Thursday, June 13, 2024

2019 harvest progress snapshot

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

In October, scientists from universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seed companies, Cotton Incorporated and the National Cotton Council convened to discuss the knowns and unknowns about cotton leaf roll disease. Considerable information has been generated over the past year or so. Still, there is much to be determined.

This viral disease was first identified from cotton in east central Alabama in 2017, was seen again in the Gulf Coast region in 2018 and has been widely detected in the Southeast this year. While this virus is now biologically well established in Alabama and adjacent states, CLRD has also been identified in plots or fields from North Carolina to Texas in 2019.

The virus is transmitted by cotton aphid and causes a range of symptoms in cotton, including leaf malformation, fruit loss and possibly wilting.

Related viruses have caused significant cotton losses in Africa and Brazil dating back to the 1940s and 1980s, respectively. Does this virus pose a serious threat to U.S. cotton? That’s still unclear.

In Alabama and Georgia, there have been a few fields with severe yield loss. But most fields in which the virus has been confirmed appear minimally affected in regard to final yield. In some fields, dramatic plant responses have been observed; not so in others. The specific response triggers remain elusive.

Historically, host plant resistance is the solution to viral diseases. This involves plant breeding, which, of course, is a long-term enterprise. Research from multiple disciplines is on-going and information is being readily shared from programs across the Belt and beyond. Hopefully, our collective activities will provide useful information for dealing with this threat in future years.

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

As you review the results from the 2019 season, one area that is always good to evaluate is your fertility program. Fertilizers can represent a significant portion of the crop production budget. With cotton prices where they currently are, it is important to make sure every crop input is resulting in a positive return on investment.

In evaluating the 2019 season and preparing for the 2020 season, now is a good time to asses soil fertility status.

This is best done through a systematic and consistent soil testing program. Basing decisions related to a fertilizer program on actual soil test nutrient levels will help increase the efficiency of your fertility management plan and your overall operation.

Soil test critical levels associated with major nutrients for cotton production in the low desert have been validated and verified.

These values have been published in Extension publications and can be found at These values have been calibrated and correlated with soil tests that are conducted with methods and techniques designed for high pH, arid desert soils.

t is important to remember when sending soil samples that you know the laboratory is using soil analysis techniques associated with desert high pH soils. This will provide the best results in making fertilizer decisions for the upcoming season.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Every year brings different weather patterns and challenges, and 2019 was no different. Cotton yields have been better than expected with some areas going through major droughts while other areas had too much rain.

Overall, a dry fall resulted in good harvest weather for most of the crop.

Now is the time to consider what’s in the soil for next year’s crop for both pests and fertility. Soil samples should be pulled for nematodes as well as fertility. Areas in the field that did not perform as well as expected are fresh in your mind from harvest. These “zones” should be sampled separately to determine what caused the zone effect so those areas can be managed next year.

Cover crops should be considered as microbial populations thrive where cover crops are planted. Cover mixes can be altered based on the crop that will be grown in 2020.

Legume cover crops, in most cases, should not precede legume row crops. But legumes should be part of the cover where cotton will be planted. Early planting of cover crops aids in growth for increasing organic matter and reducing erosion, which can impact water needs in cotton next year.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

As I write this in October, the Missouri cotton crop is progressing well with the dry weather as of late. Overall, the 2019 crop yield potential is good and predicted to be another 1,200-plus pound year. The weather has been warm with 75 degrees Fahrenheit and above nights, allowing for good defoliation conditions. However, it looks like cooler weather is here to stay after the warm September we have had with some rainfall forecast.

Because of our wet spring, there will be some late-picked cotton as well due to delayed plantings. Hopefully, we won’t have the rainfall that was present toward the end of the 2018 picking season.

With the recent increases in defoliant prices, be sure to apply sufficient defoliant rates to late-planted cotton to ensure that when a picking window opens, the cotton crop is still adequately defoliated and not covered in regrowth.

After harvest would also be an excellent time to collect soil samples to ensure accurate fertility applications for 2020. Pulling samples this fall would also help guarantee results are returned in a timely manner since the soil lab has closed at the Fisher Delta Research Center.

Harvest will be wrapping up soon for 2019, and it will be time to start planning for next year. Results from the Missouri official variety trials will be posted soon at At the time of this writing, the first OVT had been picked and the preliminary results should be available to view.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

Harvest started for some areas of Oklahoma by early October. However, an unexpected freeze affected almost all the acres in the state Oct. 10-12.

These conditions caught many acres prior to harvest aid applications and others within a week of having received an application. This freeze will undoubtedly affect the production and quality of many cotton acres in the state.

