First freeze could stop cotton growth

WICHITA COUNTY, TX (KAUZ) - Wichita County is growing more cotton. More farmers are switching to cotton because there is a surplus of wheat across the globe.

David Graf is the County Extension Agent for Ag and Natural Resources with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Wichita County. Graf said this is the largest cotton crop in over 20 years.

"In this field that you can see behind us bolls have really opened up, a lot of white out here," Graf said.

He said some farmers have already used a boll opener to speed up the processes.

"The longer that you wait here the bigger risk there is for hail damage or just loss or something," Graf said.

The farmer must decide enough bolls are large enough to open.

"These bolls were mature and you can see that when they opened up we've got a good healthy boll there," Graf said.

Any field that has immature bolls is at risk with an early freeze.

"There's a real concern with what could happen this weekend if it gets down as cold as what they are saying," Graf said.

The low for Wichita Falls is forecasted to reach 30 degrees on Saturday morning.

"All it's going to do if it gets that cold this weekend is it just really shuts that plant down," Graf said.

This means the plant could stop growing depending on the heating units that follow. If the bolls are immature this is problematic. There won't be much cotton to harvest.

If the bolls are ready to open a freeze will start the processes similar to the boll opener used by farmers.

"Years ago, that's what we did," Graf said. "We just waited until frost and after frost you'd have to wait, let it go, and let that processes happen naturally."

Cotton is ready for harvest about the time winter wheat is being planted.

"It's a winter grass, so cold doesn't really hurt it unless it gets really cold and the soil moisture is really dry, then it will damage the root system," Graf said.

Graf said more farmers are beginning to grow cotton in what was once a wheat field.

"It is one of the few crops that can still show somewhat of a profit," Graf said, "and so cotton is going to be bigger this year than it has been, and it may be bigger next year too."

Armyworms are making it really difficult to plant wheat this year.

"We've had some farmers that have planted the third time," Graf said.

A hard freeze would be bad for immature cotton, but it will slow down the armyworm production.

"You can treat for the worms, but this year they are so prolific," Graf said, "and evidently they are having what they call just a tremendous amount of moths this year."

The integrated pest management specialist said there is just one wave after another and new armyworms will likely keep emerging until the first freeze.

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