2020 Harvest Update

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

October is the main month for cotton harvest in Florida. There are often tropical storms or hurricanes that can affect harvest timing and result in low yield and quality even though a good crop is made through good management over the previous four months.

Many of our peanut/cotton farmers set a priority on getting peanut harvested before cotton harvest begins even though both crops may be ready at the same time. We have always recommended to be ready to harvest both crops at the same time. As much as 20% to 25% of the time, the cotton crop can lose yield or quality due to waiting until peanut harvest is finished.

Many growers have turned to custom harvesters if they are projecting that both crops will be ready to harvest at the same time. This often helps with both yield and quality. In addition, it helps with timely planting of cover crops to reduce erosion and nutrient leaching during winter months as well as to have earlier winter grazing if winter grazing is part of the system.

Early planted cover crops, such as oat/rye/clover, can be ready for grazing by early December. Grazing winter cover crops will double the size of the summer crop root systems of cotton or peanut compared to the same winter cover crops that are not grazed. Grazing winter cover crops prior to cotton has been shown to reduce irrigation and nitrogen application needs up to 50% while increasing yield by at least 150 pounds per acre of lint.

Growers who have tried this practice have started fencing many fields as they are finding fewer inputs are needed while increasing yield. For peanut, prior grazing of winter of cover crops results in less need for irrigation.

It is especially beneficial for reducing aflatoxin as often non-irrigated peanut will have high levels of aflatoxin and will be graded to a lower class and go into to oil stock with value being less than half those peanuts going into the edible market. Therefore, growers who do not have irrigation should try a field that may often have lower value peanut due to aflatoxin levels.

Grazing cover crops is a management plan that results in applying fewer inputs. It results in higher yields for cotton most every time and is a management plan that is being adopted by more and more cotton producers. wright@ufl.edu

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

The following is something I wrote about in this column 14 years ago and experienced in March 1986.
In an instant, I was on my back and in severe pain. I knew I was badly hurt, but a wiggle of my toes made me hope I was not paralyzed.

I had suffered a fractured vertebra, seriously strained back muscles and compressed intestine. … While working in my field research project as a graduate student, I did something stupid and was injured in a tractor accident. … in just a few minutes, I was on a gurney in the ER. …

Harvest is often HURRY UP time, crunch time, time to “get ’er done.” And rightly so. But it should not, must not be a time when you and your workers neglect SAFETY. The cliché is so appropriate to the issue: Safety is no accident. Terribly bad things can happen so quickly, creating life threatening or lifelong injuries. How easy it is to neglect common sense, to cut corners, to forget about the dangers of what we’re doing.

The older I get, the more I’m around stuff, the more readily I see what could happen. It sometimes makes me cringe. During 11 years with a global ag company, I never participated in a meeting in which safety was not addressed. I appreciated the lessons. I appreciate the cultivation of a mindset and awareness.

All this to encourage you to build a culture of safety. Even during harvest. Especially during harvest. cottonbrown@auburn.edu

Mississippi brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi

As of Sept. 15, Hurricane Sally is the big unknown for Mississippi cotton producers. Across the state, cotton has progressed rapidly, with many acres already defoliated. The vast majority of acres should be defoliated by Sept. 22.

This weather system has a couple of implications regarding cotton defoliation. Obviously, potential for excessive rainfall and high winds rank top for producers at this point in the season.

At last track, Hurricane Sally will directly affect southeast Mississippi with heavy rains and damaging winds. This portion of the state plants later for this reason. With later cotton, hopefully the crop will better withstand the storm.

Since we have reached the peak of hurricane season, hopefully the tropics will settle down a bit. An approaching cold front will also affect our forecasted temperatures and humidity over the next 10 days, which could influence some defoliation strategies.

Farmers began defoliating toward the end of the first week in September using a standard treatment of thidiazuron and ethephon harvest aids and achieving approximately 80% defoliation. One week later, they applied ET and ethephon with plans to harvest seven days after the second application. This has worked well in hot, humid and dry conditions.

If we get a lot of rain or cooler temperatures, I could see the potential to tweak the defoliation strategy. The varieties we grow today often have aggressive growth habits and are waiting for a reason to start growing again, especially once the bolls have reached maturity.

An aggressive variety sitting on top of excess nitrogen can pose a regrowth problem. If temperatures are topping out in the 70s and low 80s, tribufos (Folex) is a good addition for an aggressive strategy in conjunction with thidiazuron and ethephon. A second application is typically recommended to address to address any regrowth, open bolls and clean up any remaining foliage.

