The Southwest, as a whole, is in better shape than was the case this time last year. Statistically speaking, the drought is not as widespread; the heat not as intense; and crops not as stressed.

But no one ever harvested and sold a statistic. Some areas across Texas and the entire Southwest region may be just as dry and just as vulnerable to crop loss as they were in 2011. Others see significantly better prospects.

Manda Anderson, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist for Gaines County, says differences in heat unit accumulation and rainfall totals compared to last year affect crop conditions and related issues. 

“We all know that last year was extremely dry and that we had record heat. But how different was it from this year?” she asks in her latest IPM newsletter. “Heat unit accumulation from May 15 to July 20 shows an accumulation of 1,480 in 2011 and 1,306 in 2012,” Anderson said.

The difference in rainfall totals offers a stark contrast—zero for 2011 and around six inches this year. But that can be deceiving. “As always, the rainstorms are spotty and some areas of the county have received less rainfall, and some areas have received more rainfall in 2012. This, along with pumping capacity, has led to the greatest differences observed in crop stage and development.” It also affects pest and disease pressure.

For instance, Anderson noted that very few fields showed signs of Verticillium wilt in 2011. “This year we are already starting to see signs of plants infected with Verticillium wilt. This alone is a good indication that conditions are much more conducive for disease development in 2012.”

She said observers detected the first field infected with Kurtomathrips on July 17, 2011. “Thankfully, this rare pest has not shown up in 2012.” She said the pest flourished in extreme hot and dry conditions last summer. “Hopefully, we will not see this pest in 2012, since we have more moderate temperatures and a little more rainfall.”

Northwest Plains very dry

Monte Vandiver, Extension IPM agent for Bailey and Parmer Counties, says the area “continues to be very dry. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows 100 percent of Bailey County, 95 percent of Lamb County and the southwest half of Parmer County are under extreme drought conditions; in addition, the northeast half of Parmer County is under severe drought conditions (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu).

“These very dry conditions continue to tax irrigation systems at an elevated rate,” Vandiver said. “Crop moisture demands have continued to ramp up, exceeding two inches per week. This high demand, exhausted soil moisture reserves and continued hot dry weather forces producers to consider diverting irrigation recourses in hopes of salvaging at least some of their crop.”

He said diverting water from one crop to another is an extremely tough decision, but may be the only way to save a portion of the crop during extreme drought. “Diversion would be considered a good management decision,” he said, cautioning growers to consult crop insurance agents before making a decision to divert water.

As Northeast Texas farmers prepare to harvest corn and grain sorghum, observers anticipate good yields. Rainfall, though spotty, has kept most fields in good shape and some growers anticipate dryland corn production near 120 bushels per acre.

Extension IPM agent Jim Swart says cotton also continues to show promise in the northeast corner of the state.

Down in the Valley

John Norman, retired Texas AgriLife entomologist and editor of Pest Cast Newsletter, says the Lower Rio Grande Valley has received “spotty showers with hot and dry conditions most of the time. Such is summer in the Valley.”

Norman says pre-harvest and harvest activities have been primary concerns for most LRGV farms this week. “Harvest activities will continue for the next three to four weeks. Insect activity continued in fields still green and attractive to whiteflies.”

Norman said cotton was reaching final maturity in most fields. “Overall, more cotton fields in the Valley were defoliated and/or harvested than not. But many fields needed another two to three weeks before they could be defoliated.”

Cotton stalk destruction

Norman also encouraged cotton producers to be vigilant in cotton stalk destruction as soon after harvest as possible.

“Boll weevil eradication efforts are ongoing and making progress,” he said. “But, in order for the progress to continue and the program to be successful, cotton stalk regrowth from old stalks or volunteer seedlings must be cleared from all fields by the end of this cotton season.”

He said seedling cotton coming up where other crops are planted in old cotton fields has created problems recently in the Valley and other areas of Texas.

“Now termed non-commercial cotton, cotton plants in fallow land or in other crops have proven to be a serious trouble spot for boll weevil eradication efforts. This year, according to the eradication program in the Valley, one-third of the weevils caught in 2012 came from non-commercial fields.”

He said part of the problem comes from non-commercial fields with volunteer seedlings that are not sprayed because insecticides labeled for use on the primary crop are not available. “The lack of approved labels for some of these crops and the difficulties in locating the cotton growing in the non-commercial crop hamper control measures. The Foundation continues to seek additional labels for weevil control in non-commercial crops.”

He said producers may obtain many herbicide labels for volunteer cotton control in grain crops from the AgriLife Extension Service or by visiting the Texas Boll Weevil Website at txbollweevil.org and clicking on the link on the right side of the web page.

Norman said the current issue of Pest Cast will be the last for this season.

Oklahoma unsettling

Jerry Goodson, Oklahoma State University Extension assistant, Southwest Oklahoma Research and Extension Center in Altus, reports in the Cotton Comments Newsletter that without timely rainfall the crop will continue to deteriorate.

“Much of the dryland cotton, although in fair condition a week ago, will be headed in the wrong direction soon with the forecasted temperatures,” Goodson reported. “We really need a good rainfall event very soon.”

He noted that Altus has encountered 28 days of 100 degrees or greater—1 in April, 9 in May, 11 in June, and 7 days in July (through July 19). “Temperatures have been considerably above average with triple digits and more forecast and few chances of rainfall.”

Cotton heat unit accumulation for a May 1 planting date at Altus is about 1,637 versus a typical 1,330, about 23 percent above normal.

He reported that a rainfall that occurred in mid-July “provided some badly needed moisture and delayed a potentially earlier cutout.” But many of those fields now are exhibiting considerable signs of moisture stress. “Although some boll set has occurred, unless rainfall occurs soon, these bolls will be extremely small, further limiting yield potential.”