AUBURN, Ala.—Alabama producers are beginning preparation for the 2017 growing season, and looking for direction as the La Nina phase of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) brings potential for warm, dry spring weather. The expected changes are a far cry from the cool, wet planting season in 2016 that kept farmers out of the field for weeks during the spring.
Alabama Extension professionals have collaborated with other specialists from throughout the South to bring growers practical and reliable information to assist in planning for the spring planting season.
ENSO is a big player in southeastern climate variability. This oscillation in atmospheric and oceanic conditions known as ENSO includes both warm (El Nino) and cold (La Nina) phases, with neutral conditions occurring between these two extremes. Each stage is distinct, and the specific spatial patterns, timing, and strength of these sea-surface temperature variations can fluctuate markedly from one event to the next.
La Nina in the Southeast
Dr. Brenda Ortiz, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System precision agriculture specialist, in addition to 25 climate and crops experts throughout the Southeast collaborated on an iBook to assist farmers in navigating the climate change and its effects on their operations.
“The best predictability of climate the Southeast occurs during El Nino and La Nina phases in the winter months when each phase is usually at its strongest,” Ortiz said.
In the southeastern U.S., the La Nina phase shows itself in warmer and drier-than-normal conditions during the winter and spring months. A La Nina phase can last as long as two to three years. The longer La Nina events have set the stage for some of the most severe historic droughts in the Southeast.
Cotton Production and Adaptation Strategies
During a La Nina planting season, there is a high risk for planting due to hot, dry conditions.
Producers can prepare the seedbed early to be ready for planting when sufficient moisture becomes available. Under these warmer and drier conditions, consider securing access to an extra planter to capitalize on any rainfall event. With onboard GPS-guided tractors and implements, growers can plant through night and day to capture the benefits of a timely rainfall event.
Warmer, drier winters may increase the risk for overwintering grasshoppers, in addition to bollworms and tobacco budworm pupae. Thrips damage may be more prevalent and begin earlier in the growing season. Potential for stinkbug damage directly correlates to moisture throughout the bloom period, with dry conditions resulting in lower damage.
Growers who anticipate warmer and drier conditions at planting should consider using an insecticide during cover crop burndown to suppress grasshopper populations. Movement of plant bugs from wild plant hosts to cotton typically occurs under warmer and drier spring conditions, so growers should anticipate making more insecticide applications.
“To manage thrips and thrips damage, growers should use a seed treatment or in-furrow application of a systemic insecticide,” Ortiz said. “Following integrated pest management strategies, producers should scout for other insect species and react accordingly.”
Warm conditions may affect herbicide’s half-life and shorten the weed control period. Dry conditions may prevent movement of the herbicide into the seed germination zone, and result in heavy weed pressure. Wet, warm early season conditions encourage rapid crop growth but may also facilitate early season weed growth. To prevent losses due to weed pressure and to avoid herbicide-resistance development, weed management strategies should include residual and post-emergence options before planting, in early season and during the lay-by period.
Extension’s Climate and Crops iBook
Learn more about Climate and Crops, Alabama Extension’s newest iBook, at http://www.aces.edu/climateandcrops.
Climate and Crops focuses on the Southeast’s five major row crops: corn, cotton, peanut, soybean and wheat. It features multiple interactive options, including 17 videos, 33 interactive graphics and hundreds of images related to problematic insects, diseases and weeds.
Climate and Crops is a comprehensive resource not only for farmers, crop consultants and Cooperative Extension.