For more information, check out the Mid-South defoliation guide for a list of products and defoliation scenarios. bkp4@msstate.edu

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

Most everyone is still cautiously optimistic about the 2020 crop. Our early cotton experienced some hardlock and boll rot from Hurricane Laura and the extended wet weather that followed. The later cotton has much less boll rot than the early cotton. We have lost some yield potential statewide but could still reach the National Agricultural Statistics Service yield estimates with the right kind of weather to finish this crop out.

The NASS September Crop Production report projects Arkansas producers to harvest 1.3 million bales, up 80,000 bales from the Aug. 1 forecast but 206,000 bales below last year. Based on conditions as of Sept. 1, yield is expected to average 1,200 pounds per harvested acre, up 5 pounds from last month and up 15 pounds from our all-time high lint yield set in 2019. Planted acreage is revised to 525,000 acres, up 25,000 acres from June 2020.

Harvested acreage is revised from 490,000 to 520,000 acres.

Just as pickers are ready to start rolling, mid-September NASS projections reported crop maturity slightly ahead of last year and our five-year average. Crop condition is good with 36% of the crop rated as excellent and another 44% of the crop rated good.

We have seen a great number of challenges thrown at us, and there are still challenges we must be prepared to address as 2020 comes to an end. Get cover crops on your radar if they are not part of your current plan. We all look forward to seeing how this season wraps up as we make plans for 2021. brobertson@uaex.edu

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight
Texas A&M

The Coastal Bend growing region is close to wrapping up harvest on what looks like a great year. The season for growers in this region took a sharp turn in the right direction after a very dry start. Yields are consistently in the 2.5- to 3 bales-per-acre range, with localized reports of 3-plus bales per acre.

Cotton classed at Corpus Christi so far has been very good. As I write this on Sept. 15, the average mic classed at Corpus Christi is 4.24 and only 0.4% of the cotton has a mic over 5. Farther south, the Lower Rio Grande Valley took a terrible hit from Hurricane Hanna July 24. About 140,000 acres of cotton were affected.

coastal bend, Texas, cotton
Texas cotton specialist Dr. Ben McKnight says the Coastal Bend is having a great year. “Yields are consistently in the 2.5- to 3 bales-per-acre range, with localized reports of 3-plus bales per acre,” he says.
The Upper Gulf Coast continues to approach the tail end of harvest as they dodge spotty rain showers. Overall, this area has seen relatively good weather for harvesting the crop and hasn’t been affected by tropical weather systems, which can be common this time of year. Some of the reported yields in this region are in the 2.25- to 2.75 bales-per-acre range.

Untimely rainfall has slowed harvest in the Brazos Bottom and the Blackland Prairie regions. Several areas have received rainfall following harvest aid applications. This has led to regrowth requiring follow-up applications. Some areas in the Blackland Prairie received almost 10 inches of rain in the past few weeks that will most likely affect fiber quality. Initial yield reports in these areas are in the 1.5- to 2.3 bales-per-acre range. bmcknight@tamu.edu

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

For sure, 2020 is a year that will go on record. In the last issue of Cotton Farming, I mentioned we were hoping for an extended season to finish out the crop, especially for the late-planted fields. It did not happen. In fact, September 7-9 brought a strong cold front that pushed through West Texas, significantly dropping temperatures across the entire region.

Generally speaking, areas north of Parmer, Castro and Swisher counties and west of Interstate 27 saw temperatures in the 30s. Areas south of that line and east of I-27 bottomed out in the 40s. As noted by the National Weather Service, this is the all-time earliest on record that Amarillo has hit a low of 40 degrees, beating the previous record set Sept. 10, 1898. Yes, that’s 122 years ago.

As I write this in mid-September, the weather forecast shows temperatures in the 80s for highs and 50s for lows with virtually no precipitation in sight through the rest of the month. While it is well documented that sustained low temperatures will impact plant and fiber development, it remains unclear to what extent the weather will affect overall fiber quality in West Texas.

In that sense, being hot and dry all summer long may actually prove (somewhat) beneficial this year, if it means fiber development was ahead of schedule and we get to harvest sooner. By the time this reaches you, it is possible some early planted (and dryland) fields have already been harvested. But field activity should kick into high gear in October.

With harvest right around the corner, check the updated 2020 Harvest Aid Guide at https://bit.ly/3cgwuRq and reach out to us if you have any questions.

Safe harvest! mmaeda@ag.tamu.edu

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

The rapid progression of the Oklahoma crop has continued since my comments last month. While we didn’t catch the much-needed rain in mid-August, rainfall late in the month did stave off disaster and has left us with a decent dryland and an excellent irrigated crop as we approach harvest.

