Sunday, May 26, 2024

2020 Cotton Season Recap

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

There was promise for a great cotton crop in Florida this year until late in the season after the weather had been good for the rest of the growing season.

As cotton began opening, several tropical storms and hurricanes delayed both peanut and cotton harvest with peanuts being harvested first as is normal. Peanut harvest was delayed two to three weeks and pushed cotton harvest out even further.

Several fields of what should have been near-record cotton yields were zeroed out due to high amounts of hardlock with seed sprouting in the boll. Several weeks of rain in September and October had degraded it. However, later-planted cotton that was not open in the wettest period made good yields. Cotton was a mixed bag with many growers having good yields in areas that had less rainfall as bolls were opening.

Cotton needs to be rotated with peanuts to keep nematodes and diseases down for future years and does better without irrigation than many other crops. Better prices will keep cotton in rotations in the Deep South with a better chance to be profitable.

Farmers who had cotton planted after winter grazing had better yields than those fields with just cover crops without grazing. However, the yields were not record-breaking but still had 200 pounds per acre more lint than in fields not grazed.

Many cotton farmers are trying winter grazing ahead of cotton planting and realizing higher yields with fewer fertilizer needs. Planting winter grazing could be a challenge as harvest was delayed. But several growers spread seed for winter grazing before peanuts were dug, and these fields were ready to graze in early to mid-December.

Growers adapt to challenges and learn to manage crops under less-than-ideal conditions. They also have learned to spread peanut vines more uniformly to get better stands of winter grazing.

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

Wide-row cotton intrigues me because of the possibilities for reduced seed/technology costs, hardlock, boll rot and picker expense. The first several factors are easily quantified; the last is somewhat elusive. But if you can pick similar yields with four or five heads versus six, you should save money.

In research and on-farm demonstrations, it’s simple to use multiples of existing planter spacings such as 30 or 36 inches to test 60- or 72-inch row widths.

In 2019, we observed 60- and 72-inch row cotton. Mathematically, 60-inch rows make great sense. Existing wheel spacings fit; 30-inch planters abound; and a six-row picker width exactly matches that of four 60-inch rows (or a four-row picker fits three wide rows). Obviously, tool bars can be extended (with some trouble) to pick six wide rows. Our thought was 60-inch rows may be too wide. Admittedly, our observations were made on a sandy, minimally irrigated site.

In 2020, we investigated 48-inch rows at two sandy, coastal plain locations. We subsoiled under the row and included two varieties, DP 2055 B3XF and PHY 400 W3FE — the former tall and aggressive, the latter compact. We imposed three plant growth regulator regimens: aggressive, moderate, and none based on conditions and variety.

We made an error by planting equal seeding rates on per-acre basis rather than DOWN the row (seed/ft basis), negating the opportunity to reduce seed/technology costs by 33%. We saw that 48-inch rows are a little tight on a traditional 72-inch tire spacing. We understand row spacing and planting pattern must take into account the whole farming system. We’re testing a concept.

At Brewton, Alabama, standard 36-inch row cotton produced 1,484 pounds per acre, the 48-inch row cotton 1,475 pounds per acre. This despite more than 25 inches of rain and lots of wind in September and October.

Varieties and PGR programs produced similar yields in standard rows; in 48-inch rows, the aggressive variety produced about 120 pounds per acre more than the compact variety. We’re awaiting results from Headland, Alabama.

We’re thinking outside the box — investigating a way to lower costs and possibly improve yields in adverse conditions.

Mississippi brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi, Mississippi

Cotton harvest in Mississippi is wrapping up as of Nov. 16 for the 2020 season. It has been a story of triumph and struggle for some cotton farmers, with most operations falling somewhere in the middle.

Cotton was off to a good start in Mississippi through July, with many growers hoping for record-breaking yields. Obviously, this wasn’t the case for all Mississippi cotton farmers. Repeated tropical rains caused yield losses and extended the harvest season. Some cotton didn’t fill out the top crop, which wasn’t anticipated when making preharvest estimates.

Most of the greatest yields were associated with cotton following corn the previous season. The point here is that there was no one reason to blame the missing 200-300 pounds of lint.

Now is the time to plan for the 2021 cotton season. Variety selection is still the No. 1 decision driving a successful 2021. A list of MSU’s Official Variety Trial and on-farm county demos will be available soon at to show how these varieties performed in different regions and locations across the state.

Take a little time this off-season to review the data to make informed decisions regarding varieties. I anticipate a push to some three-gene Bt cotton next year with preliminary data suggesting yields are competitive to two-gene Bt cotton. As always, look at return on investment for your operation, considering costs associated with different production scenarios at

Drier weather has dominated most of November, which is a great time for soil testing. Analyzing your soil test results in the fall will allow time to make fertilizer applications or plan for these applications in the early spring. If nematodes also are a problem on your farm, notice the performance of nematode-tolerant varieties when evaluating MSU variety trials.

