October is generally the driest month of the year and number of hours of daylight is limited as producers try to finish harvest. Cotton, peanuts and soybeans will generally be finished up during this month with only late-planted crops harvested in November. It is very critical to take advantage of good harvest days since November is cooler and takes longer for the dew to dry off.
Harvest capacity for all crops should be sufficient to obtain maximum yield and quality. Defoliating cotton under cool conditions is different than in September and early October, and rates of harvest aids have to be increased to expect the same kinds of results as you received earlier in the season. Most cotton should be picked by late October and number of acres that can be harvested decreases rapidly due to short days, which also results in a longer time to dry out after rains.
Many producers plant cover crops after harvest/stalk mowing. Fields can be leveled with a harrow if ruts were formed due to tractor or picker passes in the growing season or at harvest. If fields are to be grazed, cover crops should be planted as soon as possible after harvest to expect early grazing. If all operations are done using no-till, and cotton is to be planted again the next year, precision placement of rows can make a difference in yield the following year.
By moving rows from the previous year’s row to the row middles, yields can be increased by 25 to 33 percent. This impact is due mainly to nematodes since cotton can continue to grow until mid-December, and nematodes survive on these roots. Timeliness is critical for each operation to make the best yield and quality.
As we look back on this year, it seems that the weather in Louisiana was scripted to test the resolve of cotton farmers. We began the year with a very wet spring that delayed planting and damaged stands, which needed replanting, then immediately encountered an extended dry, hot period in June/July and are now facing an unusually wet September during harvest season.
Despite it all, the Louisiana crop is rated as somewhat above average, if it can be harvested timely. Unfortunately, the weather has limited harvesting to about 20 percent of the crop, although 95 percent of fields are mature enough for defoliation and harvesting. There have already been significant fiber quality losses from the extended rainy period. As of this writing on Sept. 18, it is not likely that the remaining late-planted fields that are not mature can complete development of bolls that are not already at least 75 percent mature.
Research in the LSU AgCenter has shown that the shorter days of late September and October with reduced total sunlight greatly extend timing of boll development, and, in some years, limited heat unit accumulation is also a problem, limiting the yield that can accumulate.
If a few cloudy days also occur that further reduce total sunlight, plants make little or no progress in filling bolls. At this time of year, it may be best to sacrifice the immature top bolls to minimize the extended risk to the crop and even later defoliation and harvest. Once typical winter weather arrives with rains and poor drying conditions, the risk of yield and quality losses will greatly increase.
According to the Missouri Crop Progress and Condition Report for the week ending Sept. 13, cotton is 18 percent open, which is 12 days behind last year and 18 days behind normal. In spite of the later cotton, there is optimism for a good yield. In fact, USDA has increased the projected yield for Missouri from 1,061 to 1,132 pounds per acre. It is all dependent on climatic conditions to have enough heat units to mature the top crop and to get the crop out of the field.
Our weather patterns have been somewhat erratic this season. Irrigated cotton did not have the same stress levels as the non-irrigated crop. This should help with fiber development and quality.
Producers need to be mindful of resistant weeds. In the last several weeks, I have seen what appears to be resistant Palmer pigweed, and we now have plenty of the resistant marestail. Many of our Missouri producers have crews to “big weed” their field, which has helped reduce the seed potential.
We have more than enough moisture to fill out the top crop, and we also have more on the way. So, regrowth might be a problem. Since we have a later crop, tankmixes for defoliation will be recommended because it will probably be cooler than normal. The use of thiadiazuron (Dropp, Ginstar and Leafless) is recommended as part of the tankmix.
The success of re-growth control is highly dependent on rate, plant condition and weather.
The Arkansas cotton crop is later than any in recent memory. Unseasonably cool temperatures, rain and cloudy weather during July, August and September have delayed the crop even further, and, as a result, many producers will be defoliating cotton in October. Generally, in Arkansas, 30-year average temperatures suggest that the first two weeks in October should be warm enough to provide for heat unit accumulation and thus be warm enough for defoliant products to continue to work effectively with appropriate rates.
Historically, the majority of the Arkansas cotton crop is defoliated the last week in August through September. This year at least 40 percent of the crop will most likely be defoliated between the last week of September and second week of October. This year will be unlike many others in that producers should be watching the extended weather forecasts to schedule harvest-aid applications prior to possible frosts or freezes.
Effectiveness of harvest-aid products relies heavily on environmental conditions, particularly temperatures before, during and after application. Average temperatures below 60 degrees will greatly decrease the effectiveness of most harvest aids. Applications of boll opening products four to five days before a frost or freeze, assuming adequate temperatures are available, will be needed to enhance abscission formation allowing the leaves to fall off of the plant after the frost event.
This may be a critical decision this year for many cotton producers in Arkansas.
The majority of Alabama’s cotton crop this year is much later than normal. Heavy rains in May delayed planting until the end of the month, and a cooler and wetter growing season has myself and many producers concerned. A few weeks ago I wrote an article stating we needed a warm September in Alabama to mature this cotton crop.
Well, at this writing in September, it’s been cool, wet and overcast for most of the month. Cotton is maturing very slowly, and a few producers are remembering 1967 when a good cotton crop in Alabama was left in the field because bolls froze before they could open. I am not predicting that for this crop, mainly because we have better tools to defoliate and open cotton than we did in 1967.
However, we may have to modify our cotton defoliation techniques. Rates of defoliants and boll opening products may have to be increased to get the desired results. It may also take more than one trip across the field to defoliate and open the later maturing fields. As weather conditions change, we will be applying defoliation strip trials to find the best combinations and passing this information on to area farmers.
For the Tennessee producer, the theme for this year has been “hurry up and wait.” Planting delays due to wet weather in April and May dictated that producers would hurry up to plant, and when the rains started two days later they were back to waiting again.
All season, producers would hurry up to make applications of insecticides or plant growth regulators ahead of a rain, then back to waiting again. Finally, as September arrived, the weather finally dried up, and the crop began to show signs of maturity. However, by Sept. 10, the rains began again, and, as of today, (Sept. 21), we have endured 10 straight days of cool, rainy, cloudy weather.
The forecast is for 50 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms through Sept 26 (five more days). Needless to say, everyone is waiting again. All Tennessee crops, including cotton, were headed toward record-breaking yields in 2009. Unless the weather pattern changes quickly, we will leave a good portion of that record in the field.
To say that 2009 has been a rollercoaster ride may be an understatement. Excess moisture in April and May resulted in late planting, which was followed by a hot, dry June. July and August were cooler and wetter than expected, and, as of mid-August, Mississippi had an excellent looking cotton crop. However, cool weather arrived in late August followed by persistent rainfall in September.
At the time of this writing, hardlock and boll rot occurrences are increasing, and we are seeing some fields with seeds sprouting in the boll.
Even with the challenging year we have had, all is not lost. Cotton pickers will be busy in October, and until the final numbers are in we should not count this crop out.
Although this crop is not out of the field yet, it may be prudent to begin planning for next year’s crop now. After a long difficult year, the thought of picking up a soil probe may be as appealing as taking a shower in ice water. However, the benefit of a sound soil fertility program cannot be overstated. The need for fertilizer is similar to that of gasoline for a car. You go a long way with it, but not far without it.
The easiest way to save money on fertility is to collect soil samples and design a fertility program based on results from your soil testing lab. Determining the type and quantity of nutrients that are needed through soil testing will lay the foundation for a successful crop next year and may ultimately save you money in the long run.
Climbing the mountain of success next year begins with taking baby steps this year.