The same could be said today. The first observations of the disease in 1888 noted that it was a soil-borne disease and that plants on alkaline soil didn't seem to be bothered by it. Research has continued since then on the disease, and though nothing has been found to eliminate it from fields, a chemical from Europe might offer some hope.
Thomas Isakeit, a plant pathologist with Texas AgriLife Extension, has been doing research on cotton root rot with flutrifol, which has been used in Europe to control wheat diseases. Isakeit's research shows that it appears to work extremely well on cotton root rot as well.
"This is not a new chemical," Isakeit said. "It's been registered in the United States for use on soybean rust, but it's not yet been approved for use on cotton. That could happen, depending partly on our research."
The research is taking place at the Stiles Farm Foundation near Thrall where Isakeit finds himself in the odd position of hoping that cotton root rot will appear on his cotton plants.
"Some years you have it and some years you don't," he said. "You can't always get it, so it's going to take many trials to see how it works."
Cotton root rot also attacks at least 2,000 other plants, including many agriculture commodities like grapes, olives and apples. If flutriafol is approved for use on cotton, that doesn't mean it will be approved for other crops, Isakeit said.
"I think it could be looked at for use on any crop worth a lot of money," he said.
Texas produces 8.2 million bales of cotton a year, or about half of the nation's annual average of 16.7 million bales, according to the state's Extension cotton specialist, Gaylon Morgan. Morgan added that this year looks to be an especially good year for cotton.
"Last year, we had about 40 percent abandonment of fields," he said. "That's down to about 3 percent this year."
Isakeit has been working on root rot for about 10 years. Though research on the disease has continued since the 1880s, he said there was a lull in research because the disease is so persistent that it has been considered almost a part of doing business for growers in every part of the state, except the High Plains region.
"The worst area for it is the Blacklands between San Antonio and Dallas, and in the Lower Rio Grande Valley," he said. "Stiles Farm is right in the middle of that region, which is why it's a good site to test."
His experiments with flutriafol have been going on for about three years, and he hopes to have his test results and documentation ready for EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) consideration by 2011. The early results, he said, have been very promising and could eventually give cotton growers a valuable new tool to combat the disease.
"Using one-sixteenth of the active ingredient, we have cut root rot in fields where it's appeared by 50 percent or more," he said. "That's exciting for us, and for people who are used to losing a certain amount of their crop to it every year."
Isakeit said the cost of application is about $20 an acre.
"It's affordable," he said. "If you couple that with some of the precision ag technologies that are available, you won't have to spend a lot of money to get the control."
Even with the promising results from the Stiles Farm tests, Isakeit said he also warns producers that flutriafol does not remove the root rot fungus from the soil. The chemical appears to stabilize in the soil, which is a mixed blessing, he said.
"That's good, but it's bad from the EPA's standpoint," he said. "That's why we've tested it at very low rates."
Part of Isakeit's work has involved determining how much cotton is lost to root rot each year, since researchers haven't worked on that since the 1960s. Though losses vary from year to year, he said losses appear to be in the 10-15 percent range. Flutriafol could reduce that percentage by at least half.
For anxious producers, the only bad news is the fact that they will have to wait on EPA approval before they can use flutriafol on their cotton. Until then, Isakeit suggests that producers rotate their cotton with other crops.
"Crop rotation will help," he said. "That at least gives the soil a chance to build up some survival structures. Even so, there's always going to be some left behind when you go to another crop."