A week ago, I was driving to Memphis for the weekend and the drama of a bright, rich sunset with the rain lured me off my path. I took the chance to get off the interstate, and snapped a few photos in a couple of different places before finding a cotton farm at the perfect point of light. I snapped loads of photos and video on both my iPhone and my DSLR. I had to share a few pics from my phone immediately… this one grabbed me.
While some of my friends agreed that was a beautiful sight to behold, they weren’t as familiar with some of the other thoughts running through my mind as I stood in the light rain snapping photos. Knowing water was pooling up but could drain off that Delta field, but also wondering what the weather would be like for the next several days.
I turned to my cotton expert friends to ask them whether there are good and bad rains. A quick message thread on Facebook made it possible for me to check in with a few growing regions. I’ll put some of the photos I took that evening (no filters or editing!) along side the comments my friends had.
My friend Marjory Walker said her husband Bob (some of you may remember him giving my niece a first look at a cotton farm in Tennessee). She told me:
Bob says a slow and gentle rain over night, about 3/4 to an inch is usually a good rain. But it varies. Three inches in 15 minutes, a hard pounding rain, is usually a bad one.
A few hours south, Shea Whitfield in the Delta weighed in, looking a bit later into the season too:
I will agree with what Marjory said. Also will add that once the cotton starts putting on fruit (editor’s note: fruit is blooms, squares and bolls — the parts of the plant that will produce cotton lint later) the cloudy conditions that come along with the rain can be very detrimental by causing the plant to shed fruit. Also if we have been dry for quite a while a rain can jump-start the plant vegetatively and cause it to shed. So to answer your question sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad.
When Shea looked at the panoramic photo above, he added:
Makes me think you need to get the planter back out if it was just planted and it sandy ground. Hard packing rain makes it tough for a little cotton plant to come up.
He couldn’t make out that this field had a good stand of cotton already but the other pictures here make that clear. Even without seeing these pics, challenges for seedlings came to mind.
My friend Barry farms on the High Plains of Texas. He hasn’t been seeing the regular rains the Mid-South has had so he has a bit of a different perspective.
The rains we have had the last couple of weeks looks a lot like this, and the cool wet weather has caused some seedling disease and loss of some fields. On the other hand, without rain, NOTHING grows. After the drought we have been through in west Texas, all rain is welcome.
And further west, in Arizona, Kevin Rogers is used to having to irrigate cotton to get it growing. He said:
If the rain hits after its watered up we are ok as long as it doesn’t pond up. If we get a rain before we get germination and a crust forms on the soil and we can’t keep it wet we will have to replant. Agree with all the comments! We also don’t want a heavy rain when the plant is opening up as we get close to harvest.
There’s another post on the site about how damaging rain is on cotton at harvest.
In the days since, we’ve had more rain and cooler temperatures. That’s not exactly cotton weather. It loves a drink now and then but otherwise cotton plants prefer it hot and drier. I hope we get some perfect cotton growing weather soon!
Suzie Wilde (@KissedAFarmer) says
We have a very unique situation out here with the Cotton Root Rot and it’s cure, Topguard fungicide. The Topguard has to go down at planting, but there can not be any rain on the freshly planted seed and Topguard or the vigor of the seed is affected. So on the farms with heavy Root Rot, timing is now not just important, but it can mean the difference in the cotton coming up or having to replant the entire field. Trust us, we speak from experience on this one! A nice rain on freshly planted cotton is usually welcomed out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert. But now, that same rain can mean disaster.
Janice Person says
Thanks for weighing in! The protection is great to have when needed… otherwise it is just expensive!