While many other parts of the U.S. have suffered mightily this year from drought, most of Alabama has seen plenty of rainfall, and cotton has responded in a good way, says Dale Monks, Auburn University Extension cotton specialist.

“June was very hot with some cooler nights, but we’ve been picking up some rains,” said Monk during the recent East Alabama Crops Tour.

“We’re seeing good yield potential, but we still need to get through the remainder of August and September, and then harvest will be upon us.”

Extension Entomologist Ron Smith thinks the state could see a record-high average yield this year.

“I really think there’s no area of the state that is going to pull down the overall yield average,” says Smith.

“According to the crop reporting service, we’re at about 780 pounds per acre now, and if we can finish out this crop without diseases limiting our yield, we have a chance, for the first time in history, to go over 800 pounds per acre in Alabama this year. It’s consistently good to excellent across the state.”

This year, it was estimated that Alabama cotton producers planted about 390,000 acres, says Monks.

“It’s hard to predict this far ahead, but we know that for those who are planting corn next year, some of those decisions have to be made now because of the shortage of seed we may have next spring, given the weather conditions in the Midwest,” he says.

Wheat acres are expected to increase this fall in north Alabama and throughout the state, he says.

“We’re expecting a decrease in cotton acres and an increase in soybeans. The cotton price bubble didn’t last very long. But the good thing about cotton is that you can store it for a long time,” says Monks.

Researchers in five states are continuing a three-year project to look at options for controlling thrips on cotton, says Smith.

“We’re looking at what our alternatives are in the absence of Temik. With our seed treatments, I think we’ll be able to survive, even if we don’t get a Temik substitute back on the market.

“We can cover thrips, but more than anything else, we’ll miss Temik for nematode control and for spider mites. Spider mites are an up-and-coming pest. We really didn’t realize that so much this year because of the rainfall in July and August. There’s a low level of mites in a lot of these fields that would flare in hot, dry weather conditions.”

Seed treatments appear to be working well, says Smith.

Need foliar thrips spray

“But if you plant in April or about the first of May, you need a supplemental foliar spray for thrips control — it improves the yield. The ideal timing is at first true leaf. That gives us more of a yield boost than with second or third true leaf.”

There are a number of products that will control thrips, but nothing works better than acephate or Orthene, he says. “It is equal to or better than all the other products.”

There was a migration in some Alabama cotton fields of tarnished plant bugs in late June, says Smith, and those resulted in a hatch-out of in-field immature plant bugs in early July.

“As we moved into July, we waited out aphids in most cases, and the natural fungus took them out. Later in July, when we’d expect to find a flight of bollworms, they were very low.

“Every year in Alabama, we monitor the cotton bollworm and corn earworm and ship them to laboratories to study for Bt resistance. We went through about 6,000 ears of corn this year to get 1,000 earworm larvae, so that’s how scarce they were.

“We couldn’t even pick them up in conventional cotton at that time. There have been a few in places since then, but with Bt and more crops, we may be suppressing that population.”

The grass strain of fall armyworms have been everywhere in the state this year, says Smith.

“They will not feed on cotton, which explains why we haven’t had to treat for fall armyworms. But they will feed on peanuts and soybeans, so we need to keep an eye on that.”

Meanwhile, hay and pastures have been attacked throughout the state, he says. “I believe if this armyworm situation continues on pastures and hay, they will have to be scouted weekly just as some of our other crops.”

For the third consecutive year, Alabama cotton producers have seen few stink bugs, according to Smith.

“We’re not really sure why, but we have an idea. In the first of those three years, we were coming off a cold winter. The last two years, we’ve had a hot and dry June. June is when stink bugs multiply for the remainder of the summer.

“They’re on corn and wild weeds, and early instar nymphs cannot survive high temperatures and dry conditions.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a gradual buildup of stink bugs in cotton, both the brown and green species. The browns over-wintered very well, and they were plentiful in wheat. They’re out there now in some fields, so we need to be aware of them for the rest of the season.

“I hope we haven’t let down our guard on stink bugs, because they have the ability to come back in future years. Our threshold slides — right now, we’re thinking 30-percent internal damage to the top bolls.

“We’ll have to be concerned about stink bugs as long as we’re trying to make bolls for harvest.”

Generally speaking, Alabama cotton growers are probably “over the hump” this year as far as insects are concerned, says Smith.

“As cotton matures out, stink bugs don’t hang around where there’s not a food source. They will be moving and looking, so we’re set up to have a real flush of stink bugs move into soybeans late-season and move into these soybeans that were planted behind wheat.”

phollis@farmpress.com