Overall, there is still general optimism about the 2019 crop as harvest cranks up. It will be interesting to see the effects of the October weather on the crop.

After harvest is an excellent time to soil sample to determine nutrient needs for the following year. For more information about soil sampling, contact your county Extension office or visit the Oklahoma State soil testing lab’s website at

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

Harvest was rolling along nicely until mid-October when rain slowed its progress. Yield reports from our earliest planted cotton have ranged from average to unbelievable.

While many were ready for the heat to relent once we reached October, temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit throughout September and into October undoubtedly helped mature the later planted cotton. With much of our crop planted after May 20, the prolonged heat was needed to finish this crop out.

If rains move out in a timely manner, harvest will likely near completion by mid- to late November. Everyone will breathe a collective sigh of relief and take a well-deserved rest once this crop is in the books. As we enter the winter months, spend as much time as possible evaluating return on investment for inputs used.

Our growers have produced outstanding yields once again, but the price of cotton is not overly favorable at this point.

Evaluating where capital invested produced a viable return will be paramount to maximizing profitability heading into 2020. Speaking of 2020, weren’t we just worried about Y2K a couple of years ago? Time flies when you’re having fun….

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

Cotton harvest as projected by the National Agricultural Statistics Service was about half completed into the second week of October. At this point, we are on track to achieve the most current NASS yield projection of 1,157 pounds per harvested acre for the state of Arkansas.

This would be our second highest yield on record behind the 1,177 pounds harvested in 2017 and 33 pounds above our five-year average. Producers expect to harvest 610,000 acres. There are still a great number of challenges we must be prepared to address as this crop season comes to an end. We all look forward to seeing how it wraps up.

arkansas cotton harvest
In 2019, Arkansas may experience its second highest yield on record.

Most farmers are well into planning for 2020. Soil samples for fertility as well as nematodes will be pulled in great numbers after harvest and stalk destruction are complete. Get cover crops on your radar if they are not part of your current plan.

Look to the University of Arkansas Variety Testing webpage at its new address,, for cotton variety testing results from county and the official variety trials.

County production meetings are being scheduled at this time. Contact your local county Extension agent for dates and locations for one near you.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

With few exceptions, cotton yields in West Tennessee have been incredible. We are likely sitting on another record crop if the late-planted acres don’t pull the average backwards too much. No doubt, yield numbers will likely decline as we move into the later- planted acres.

This trend — decreasing yields as planting dates move from late April or early May to mid- and late May — has been consistent for us in Tennessee. Planting conditions need to be right: warm soil temperatures, adequate moisture and a favorable forecast. We can’t just arbitrarily plant May 1. But those who are able to pull the trigger typically are rewarded.

It’s true that ideal planting conditions rarely develop for us during late April. Still, we are often able to bend the rules — plant in cooler soils or sneak acres in before a heavy rain — if we have vigorous, high-quality seed. Obtaining high-quality seed was a challenge in 2019 due to several late-season weather conditions, which struck seed-producing regions during 2018.

Rest assured, there have been countless conversations across the Belt concerning seed quality at all levels of production. Based on changes many companies are making, I do not believe you will see this issue at the 2018 level again. Still, now is the time to begin the conversation with your sales rep about 2020 cultivar selection.

I suggest bringing up seed quality to learn more about the changes they are making to protect all of us against the 2018 seed production issues. I believe you will be impressed.

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

Cotton defoliation across the state is nearing completion as we approach the middle of October. About 70% of the crop has been harvested. Weather conditions were ideal during September and the first half of October.

However, rain and cooler temperatures are in the forecast, which will hinder boll opening and defoliation on the remaining 30% of the crop that has not been harvested.

About 85% of this year’s crop can be considered in the fair to good range with state yields expected to be 950-1,000 pounds lint per acre.

Following harvest, consider soil fertility needs for the 2020 crop. Basically, soil tests serve two functions by indicating the nutrient levels in the soil and where to start in developing a fertilizer/lime program. A sound program can be prescribed by combining this information and cropping history with the overall soil productivity potential of the field.

Also, soil tests can be used on a regular basis to monitor the production system and to measure trends and changes, which helps to maintain the overall fertility program on the same level with other production inputs.

Soil test levels will change during the year, depending on temperature and soil moisture. It’s important to take samples at the same time each year so results can be compared year to year.

Generally, nutrient levels will be lower during summer and fall compared to winter and spring. The best time to sample is one to six months prior to planting. The earlier the better if lime is needed, because lime requires several months to fully react and neutralize soil acidity.

