The 2005 crop season on the Texas High Plains is off to a rocky start. Abundant spring moisture provided ideal planting conditions for cotton, corn and peanut producers and gave winter wheat a necessary drink of water.
The situation changed dramatically near the end of May, as spring thunderstorms swept across the region bringing high winds, tornados, hail and beating rains.
An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 acres of cotton in a 41-county area surrounding Lubbock have suffered "environmental damage," and at least 150,000 acres are reported severely damaged or lost, according to reports at the June 10 Plains Cotton Growers cotton advisory board meeting.
Those estimates will likely be ratcheted upward by the end of June. Since the meeting, early summer storms have damaged additional acreage in several counties around Lubbock.
"We still don't have a concrete tally on the full extent of the damage," said Dr. Randy Boman, Texas Cooperative Extension agronomist based at Lubbock. "But we have received preliminary damage estimates from all county agents in the region."
The cotton-producing region surrounding Lubbock is often known as "the world's largest cotton patch," because farmers there typically plant more than 50 percent of the state's 5-million to 6-million acre cotton crop.
About 20 percent of the region's 3.5 million to 3.6 million cotton acres doesn't survive to be harvested due to weather, insects, disease or other maladies.
Producers hit by recent storms should carefully evaluate damage in their fields before making any replant decisions, Boman said.
"We have two cotton-specific documents and one document geared for alternative crop options available online at http://lubbock.tamu.edu/cotton," Boman said. "The cotton documents are 'Effects of Stand Loss and Skips on Cotton Yields' and 'Making Replant Decisions.'
"The bottom line in deciding whether to replant cotton is what's left out there and what shape it's in. You have to carefully evaluate the uniformity of the remaining crop stand and the condition of the surviving plants," he said.
If two or more cotton plants per foot of row survive without too many long skips, the stand still may be good enough for optimum lint production, Boman said. 'Skips' are bare spots devoid of any plants.
"A study conducted from 1981 to 1984 at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Lubbock looked at how skips affect yield," Boman said. "In that study, a 'normal stand' of cotton had about 4.0 to 4.7 plants per foot of row and skips varying from 6 inches to 9 feet in length. A stand reduction of 25 percent, with 3.0 to 3.5 plants per foot of row, reduced lint yields by about 13 percent.
"A 50 percent stand reduction, with about 2.0 to 2.5 plants per foot of row, resulted in a 26 percent loss of potential lint yield. The profitability of replanting damaged stands depends on the date and your location. Even so, most farmers would be ill-advised to replant a stand averaging 2.0 plants per foot of row or more after June 10. It just wouldn't pencil out economically."
Significant yield reduction can occur in solid stands of irrigated cotton once plant density drops below an average of 1.5 healthy plants per foot of row, Boman added.
"Making Replant Decisions" can help producers evaluate remaining crop stands, stand uniformity, and the health of surviving plants. It also contains information on how planting dates affect yield potential, tips for weighing the costs and benefits of replanting, and management considerations for replanted cotton.
Another publication, "2005 Alternative Crop Options After Failed Cotton and Late-Season Crop Planting for the Texas South Plains," can help producers evaluate their 'catch' crop options.
"There are numerous alternative crop options for failed cotton acres through July 1," said Dr. Calvin Trostle, Extension agronomist based at Lubbock. "Your choices may be limited by the herbicides used on failed cotton acres and the calendar. As we move towards late June, shorter maturity crops may be necessary to fit the remaining growing season."
This publication covers herbicide considerations, compliance with government farm programs, and realistic expectations for replant crops. It also provides planting and management tips for grain sorghum, soybeans, guar, summer forages, peas, sesame, peanuts and corn.
"This information is relevant for areas from Midland and Big Spring north to Amarillo, and from off the Caprock west to the first tier of counties in southeastern New Mexico," Trostle said.
A June 3 press release from the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation reminded producers with failed cotton acres to do a thorough job of destroying any remaining plants in their fields.
"If High Plains growers fail their cotton before the certification date and keep it free of fruiting cotton for the remainder of the season, they qualify for a credit on their assessment," said Charles Allen, program director of the foundation.
Producers in weevil-eradication zones pay for the eradication program through a fee assessed on cotton acres. Plowing down plants on failed acres also deprives weevils of a safe haven in which to feed, reproduce and then move into other fields.
A weekly update on crop conditions across the High Plains is available through Extension's "Focus" newsletter, published electronically at http://lubbock.tamu.edu/focus