A cool period in the second week of September provided a bit of a speed bump, but much of the crop had started natural senescence or defoliation, and many fields are clocking in between 10% and 40% open bolls by the latter part of the month.

There’s some concern about the appearance of the crop — reddened leaves, rapid leaf drop and some necrotic leaves. In my opinion, this is mostly a cosmetic response to the hot, dry August followed abruptly by a cool, wet spell in September. It likely will not have a significant effect on yield or quality in most fields. Overall, this is something we see most years in cotton, with the exception of when the crop is behind, or we catch an early frost.

The crop always looks the worst right before we apply harvest aids. In 2020, we’ve witnessed a typical eight-week, late-season process of maturity accelerated into four weeks. However, from a fruit retention and maturity standpoint, we’re generally in great shape.

While the dryland may have missed a bell-ringing year, it still appears to be an average if not above-average crop. The irrigated continues to look amazing. Many are speculating that this year may finish among the top 10 all time for yield and production in the state.

Harvest is a great opportunity to get one last look at the field to see where problem spots are that may need to be addressed. You also can make comparisons among different varieties or management practices, such as seeding rate or planting depth.

The forecast for the Oklahoma harvest season so far looks favorable, with warm, dry conditions. Hopefully, this will allow you to get the crop out of the field and to the gin in a timely fashion. seth.byrd@okstate.edu

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

As I write my final article before I depart the Missouri Bootheel, the cotton crop in Missouri is still lagging behind, due to a cool start to the growing season and the cool and wet conditions as of late. But the crop still has good yield potential.

Ultimately, we will need a warm and dry September and October to capture this yield potential. Hopefully, this fall will progress in a similar fashion to 2017, and we will have a good harvest season unlike the past two years.

The crop is certainly behind with heat units being in shorter supply from June and July. Bolls open are currently at 31% for mid-September versus 43% in the same time period last year as rated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Missouri Crop Progress and Condition report. The five-year average is 49%, so hopefully the frosts will hold off in 2020.

Once again, it is predicted that there will be a limited availability of thidiazuron in Missouri this year. Low rates in the 2-ounces-per-acre range can be used if there is a lack of juvenile tissue. Rates in the 3-ounces-per-acre range would be needed in fields with high regrowth potential. This product also needs 24 hours to be rainfast as well, so keep that in mind to keep from wasting an application.

I would encourage considering using this product to help with regrowth, especially if the wet weather of the last two years holds for harvest season. meeksc@missouri.edu

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

As I write this on the Sept. 16, only the earliest cotton acres have received a harvest aid application. Unfortunately, our long-term forecast through the next few weeks includes lows averaging 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thidiazuron was my product of choice last week, but if our long-term temperature averages hold true during 2020, it looks like that product may not get much use through the rest of this year. Activity for thidiazuron drops quickly as low temperatures fall below 65 F.

With this forecast, we will lean heavily on tribufos or thidiazuron+diuron products. Most acres have required a two-shot approach to remove juvenile growth and open bolls.

If you’ve not started defoliating yet or will be making a second application soon, take a look at our blog to get an idea of mixtures and rates that are performing well in our current conditions. I’ll be updating that as weather conditions change.

We have been applying strip trials and plan to execute several small-plot trials that will give us insight into the best concoctions for this 2020 crop throughout this month and into next. I hope everyone has a safe and successful harvest! traper@utk.edu

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten
North Carolina

The crop in North Carolina is a mixed bag, but much of the crop is behind schedule due to cooler weather early in the season. We had dry conditions in much of the crop that caused it to abort bolls followed by rainfall that allowed the plant to resume setting bolls. As a result, we have a bottom crop, no middle crop and a top crop in many fields.

The earlier delay in maturity makes it difficult to determine how much of that top crop we will be able to mature. Cooler-than-normal weather in September has delayed top crop maturity. This puts growers in a difficult position trying to decide how long to wait on the top crop. We will have to have a warmer-than-normal fall to fully mature the significant top crop many growers have.

Growers should keep in mind that after the middle of October, we seldom have temperatures that will add significantly to top crop maturity. In addition, we are less likely to have warm enough temperatures after the middle of October to get good boll opening activity from our defoliation programs.

Growers will likely benefit from using enhanced boll opening products (ethephon plus cyclanilide or ethephon plus urea sulfate) over products containing ethephon alone in the cooler temperatures we will likely have.

Growers who are trying to stretch out the season to maximize maturation of the top crop need to keep a close eye on weather forecasts and make a move to get defoliants with boll openers out ahead of potential frosts. keith_edmisten@ncsu.edu

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