Alabama growers eye frugal harvest

If USDA projections hold true, Alabama could have the second-lowest cotton yields in the United States this year, trailing only Oklahoma. Sixty-nine percent of the state's cotton is rated in the “Poor” to “Very Poor” category.

With a predicted average yield of 449 pounds per acre — almost 300 pounds per acre less than last year — growers might want to consider more economical harvest aid programs, says Mike Patterson, Auburn University Extension weed scientist.

“Many growers are looking at low-yield cotton, and they don't want to invest a lot of inputs into a harvest-aid program,” said Patterson during the recent East-Central Alabama Cotton and Peanut Tour.

“For the most part, our growers are on the low end of the scale as far as yields, so we need to look at harvest aids that are economical. There are several treatments that can be considered — these are all PPO inhibitors that have been labeled in the past four to five years,” he says. They include Aim, ET and, most recently, Resource from Valent. These products generally need to be applied with crop oil concentrate and will probably cost less than $5 per acre. Adding ethephon (Prep, etc.) significantly increases the effectiveness of these products,” he says.

Other treatments options, says Patterson, include Ginstar at 6 ounces, Def at 1 pint, Dropp at 2 ounces and sodium chlorate at 4 to 5 pounds. “All these treatments should be less than $10 and some are close to $5 per acre. Most of these treatments just knock leaves off cotton, but those containing ethephon or thidiazuron (Ginstar or Dropp) will open bolls or suppress regrowth, respectively,” he says.

Growers who are fortunate enough to have cotton that'll yield 700 pounds or more might consider using a boll opener or ethephon materials, he says. At 1 pound active ingredient, these materials should open bolls in about 10 days, he adds.

Turning to late-season weed control, Patterson says some growers may have morningglories coming through their cotton. “You might want to consider going through the cotton with a layby application. The most economical layby treatment probably will be straight glyphosate. You probably don't want to put a residual on the ground this late in the season, especially if you plan to plant a small grain crop this fall,” he says.

One over-the-top herbicide treatment that has proven successful on morningglories growing up through waist-high cotton is Envoke, he says.

Also during the east-central Alabama tour, Patterson and other Extension specialists talked about the impending loss of organic arsenical herbicides, and how it might impact cotton producers. “The EPA, after a 10-year review, has decided that it's going to drop the registration of all organic arsenical herbicides, including MSMA, DSMA and others. We've used these products for a long time in cotton, and I'm sure they'll allow us to continue using whatever is remaining in the pipeline,” he says.

Other crop specialists agree that the EPA's forthcoming restrictions on thousands of pesticides because of perceived adverse health affects will not pose severe hardships on Alabama's row crop producers.

“I don't think that we in the row crop business are going to see a very big impact because the chemicals have been under review for a number of years,” says Ron Smith, an Auburn University professor emeritus of entomology and retired Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist who still serves Extension as a contract entomologist.

“Speaking specifically to cotton and soybean producers, I just don't anticipate any surprises,” he says.

Among cotton crop insecticides, the one notable exception is the family of chemicals, known as organic phosphates, which are used to kill plant bugs and stink bugs.

“We have some new chemistry that has some activity with these bug pests, but not as much as phosphates,” Smith says, adding that a tremendous void would occur if some exceptions to these restrictions were not permitted.

Other experts offer similar predictions for the other major row crops.

“We're not losing anything we can't afford to lose,” says Kathy Flanders, an Extension entomologist and Auburn University associate professor of entomology and plant pathology, who works with the state's corn producers.

The same goes for peanuts. Ron Weeks, an Extension entomologist specializing in peanut crop pesticides, says there already have been minor modifications in labeling for peanut crop pesticides. However, he says that nothing has produced undue strain on peanut producers.

In addition, Weeks does not foresee any future restrictions posing hardships for producers.

The impending restrictions are the culmination of the EPA's 10-year effort to comply with the provision of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act. Hailed at the time as a “landmark bipartisan agreement,” the legislation required the EPA to implement the most far-reaching changes in pesticide and food safety law in decades. The focal point of this legislation was a provision requiring EPA to complete within the following decade a massive review and reassessment of tolerances (maximum permitted residues) of all food-use pesticides.

The EPA's decision to impose more restrictions is based on a review of more than 230 chemicals known as organophosphates and carbamates. The restrictions ultimately could lead to the elimination of 3,200 uses and the modification in use of 1,200 others, such as chlorpyrifos, diazinon and methyl parathion. All these chemicals have been under increased scrutiny within the last few decades because of their possible roles in causing illnesses.

While these eliminations likely will be far-reaching, Smith says the 10-year period set aside to review these tolerances and make recommendations largely eliminated the element of surprise or any needless hardship for pesticide manufacturers and farmers.

“It's been an ongoing process for a number of years in which EPA has worked closely with companies to review the specific chemicals in question,” says Smith, who, along with other Extension entomologists around the country, has represented grower concerns to chemical companies in hopes of insuring the least amount of strain on growers.

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