Some Georgia cotton producers have been pleasantly surprised over the outcome of this year's crop, especially considering that the potential hasn't always been evident.
“I think people are fairly pleased with what has happened with the 2005 cotton crop,” says Steve M. Brown, University of Georgia Extension cotton specialist. “In some places, farmers aren't sure where this good crop came from, because it wasn't there initially.”
East Georgia, says Brown, was hurt by significant rainfall from one of the late hurricanes, and much of the remainder of Georgia had about eight to 10 days of overcast weather with no significant rainfall.
“Otherwise, our growers have had just about a perfect harvest season. If we put it on the plant, and we don't get significant rainfall and boll rot, then we can harvest it. And I think we harvested a lot of what we put on the plant this year,” he says.
Just as in 2004, Georgia growers saw the benefits this year of controlling stinkbugs, says Brown. “Farmers were much more on top of the situation this year, and most did a real good job. We had heavier pressure than in 2004, and we think better control has been a contributor to better yields overall in the past couple of years,” he says.
In some areas, producers didn't make much of a top crop, he says, with August being very hot and September being very dry. “We're speculating over whether or not we might make an all-time record in terms of average yield. The highest yield was in 1984, and it was about 840 pounds. USDA hasn't moved us up that much, but we think there's a possibility of making it this year.”
In some parts of Georgia, cotton is still in the fields, said Brown in early December.
“We might be slightly behind normal on harvesting. The problem, according to some growers, is that there has been too much cotton to gather, and that's a good problem to have. East Georgia was hit with 6 to 8 inches of rain, and some of their crop was hurt by that, but their yields have still been quite good. All in all, I think most folks are happy, and if you compare that with what happened with some other crops, particularly peanuts, the cotton folks have been pleased.”
USDA's survey of varieties planted showed that about 72 to 73 percent of Georgia's cotton acreage was planted in DPL 555 this year, he says. “The variety does perform. Some people may be questioning how much it costs to grow, but what counts is that it makes cotton. We have some new technologies that will be in the marketplace for 2006, but we don't know how some of those will be priced. Obviously, they will need a variety to carry the technology. DPL 555 sets the bar. You don't want to plant something that'll cost you more if it doesn't make more in terms of yield.”
As for quality this year in Georgia, the classing office data is comparable to last year, says Brown. “We are trending down a little on uniformity. We're probably ranking near the bottom across the United States. But our overall quality looks fairly close to how it looked in 2004. The color, strength, staple and micronaire all look good. The uniformity issue, which is one over which we've caught criticism, is about where it was last year, or it may even be slightly lower than in 2004.”
There was no trouble selling Georgia cotton from the 2004 crop, he says, and hopes are that there will be no trouble moving the 2005 crop.
“There are homes in the United States as well as overseas for our cotton. We'd like to think that 2003 was the culprit as far as the quality issue is concerned. But 2003 is behind us — let's forget about it and move on. But in some corners of the market, we're still taking a beating over what happened in 2003.”
In 2003, says Brown, the USDA classing office numbers looked good, but several factors were troublesome and probably were related to stink bug damage.
“Stink bug control was not what it should have been, and it taught farmers a lot of lessons. We've had good research to demonstrate the relationship between stink bug damage and quality. We also see some growers being a little more aggressive in terms of harvest timing, and anything we can do to encourage that will be good. We're changing our culture some. We had a huge peanut acreage this year, and that delayed some cotton harvesting. Producers have learned the value of getting cotton out early, but they're still struggling because of the sheer volume of this crop.”
Looking at problems growers have encountered this year, Brown says tropical spiderwort continues to be an emerging problem in the southern extreme of Georgia.
“And it is a very expensive problem if you have it on your farm. We're not confident that we have the absolute answer on it, because it seems to tolerate so many herbicides, and it's such an unusual weed with a lot of mechanisms for survival and dispersal.”
A weed of even greater concern, internationally as well as in Georgia, is Palmer amaranth or Palmer pigweed that is resistant to glyphosate, he says.
“We have ongoing research where we have collected samples of pigweed from throughout the state. We'll evaluate these simultaneously for glyphosate resistance and for resistance to the ALS herbicides. We'll be looking at both sets of chemistry and evaluating the weeds for resistance.”
The resistant pigweed issue is a serious one because it is such a prolific weed, and there aren't a lot of good post-emergence options, says Brown. “The products like Cadre, Classic and Staple provide decent postemergence control if treatments are timely, but we know that pigweed can develop resistance to those groups of products very rapidly if the weeds are exposed to intense use of the herbicides.
“In cotton, we have some old-fashioned options that have worked, but we're not sure our farmers can go back to those options. We have Liberty Link cotton, which is somewhat of an option, but it's very different for those growers who have used Roundup Ready cotton. If we're going to fight pigweed and grasses with Ignite in a Liberty Link system, we have to be much more timely than in the Roundup Ready system. If you don't kill pigweed at a maximum of 2 to 3 inches, it'll get away from you. “
Reports from seed companies, says Brown, indicate that two to three million acres of U.S. cotton could be planted in Roundup Ready Flex varieties next year.
“Everyone is taking a look at varieties that are one year out of the chute, and the numbers look very good. Monsanto says they will announce technology prices before the first of the year. How it is priced will impact how much is used even if seed is available. I haven't seen the Bt plus Roundup Ready Flex variety that could beat DPL 555, at least in south Georgia. Farmers should use this next year as a trial year to plant a small portion of a field in this new technology so they can gain more knowledge about management systems in their own fields.”