Timely Rains Boost Panhandle Cotton

By Adam Russell, Texas A&M AgriLife



Despite a poor start to the cotton season in the Panhandle, timely and widespread rains arrived in time for flowering and boll development, putting fields on track for a good season, said two Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Amarillo, said timely beneficial rains fell in Panhandle cotton fields, which are mostly in the bloom stage with some earlier planted fields starting to reach cutout.

Bell said severe water stress at any stage can impact plant growth and production, but plants need more water as they bloom. Rain always helps, because many of the farmers in the Panhandle do not have the irrigation capacity to fully meet the crop’s water demands during peak water use periods.

“Cotton water requirements are greater during flowering than previous stages,” she said. “Water stress during flowering can also have a significant impact on boll development and fiber quality, which will have a significant impact on production.”

The precipitation also helped refill the soil moisture profile so producers will have needed soil water during boll maturation, she said. This is especially important for dryland producers.

One drawback has been that weeds were really taking off with the rains, Bell said.

Dr. Seth Byrd, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock, agreed that two widespread rain events around July 4, when cotton was squaring, and August 1, when most plants were in peak bloom, were very timely.

Now, however, there is a slight concern that cooler-than-normal temperatures and overcast days could mean fewer heat units for plants to maximize production.

Byrd said heat units are an extrapolation of potential plant progress based on maximum daily temperature and the amount of available sun. A hot overcast day delivers fewer heat units than a hot, sunny day, and cooler, overcast days provide even fewer.

“Rain and then sunshine is best,” he said. “There’s good moisture, but temperature highs forecast for the next two weeks are mostly in the 80s, and we’d be better off in the low- to mid-90s and sunny. Hopefully the forecast is lower than what we actually receive.”

Byrd said the region needs all the heat units it can get as bolls develop and mature, but overall, fields look good.

The trouble this year, Byrd said, was getting cotton fields planted and established.

“The first 60 days of the season were a challenge,” he said. “There really wasn’t a green light, a proper window to plant. There would be a few days of good weather, then three or four days where you couldn’t plant. There were cold snaps in May and long hot, dry and windy periods.”

There may still be a few field maintenance issues for some producers, such as flushes of weeds due to rains, Bell and Byrd said.

Byrd said cotton canopies and early season herbicide applications will likely prevent or slow weeds for many producers, but others will likely need to use hooded sprayers to address weeds or manually pull them.