By Clint Thompson
Steve Brown, Auburn University assistant professor and Extension cotton specialist, believes Alabama producers will once again produce around 500,000 acres of cotton this year.
Speaking at last week’s Wiregrass Cotton Expo in Dothan, Alabama, Brown said he doesn’t expect a big shift from last year’s acreage that totaled 510,000, even with cotton prices less than ideal for Alabama farmers.
“My general take from what I’m hearing farmers say is that maybe we’re going to be at level to slightly up or slightly down. I don’t expect a big change,” Brown said. “Peanut prices don’t attract many at this point, but peanuts are going to be a go-to for those who plant less cotton. Overall, though, I think Alabama will probably plant very close to what we planted last year.
“Can we grow more? Not a whole lot more, but that’s a nice, good level to shoot for; about a half million acres with the hope that we’re going to make a million bales of cotton.”
If Alabama growers are to experience success this year, they need to be wary of some weather-related issues. The lack of freezing temperatures this winter could spark nematode activity this spring. Freezing temperatures help kill off any regrowth in cotton and corn fields, volunteer peanuts or unintentionally planted peanuts and weeds — all of which serve as host plants for nematodes. Also, if soil temperatures get below 50 degrees, nematodes quit being active. Root-knot nematodes might exist only in egg form. Some reniform and other types of nematodes slow down in colder temperatures and are metabolically inactive.
Unfortunately for producers in the Southeast, freezing temperatures have almost been nonexistent this winter.
“No doubt, nematodes are a problem for Alabama producers. In the sandier soils, it’s the root-knot nematodes; they’re a perennial issue,” Brown said. “Our rotation to peanuts certainly helps us with that. Reniform nematodes are a significant problem in patches on some of the heavier soils. I’d be alert to nematodes. Clearly with a lack of cold weather, we may see a little more pressure.”
Nematodes are microscopic, worm-like pests. Root-knot nematodes cause the most problems for cotton farmers. They feed on cotton roots and cause swelling, or “galls,” to develop. The galls disrupt the function of the roots, which stunt the plant’s growth.
Brown said Alabama cotton farmers will begin planting in mid-April. He cautions growers against planting much earlier.
“Seeds are such an expensive part of what we do, so we need to do it right when we do it. It’s going to be mid-April or thereafter,” Brown said. “We’re going to be watching the weather and the forecast. We’ll plant to probably the first week or two of June in Alabama.”