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'High cotton' is not what growers want
MISSISSIPPI STATE –Who does not want to be in “high cotton”? The answer is Mississippi cotton growers.
For the rest of society, being in high or tall cotton signifies prosperity and good fortune, but for this year's cotton growers, tall plants mean less fruit, or bolls.
James Smith is a research professor at Mississippi State University's Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. He said growers are using growth regulators to reduce the vegetative growth.
“A full fruitload is the best growth regulator we can have, but since plants have lost so much fruit from weather conditions and plant bugs, some growers are turning to additional growth regulators to help,” Smith said.
“We don't want ‘high cotton,' like the expression, anymore. Waist-high would be perfect. Now, we have cotton chest-high that looks good, but it has no fruit,” Smith said. “The scenario is not very good for cotton in this area. People are trying to make decisions about whether or not they will put any more money in the crop.”
Smith said dry conditions in the first half of 2007 enabled the cotton to put down good root systems, but prompted an early first irrigation in mid-June before rains finally arrived.
“The next month brought rain and cloudy, cool weather. That caused plants to drop some fruit. Then there was a tremendous population of tarnish plant bugs that took more fruit,” he said.
Some people blame the tarnish plant bug explosion on the state's increased corn acreage, believing the insects move from corn to cotton. Smith said they are becoming more resistant to pesticides, and their numbers have been increasing in recent years.
“Regardless of the causes, there are more plant bugs, and they are harder to control,” he said. “With fewer aerial applicators in the Delta, it was hard to have treatments applied to fields in a timely manner.”
Coahoma County Extension director Don Respess said the excessive vegetative growth mainly affects the later-planted cotton.
“The early cotton looks really good, but farmers have really had to battle plant bugs this year,” he said. “It's still too early to predict yields.”
Respess said the county's cotton acreage is down about 45 percent from last year.
“If we don't have some price improvement, it's going to be even fewer acres next year, especially with the price of soybeans being so good,” he said.
The Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp. is estimating 667,000 acres of cotton, which is about 60 percent of the crop planted in recent years. It is the smallest Mississippi cotton crop on record.