Fertilizer should be applied closer to the time the crop needs it. Use the same lab each time you have your soil tested because there are no set standards followed by all testing labs. They use different chemical methods to determine the soil’s nutrient levels, which lead to different test results.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

Defoliation and harvest began noticeably earlier than normal in North Carolina this year. Our 2019 crop maturity was accelerated due to heat and dry conditions during the summer months. As I write this on Oct. 7, we’ve had some of the best defoliation and harvest weather we’ve had in many years so far.

Warm, dry, sunny days since Hurricane Dorian have allowed us to fully open, retain and harvest a higher percentage of the harvestable bolls this year compared to several recent years that were plagued with September/October winds, heavy rain, boll rot, hardlock, etc.

As predicted, the crop is North Carolina is more variable than we’ve seen in several years. This is primarily due to excessive heat and drought throughout late June and July and spotty rains during this time. August rains allowed for development of a good top crop in places, which improves our expected yields. Depending on summer rainfall patterns, much of our crop falls between the 700- to 800- pound range and 1,100- to 1,300-pound range on the upper end.

Hopefully, ideal harvest conditions will continue, although we are currently on the cusp of cooling down noticeably, at least for the meantime. So far, this year clearly illustrates how much the weather during September and October can influence yields and quality.

Although current conditions are relatively dry, growers should take advantage of any rainfall that does occur during the fall with regard to cover crop establishment.

Planting date and seeding rate for winter cover crops often play a major role in stand establishment and biomass accumulation throughout the winter and early spring. Delaying cover crop establishment until the late fall or winter months can result in less-than-ideal ground cover for next year’s crop.

Variety decisions usually begin in late November and into December. The results of the North Carolina On-Farm Cotton Variety Evaluation Program and NCSU OVT will be posted on the NCSU Cotton Portal Website,, and in the NCSU Cotton Variety Performance Calculator,

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

As of Oct. 11, South Texas is all done with cotton harvest, and some areas in West Texas have already seen a first freeze. Dr. Josh McGinty in Corpus Christi reports average yields around 2 bales in the Coastal Bend (better than average) and a little short of 2 bales on the Upper Gulf Coast (lower than average).

About 200,000 bales have come through the classing office at Corpus Christi with no fiber quality issues so far.

Stalk destruction is next on the list to keep the boll weevil in check. In the Rolling Plains, the irrigated cotton looks great, but heat units will be in short supply to finish up some of the late-planted cotton, reports Dr. Emi Kimura in Vernon. Dryland cotton fields are variable, and very few acres have been harvested in the region as of this writing.

In West Texas, the crop condition is fairly variable as well due to excessive rainfall early, followed by plenty of hailstorms. The weather turned hot and dry in July, August and the better part of September. Late September and early October brought heavy rainfall for good portions of the region. This was too late to do any good for the dryland crop, but it did delay harvest aid applications in some cases.

According to the West Texas Mesonet, most of the regions north of Plainview saw temperatures from around 30 degrees Fahrenheit to as low as 18 F in the northern Panhandle. Dr. Jourdan Bell in Amarillo reports that research plots have been damaged by heavy rainfall the first week of October.

First position bolls that have been open for a while are strung out, and top bolls are still immature in many varieties. With clear weather, we are starting to see harvest activity pick up in and around Lubbock. By the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, harvest will probably be in full swing across the region.

Hunter Frame
Hunter Frame

Cotton harvest started early this year with pickers running in late September. Some growers may be finished by the time this issue reaches the reader.

The 2019 season has been the earliest harvest season for the Tidewater region of Virginia since I have been the state cotton specialist. It is not uncommon to be harvesting cotton up to Thanksgiving.

A dry September led to little hardlock/boll rot issues, and producers were able to harvest a percentage of the crop with little to no picker losses. Yields reported in early October have been impressive, but we will wait and see how bale numbers come in. The current October yield for Virginia in the last USDA NASS report is 1,015 pounds of lint per acre. However, I believe this number is lower than what the state will average in 2019.

Turning from harvest to looking at next year, producers and/or their crop consultants need to focus on fall soil sampling. I prefer to sample during early fall as the soil has not cooled, thus giving more reliable measurements on soil chemical parameters such as pH.

A common question/problem we routinely see in the coastal plain of Virginia is soil samples pulled in January/February have elevated pH and no lime recommendation. This is a product of wet, cool soils with little to no soil buffering capacity (low CEC soils), thus diluting a small pool of soil acidity and resulting in higher soil pHs.

When the soil warms up from April to June and starts drying, the soil pH will drop. This affects crop growth as low pH spots in fields will appear stunted, yellow and/or have multiple nutrient deficiencies. To avoid this situation, soil sample in early fall (September to early November) to capture an accurate snapshot of the soil chemical properties.

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