Stay safe and good luck in 2021.

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight
Texas A&M

Looking back on 2020, I am fairly certain that everyone has experienced a year full of many challenges, and this remains true for Texas cotton growers. South, East, and Central Texas saw a wide array of challenges depending on the region. Only 2% of a great cotton crop in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was harvested when Hurricane Hanna impacted approximately 140,000 acres in late July.

Beginning the season in drought conditions, the Coastal Bend saw a complete turnaround with exceptional yields and good fiber quality. Areas of the Upper Gulf Coast also started the growing season dry, but timely rainfall in May and June improved the condition of dryland acres in this region.

In certain areas of the Blacklands, yields were below average due to a dry July and August. Early September rains following defoliation slowed the harvest in the Blacklands and negatively impacted fiber quality in several areas within the region.

Harvest is underway in the Rolling Plains, and the early planted irrigated cotton acreage is looking good, according to Dr. Emi Kimura, Extension Agronomist in Vernon, Texas. Irrigated variety trials in this region finished out with 2.5- to 3.7-bale yields. Kimura indicated that a yield reduction in late-planted cotton was expected due to an early freeze in the region.

Reports from the Abilene Classing Office indicate a high percentage of excellent color grades. Over 50% of the cotton classed at Abilene so far is in the 3.7- to 4.3-mic range; however, higher levels of bark are also being reported.

Keep in mind that winter is a great opportunity to collect and submit soil samples to determine soil nutrient needs for the upcoming 2021 growing season. Visit or get in touch with your local county Extension agent for more information on proper sampling techniques and how to submit samples.

snow on texas cotton
Snow came early to West Texas — photo by Murrilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

Last month, I mentioned that after our first strong cold front of the season in early September, we would be looking to fair, open weather going into harvest. Although precipitation has been minimal since then, late November brought with it a two-day snow and ice storm that had most of the region in the teens and 20s for a few days.

Despite this causing some cotton to fall off to the ground and considering some places had more than an inch of ice, things could be worse (remember, it’s 2020).

Cotton that still had green leaves seems to have fared much better overall, but varietal differences were also quite evident in the field.

With all of that weather behind us for now as I write this in mid-November, I estimate harvest to be about 60% to 70% completed.

With fair weather forecasted for the next several days, we should have little cotton on the stalk by the time this issue reaches you. This will be the last you hear from me before the beginning of the new year.

Despite all the challenges we faced in 2020, it has made us better, and we continue to be hopeful for the new year upon us. I hope harvest has been blessed, and that family and health are plentiful this holiday season! Stay safe.

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

As we progress through the end of harvest season, we have seen variable results from across the state. We had a lot of heat stress in the low deserts of central Arizona that had a significant impact on the crop.

The Yuma crop came out early and actually did better than expected. University variety trials in that region of the state conducted on grower cooperator fields all picked 1,700 to 2,000 pounds of lint per acre. The eastern part of the state has been a mixed bag. University trials in that part of the state have ranged from 1,500 to 1,800 pounds.

The Pima cotton in the Safford Valley has been around 1,000 to 1,200 pounds per acre this year. Most of the Pima production in the state in 2020 was in the Safford Valley. The crop in central Arizona will likely be a little bit lower than our statewide average, primarily due to heat stress and lack of precipitation across the state. Overall, statewide yields will probably turn out average in the range of 1,500 to 1,800 pounds lint per acre.

This year, however, will be a fair shot better than the 2019 crop, which was off by a bale or more in just about every region of the state. The interesting thing is that 2019 was just the opposite of 2020 in terms of heat stress levels. We had very little heat stress and very low heat unit accumulations in 2019.

Insect pressure was generally light. In visiting with growers and pest control advisors across Arizona, there were not a lot of insecticide sprays for pests again in 2020. There were some instances of lygus treatments and whitefly treatments, but nothing widespread.

One thing that continues to cause concern about our cotton production in Arizona is herbicide-resistant weeds. This problem continues to grow each year. We see more and more fields that have large populations of pigweed escapes. Growers need to take this very seriously, or we’re going to end up like other parts of the Cotton Belt with high costs associated with efforts to clean up fields that have become out of control.

Bob Hutmacher
Bob Hutmacher

As we head from November into December of 2020 in the San Joaquin Valley, rain and snow so far have been in short supply, with few hints that we will go into 2021 with the beginnings of a good irrigation water supply.

However, since the majority of our wet weather occurs between late November and mid-March, there is a lot of time for rain and snow and improved conditions.

Uncertain irrigation water supply situations will likely again result in a range of grower strategies for pre-plant irrigations. These decisions in turn will impact irrigation scheduling strategies for the remainder of the growing season.

