Virginia, North Carolina cotton projections may not hit mark

As harvest began, the North Carolina cotton crop didn't look quite as big as the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected. The Virginia crop, on the other hand, might be bigger.

In its September crop production report, USDA projected yields of 832 pounds per acre from 865,000 acres in North Carolina, for a total estimated production of 1.5 million pounds.

In neighboring Virginia, the acreage projection was 104,000 acres, and the yield projection was 738 pounds per acre, more than 200 pounds below the yield in 2005.

Production in North Carolina was pegged at 1.5 million bales, up 4 percent from 2005, and at 160,000 bales in Virginia, down 1.4 percent from 2005.

Keith Edmisten, North Carolina State University Extension cotton specialist, says USDA's estimate of acres may be about right for North Carolina. But he wasn't expecting a higher-than-average yield.

“It looks like an average crop to me,” says Edmisten. “The temperatures were cool at planting, and the crop grew off slowly.”

As a result, W.L. Carter, executive vice president of the North Carolina Cotton Producers Association, thinks a lower estimate of North Carolina cotton yield than the USDA's figure would be more realistic.

“The crop may be average or a little better, but no more than that,” he says. “I would put it closer to the 700-pound range, and maybe not that high. It was cold and wet in the spring, then there was so terribly much rain in June. A good portion of July and the whole of August had extremely high temperatures. But I think we are much better off than some areas farther to the south.”

In neighboring Virginia, the USDA's September calculation might actually be too low.

“My estimate is that our yield is about 100 to 150 pounds per acre lower than last year (when Virginians enjoyed an excellent cotton yield),” says Joel Faircloth, Virginia Tech Extension cotton specialist. “Our yields will be respectable compared to other states. The drought certainly had an impact, and it frequently showed up as nutritional deficiencies in the boll-forming period in several pockets of the state where there was a yield impact. But this appears to be a good crop.”

Growers in both states were bedeviled by the cool early weather that led to a very slow start in the field.

That contributed to some thrips damage, says Edmisten. In addition, North Carolina cotton growers were using some chemicals that they hadn't used before, leading to some damage that slowed growth even more. “It was a double whammy on crop maturity,” he says.

Late dry weather further hindered the crop, especially in August, Edmisten says. Picking began in late September, and the harvest got off to a good start. A lot depended on the weather we had to get the crop in.”

He foresaw that harvest timing decisions might be a little more difficult than normal. At the end of September, the crop was generally late.

“When the top crop is late, it is hard to decide if you have enough weight to defoliate,” he says. “Some farmers may gamble on waiting till the end of October. But that can mean they may have some frost damage, or defoliants may not work as well as expected in some cases.”

Where it has been really dry, there is a tendency to lose the top crop, he says. “In that case, it's not so hard to decide when to defoliate.”

Considering what the crop went through, Edmisten was relieved at its condition at the outset of picking. “But some farmers have bad crops,” he adds.

One thing he noticed about this year's cotton production: “Minor differences in planting date made for some big differences in development in the field,” he says.

It was a very bad year for thrips in North Carolina this year, says Jack Bacheler, North Carolina Statue University Extension entomologist. Two factors were primarily responsible: the unusually high numbers of thrips and the extended cool weather early in the season.

“It certainly was a situation that was tough for thrips,” says Bacheler. “When cotton grows off well, thrips are a problem for only a relatively short period of time. They may still be there, but their impact is limited.”

But that certainly wasn't the case this season. “The weather caused plants to just sit there for about two weeks longer than usual,” Bacheler says.

There are three at-planting treatments that are recommended for thrips control in North Carolina.

  • Temik 15 G: At five pounds of product per acre, it generally provides good thrips control and suppression, although, like other at-planting insecticides, it may show poor uptake under very dry conditions. Temik compared with seed treatments alone often gives a yield advantage over other alternatives and sometimes provides earlier fruit maturity. Fewer cotton aphid and spider mite outbreaks are noted behind Temik that follow one of the seed treatments followed by a foliar spray. These benefits sometimes offset the relatively high cost of the product on conventional row-spaced cotton.

  • Gaucho Grande: In virtually all replicated trials conducted in North Carolina, Gaucho Grande provides thrips control for approximately three weeks. A foliar treatment for thrips is usually needed when you use Gaucho Grande seed. The foliar treatment may be tank-mixed with a herbicide and is best timed for thrips at the first true-leaf stage.

  • Cruiser Seed Treatment: Cruiser Seed Treatment is in the same insecticide class as Gaucho Grande and shows similar thrips activity. A foliar insecticide is recommended to compensate for this product's short residual activity, just as with Gaucho. Avicta, the three-way treatment that contains thrips insecticide, fungicide combination and nematicide, contains Cruiser.

But some growers seemed to do things just right and still had a hard time with thrips, Bacheler says. “It was a rough year.”

To make matters worse, sometimes North Carolina growers had Western flower thrips.

“Our normal control rates don't work as well against Westerns,” Bacheler says. “If there are good management approaches for these hard-to-control pests, they are not readily apparent.

“Also, this species is impossible to identify in the field.”

Orthene at one half pound of active ingredient or more is reportedly as good as one can do for control of this species, Bacheler says, but even a high rate of that product can come up short.

“Thankfully, Western flower thrips are only a problem in some years on part of our cotton acreage,” he says.

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