WESLACO — The predicted return of smoke and haze to the Rio Grande Valley skies this Memorial Day weekend from fires in Mexico and Central America will likely have little or no effect on area fiel d crops, according to experts at the Texas Agricultural Research and Extension Service in Weslaco. Lack of rain, they say, is a much more critical issue.
Cotton IPM entomologist John Norman said the smokey conditions two weeks ago actually helped cotton and sorghum fields by providing relief from the baking sun and reducing soil moisture evaporation.
But more smoke, he says, won’t help. Only rain or irrigation can do that now.
“Once the smoke cleared,” Norman said, “cotton plants really responded to the increased sunlight. They loaded up with flower buds and blooms. Once they’re pollinated, blooms will make bolls which is basically what will make up this year’s crop. And at this point, most of this year’s crop is already on the plants. Although some shedding is normal, the objective now is to avoid excess sheddin g of those bolls. But as each day passes without rain or irrigation, the potential for shedding and lower yields increases.”
Norman says a good, soaking rain of 2 to 3 inches would be ideal at this point to help both dryland and irrigated cotton fields maintain their fruit load. But with no rain in the forecast, time is running out, he said, and forcing those growers who can to irrigate.
Between May and September, sugarcane is also at a critical growing stage when water is paramount. Sugarcane breeder Dr. Jim Irvine said at this time of year, cane should be growing at a rate of an inch per day.
“Unless cane fields have been recently irrigated,” Irvine said, “you won’t find that growth. The area between joints in the cane is shortened and once that tissue is hard, it will never elongate. Since that’s where sugar is stored, you end up with decreased storage space, lost tonnage and a reduced yield.”
Smoke-filled skies also helped cane fields by lowering triple digit temperatures and reducing water loss and plant stress. But at this point of the growing season, unless the predicted smoke is pro longed, Irvine said more smoke will neither help nor hurt cane. It, like cotton, needs rain.