for cotton producers to be successful this coming year, they should adhere to the advice scientists are making available to them and keep a close watch on their crops. Then it's up to Mother Nature.