This “set-up” to the growing season could again make decisions on which fields to plant or fallow, timing of pre-plant irrigations, and first post-planting irrigation more challenging. Hopefully, some substantial snowfall and rain in coming months will reduce the need for difficult decisions.

Changes in cropping patterns in the past couple of years include the expansion and contraction of alfalfa, safflower, cotton and small grains acreage. It may be useful to develop some new ideas about where cotton could fit into your production plans and allocated acreage.

Irrigation water availability issues may make it valuable to try out a range of cotton varieties that differ in required or desired growing season length. All cotton varieties can be managed to shorten up the growing season by reductions or delays in irrigation, more aggressive plant growth regulator applications and other management efforts.

But varieties and types of cotton (upland, Acala, Pima) differ in how much you can shorten the growing season and resulting effects on yield reductions and fiber quality. Furthermore, while we know about the high salt tolerance of cotton compared with many other field crops, relative salt tolerance and production of Pima cotton under saline conditions has not been recently studied.

Some of these comparisons might warrant strip tests or other on-farm variety comparisons as you plan your planting season. Cotton remains one of the more versatile annual crops due to its relative tolerance of salinity and moderate levels of water stress.

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

We all had high hopes for a great 2020 as the season began. Numerous issues both on-farm and off-farm presented several unique opportunities and challenges. This season was not cheap and hardly anything about it was easy.

In August, many believed we were on track for a great crop. Several hurricanes and harvest delays took some of the shine off the crop. However, we are still going to end up with a pretty good crop based on latest yield projections.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service November Crop Production report estimated Arkansas production at 1.30 million bales. Based on conditions as of Nov. 1, yield is expected to average 1,200 pounds lint per harvested acre on 520,000 harvested acres. This yield projection surpasses our previous high of 1,185 pounds lint per harvested acre established last year.

Plans for next year should be falling in place. Variety evaluation to begin the process of variety selection should be a priority. Evaluating the performance of newer varieties to the ones you grow and comparing notes with on-farm variety testing programs near you and the official variety trials or OVTs conducted by Dr. Fred Bourland will help provide information needed to select the best varieties for you.

Visit the University of Arkansas System Division of Ag Variety Testing webpage at for variety testing results from county and the OVTs. Contact your local county Extension agent for updates on this season’s testing programs and to get details regarding upcoming virtual meetings.

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten
North Carolina

Nearly everything went wrong is what I am calling 2020. If I said this out loud someone would probably think I was talking about things like COVID-19, civil unrest, the election or Jerry Jeff Walker dying, but I am talking about the cotton crop in North Carolina.

First the planting season was cool with only one short period of decent planting conditions. This reduced our acreage substantially as many growers opted to take prevented planting and left the crop we were able to plant with delayed maturity. We saw how important cool germ is for us in our research plots comparing seed lots with good warm germ and different cool germs.

We still weren’t too worried about the remaining crop, all we needed was decent rainfall patterns to set the crop over a shorter bloom period. Well that didn’t happen, we hit a serious dry period in July in many areas that led to aborting what was the top crop at the time in most fields.

Some fields that got a hit or miss rain in July turned out fairly well. Rains resumed in August and we began setting fruit again. Now we had a top crop, no middle crop and a bottom crop. We thought well things could still be ok as long as we have a good fall, to mature this delayed top crop, avoid an early frost and avoid a hurricane taking out the bottom crop.

Even an average fall without a hurricane could result in a pretty good crop. No such doing! September and early October temperatures were a good bit cooler than normal and the top crop did not mature as well as we needed to have a good crop.

I feel bad to poor mouth this crop given what our friends along the gulf had to endure but Will McCarty taught me to never miss a chance to poor-mouth a crop. Unfortunately, the weather this year gave us legitimate reasons to do so. 2020 gave us the worst planting conditions I can remember and also the coolest fall to try to mature a late crop. Thankfully we did not have to deal with a major tropical storm this year or I would have had to call 2020 the year everything went wrong.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

To start, it is difficult to complain about the challenges 2020 has given Tennessee when considering the experiences the year has handed our neighbors in the Southeast; we are fortunate in Tennessee, considering.

Still, 2020 could have given Tennessee a better hand. Late April and early May of 2020 provided no good opportunities for planting. Fortunately, a window did open up mid-May. Dry conditions at the end of our effective flowering period slowed vegetative growth and sped maturity.

Yield across the state has largely been dictated by planting date and quantity of rainfall during late July and early August. Given our late planting dates, a warm fall would have allowed us to compensate for some of the mid-season stresses.

Unfortunately, we did not receive the long fall we wanted. With all of that said, we will likely still average around 2 bales to the acre for the state and quality has been good.

Although harvest has been interrupted a few times, we’ve been given a good, dry window prior to Thanksgiving week to hopefully wrap things up (or get very close).

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