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Cotton, pecans off to good start in Far West Texas

Joel Arce joel-acre-cotton.jpg
Cotton acreage remains about the same in Hudspeth and El Paso counties. Pecans rebound after slow start.

Cotton in Far West Texas looks “pretty good, so far, but it’s dry and needs water,” says Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Integrated Pest Management agent, Joel Arce, El Paso.

“Of course, that can be said just about anywhere in the State,” Arce says. He says cotton progress ranges from barely emerged to one true leaf on early planted fields, [as of May 19].

Weeds

He says weeds are not a big issue yet, “just a few spots with previous weed problems, nothing overwhelming. Weeds are just trying to survive with little water.”

He says cotton acreage is about the same as last year for Hudspeth and El Paso counties. “Last year, acreage ranged from 3,000 to 5,000 in El Paso, and Hudspeth had a little more than that.”

He says that’s about all the area can expect with limitations on water they can pull from the Rio Grande.

“Most of the cotton in El Paso County is Pima,” Arce says. “Upland acreage is typically smaller. The Pima advantage is staple length, which gets a premium, normally about double the price of Upland.”

To get that premium, Arce says, Pima growers have to manage for a longer growing season to achieve maturity and fiber quality.

“Pima does have some drawbacks. It yields a bit less than Upland and takes longer to mature, but fiber quality is the draw.”

Insects

He says early season insects typically cause little concern in Far West Texas. “We’re not seeing a lot yet,” Arce says. “A few years ago, we had an influx of false chinch bugs. That was fairly unusual. We rarely see early season pests.”

“The first pests we see will be worms — bollworms, beet armyworms, and fall armyworms — at flowering and boll set. Pest numbers pick up in cotton out here from the end of June to the beginning of July, depending on maturity of the crop. We don’t normally have thrips or lygus issues. Those would be very unusual.”

He says eradication programs eliminated the pink bollworm and the boll weevil. “The Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation still runs traps, but this area has been declared eradicated while monitoring continues.”

He says other area crops include forages, alfalfa, and some Sudan grass. “In low water years, vegetable production is almost non-existent. Last year, we had maybe 40 acres of pepper, maybe 100 acres of onions.”

He says most forages go either to dairies or to horse owners. “The large acreage goes to dairies. Small, ten-acre plots, go to horses or other livestock in the area.”

Pecans

Arce also monitors the area’s pecan orchards. “The crop started slower than expected,” he says. “They were a little delayed coming out of winter, but they have rebounded well.”

He’s watching for insect pests. “We had an early pecan nut casebearer capture. First capture was reported April 27, earlier than the last two years by a few days, but a few days is a lot for an insect.”

Arce says he caught a pecan nut casebearer April 28. We’re keeping track.”

It’s a chore, he says, to scout all the orchards in the two-county area. “It takes eight hours a day, three or four days a week, along with mileage, and fuel. It’s an expensive and cumbersome process.”

Pilot program

He says a pilot program using a “smart trap” to detect pests and transmit information back to a computer might “ease the burden of manually checking traps. It’s a labor and time issue. It’s also possible that producers will be able to trigger needed treatments sooner.”

He says spray timing is critical for producers to manage irrigation. If they get a heavy egg lay when they need to irrigate, options are limited. “Currently, we have just a few option that can be applied by plane, and they can’t drive a sprayer into wet fields. They could hold off on irrigation to spray or spray early and rely on residual activity.”

The smart trap along with pest modeling, Arce says, could allow producers to time irrigation and perform spray applications more efficiently. Pecan acreage in the area is “100% irrigated. We have no way to make a dryland crop of anything out here.”

He says pecan acreage is increasing. “Unlike some other crops which fluctuate, pecan acreage seems to always go up, not drastically, but always an increase.”

He says much of the water producers rely on to irrigate comes from the Rio Grande or wells with marginal water. “For now, water from the river is short and will not be available until the first of June. For pre-irrigation, producers normally use well water and effluent from El Paso, available only to producers south of El Paso.”

Arce says cotton and pecan orchards are looking good so far. Cotton has emerged to a decent stand and, “we’re seeing some good nutlets forming on pecan trees. Some pollinator rows are a little later, but they are meant to be.”

He says markets for cotton and pecans are good. “For pecans, markets are better than they have been recently.”

For now, a good rain would definitely help move things along.

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