Rainfall up to three inches in Jackson County, southern Comanche and eastern Tillman Counties could help some cotton farmers keep their dryland crop growing the rest of the summer, but Gary Stickland of the OSU Extension Center said that as good as the rains were this week, they were just a drop in the bucket as to what we need.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Strickland, “We needed the rain, and it certainly helped the cotton fields that were already in good shape move along, but our soil profile is so dry we are going to need another 6 to 8 inches to really help.” He also said that fields that were already too far gone and stressed saw no benefit from the rains.
“What we need is several more inches of rain to help get some Bermuda response and to see some greening and forage before fall,” Strickland said. “And then we’ll need some more then too,” he added.
At least obtaining a like amount of rainfall in August will make the difference between a crop and another failure, according to Marvin Wyatt, who farms south of Lawton.
He and his brothers, Matt and Fred, planted nearly 2,300 acres of cotton this spring, he said. “Before the rain we received at the beginning of the week, the cotton was beginning to look a little sick,” he said. “Some of our fields are wet today. Around three inches fell in some places.
“While it wasn’t a lot, this moisture was really welcome. If we can get some more rain like this next month before the bolls start maturing, we should have a chance to make some cotton for the first time in three years.”
Chairman of the board of directors at the Tri-County Gin east of Faxon, Wyatt says his fields have cotton plants varying in height from three to five inches in some places to six to eight inches in others. The brothers planted Roundup Ready Flex varieties with BollGard II protection, allowing for effective weed control and the ability to fight insects and soil-borne diseases.
Such modern varieties have been developed in Texas and Oklahoma in warm, arid climates where the plants have demonstrated a built-in ability to grow where soil moisture is often scarce and untimely.
Some local farmers like Doug Scherler who are Wyatt’s neighbors planted more cotton this spring to offset the failure of a wheat crop stunted by drought and killed by late spring frost. Others like Wyatt planted cotton on fields already designated for that crop.”A lot of us who use crop rotation between wheat, cotton, hay and grain sorghum have to select what fields are going to be planted in a certain crop at least a year in advance,” he said.”When we apply the last fertilizer in the early spring for our wheat crop, many farmers have started adding herbicides like Finesse to the mix. These new herbicides do a good job of preventing weeds growing in the fields where we will plant wheat in the future.”
Wyatt has seen some insect problems in his young cotton. ” There have been some thrips and grasshoppers,” he said. “We have sprayed for them if there is a lot of them in a field.”
Cotton’s growing season is now at its midpoint. Plants will continue to grow the rest of July and on into early August before “cutting out,” a stage of growth when the plant stops growing and its load of young bolls begin to mature before harvest in the fall. If timely rains come throughout the growing season, cotton will make a crop most of the time, Wyatt said. “It is only when we have such severe heat and long dry spells like the past two years where the crop, particularly in dryland fields, will fail. It has been so hot even irrigated cotton has needed additional moisture from rain to keep it growing,” he said.
Stickland added that even with this week’s rain, many farmers said they haven’t seen any greening in the pastures from it.