Cotton plants bloom in southeast Missouri

Cotton plants bloom in southeast Missouri near New Madrid. The area is expecting early cotton and rice harvests due to hot, dry conditions this summer. 

With some hot, dry weather this summer, it was a year for southeast Missouri’s expansive irrigation systems to show their value. Cal Meeks, a University of Missouri research scientist based at MU’s Fisher Delta Research Center in Portageville, in the Bootheel, said it was overall a good year for cotton.

“It’s been a pretty good year,” he said. “It got a little dry there in the middle of the year. The irrigated stuff looks pretty good, but the dryland stuff looks pretty short.”

Meeks said about 75 to 80 percent of southeast Missouri’s cotton is irrigated. Cotton planting happened at about the normal time, but the hot summer weather sped up the timetable.

“Cotton harvest is probably going to be a little early because of all the heat units we’ve had,” he said.

Meeks is expecting a good harvest, based on the estimates he’s seen.

“The USDA estimate was 1,200 pounds per acre,” he said. “I think that’s 4 pounds shy of the record.”

Sam Atwell, a recently retired University of Missouri agronomist based in New Madrid County, said on Aug. 28 rice harvest was drawing near.

“Rice is just getting ready for harvest this week or next,” he said. “Nothing special either way. I don’t think it’s going to be a bumper crop, but it won’t be bad.”

The cotton plants in his area are looking a little shorter due to the hot weather, Atwell said, but he’s still expecting a good harvest. He expects the overall harvest to be early as well.

“It’s a little bit early because it speeds up when you get hot weather and sunshine,” he said. “With the heat units, it gets there quicker.”

Atwell said the rice harvest looks like it will be a week or two early.

Overall, Meeks said the year wasn’t too bad for pest issues in cotton, with just one main villain.

“The only thing that’s been bad this year is spider mites,” he said.

Producers usually spray at the edge of the field for the mites, although dry conditions limited the effectiveness of the spraying, Meeks said. Heavy rainfall can knock the spider mites off cotton leaves, but this year it was dry around the time the mites peaked.

Atwell said the No. 1 challenge this growing season was weed control.

According to the USDA’s Missouri Crop Progress and Condition report dated Aug. 27, Missouri’s rice condition was rated 11 percent poor, 16 percent fair, 51 percent good and 22 percent excellent.

According to the report, cotton bolls opening had reached 46 percent, compared to 13 percent at the same point last year. Cotton condition was rated 10 percent poor, 27 percent fair, 50 percent good and 13 percent excellent.

Despite only growing rice and cotton in the southeast corner of the state, Missouri ranks fourth nationally in rice production and eighth in cotton production, according to the MU Crop Resource Guide.

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.