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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU researchers study replacement crops for hail-damaged cotton

TUCUMCARI, N.M. - When a farmer plants cotton, they hope to see a high yield and return on their investment. But what is a producer to do when their crop is completely destroyed by hail early in its stand life?

Cowpeas are an ideal crop to replace cotton damaged by hail as they are labeled to grow with some herbicides specific to cotton. Cowpeas produce edible dry beans and can also be used as forage for livestock. (Photo courtesy of Leonard Lauriault)

Researchers at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari have studied options for farmers to salvage the efforts they have put into planting the cotton. What they have found is that, between cowpea and kenaf, cowpea for edible dry beans is the best option to plant to replace damaged cotton as they have similar growing cycles to cotton and will give the producers a moderate return.

"Cowpea is a crop they can plant so farmers will have something to harvest. They can at least recover what it cost them to plant that crop and the previous crop," said Leonard Lauriault, forage agronomist.

Kenaf is not as good an option due to its lower value as a fiber crop for paper or biofuel and its requirement for the longest possible growing season to maximize yields.

"Losing that first month of the growing season dramatically reduces kenaf yields," he said.

Cotton seedlings are susceptible to damage early in the growing season, from emergence to about 30 days after planting. Weather patterns in the Southern High Plains have shown a high incidence of crop-damaging hail. Producers need to have replacement crops in case they do face crop failure.

Farmers should be aware of harvest restrictions when they apply soil-incorporated herbicides that are labeled for cotton as they could have a negative effect on future or replacement crops planted. It might seem easy to plant grain sorghum after a cotton crop is ruined, as that crop has a short growing season, but some cotton herbicides will kill the sorghum when it germinates.

Cowpeas and kenaf, Lauriault said, are labeled to grow with some herbicides specific to cotton. Depending on the severity of the damage to the cotton, producers may have to spray the remaining cotton with herbicide to make room for the new crop.

"In the next week or two, if a hail event happens, a farmer can come back immediately and plant cowpeas," Lauriault said, "but it's already too late to plant kenaf."

Cowpeas can be harvested all through the season. They are safe for humans and animals to eat and are an ideal forage crop for livestock, making them more profitable than kenaf.

Between the two crops, cowpea, which can be grown for edible dry blackeye or pinkeye peas or as green beans, is well adapted to the Southern High Plains, Lauriault said, and can be planted as late as the middle of June - without the producer sacrificing their yield - with proper irrigation to supplement precipitation.