2021 Cotton Season Recap

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

The U. S. Department of Agriculture estimates for the 2021 Alabama cotton crop have remained slightly above 900 pounds per acre since the initial August report. Maybe they are close, but I don’t know HOW they make their guesses. Cotton production in the state is so incredibly diverse!

Significant concentrations of cotton exist in the sandy coastal plain of South Alabama and the rolling red fields of the Tennessee Valley in the north. Elsewhere, there are scattered pockets with river bottom soils, others in proximity to real mountains, a few die-hard acres in the hard red dirt of the Piedmont and the heavy, shrink-swell clays of the Black Belt.

Some prime production is among houses and/or large water bodies. Urban encroachment pressures production in multiple places. Rainfall patterns vary widely as well. The highest annual precipitation is typically in Southwest Alabama, parts of which received more than 80 inches of rainfall this year and way too much from late July through early October.

My field and yield observations are from small- and large-scale research plots and farmer visits. A picker seat is a good vantage point from which to assess a crop. Unfortunately, I’ve seen fields that look great from the road but with little cotton below the knee or in some cases, below mid-thigh. Excessive late-season rains took much of the crop in too many places.

Generally, yields are better to the north and better later than earlier. I’ve seen yields ranging from 300-2,000 pounds per acre. My guess is that we lost 30% of the crop we once had, primarily through adverse weather at season’s end. The last 40 days have a profound impact on our crop.

Season’s end compels a review. What worked well … or didn’t? How did we fare with pest management? Should we adjust nitrogen or plant growth regulator use? Did weather simply overwhelm the best intended or executed plans? In terms of variety selection, we are in period without a single dominant option, which is reason to study trial data and recap sheets. Going forward, we will likely plant a true mix of varieties. Year’s end also compels a rest. It’s needed here. cottonbrown@auburn.edu

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The 2021 season continues to surprise most with very good yield prospects, a great price and a good stretch of favorable harvest days. Many felt we would still be picking cotton at Thanksgiving in Arkansas. Onboard module pickers and favorable weather helped many reach the finish line by early November.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service November Crop Production report estimated Arkansas production at 1.2 million bales. Based on conditions as of Nov. 1, yield is expected to average 1,226 pounds lint per acre on 470,000 harvested acres. This yield projection surpasses our previous high of 1,185 pounds lint per harvested acre established in 2019.

With about 25% of our projected crop graded in early November, our grades are good.

Greater than 90% of the bales classed had a color grade of 41 or better. Micronaire averaged 4.5 with less than 5% in the discount range. Leaf is averaging just shy of 3.5. There is little reason to expect this trend will not continue for most of our crop.

Plans for next year are falling in place. Input availability and costs are part of the process and will create new and difficult challenges. Fertilizer prices are center stage now, but other inputs will soon follow.

Planting seed availability should not be an issue. Evaluate the performance of newer varieties to the ones you grow. Compare notes with on-farm variety testing programs near you and the official variety trial or OVT conducted by Dr. Fred Bourland. This will help provide information needed to select the best varieties for your operation.

Visit the University of Arkansas System Division of Ag Variety Testing webpage at https://arkansas-variety-testing.uark.edu/ for variety testing results from county trials and the OVTs.

Contact your local county Extension agent for updates on this season’s testing programs and to get details regarding upcoming production meetings. brobertson@uada.edu

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

As we come to the end of the 2021 season, we can look back and evaluate what went well and what did not. As of this writing, yields have been reported as relatively good. Overall performance has been at or slightly above average, with some reports of Upland yields surpassing 4 bales per acre and Pima yields surpassing 3 bales per acre.

We are currently seeing unprecedented lint prices available to growers, with Upland reaching well above $1 per pound and Pima cotton well above $2 per pound. However, we are also seeing prices for fertilizer reach extremely high levels. There is talk about availability, or lack thereof, of inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides for the upcoming season.

Rising costs and availability of equipment, fuel and other resources all add uncertainty to the future. These are real challenges facing our industry right now. However, we have faced similar challenges in the past and will be up to these as well.

Implementing sound management practices proven to maximize the production efficiencies will be critical to remaining successful. Making decisions that over years of experience have been effective in your production system will help provide stability. Seek out and use resources from research-based experience.

University Cooperative Extension Services and reliable industry sources across the Cotton Belt will also assist in providing stability to your system during unstable times. As an industry, we will move through these challenges and learn valuable lessons that will make us more resilient in the future. rnorton@cals.arizona.edu

Bob Hutmacher
Bob Hutmacher,

One of the most significant challenges for the 2021 California growing season was limited irrigation water availability. Most production areas in the San Joaquin Valley had serious limits on available surface irrigation from water districts. In areas with limited groundwater availability, there was less water to produce crops. In many cases, cotton was one of the deficit-irrigated crops.

In areas able to rely on wells, growers had more ability to consider if they wanted to fully irrigate or deficit irrigate. Where deficit irrigation had to be practiced during the early to midseason, the effects meant smaller plants, earlier harvest readiness and easier defoliation. To some extent, these effects could be pluses, but the downside of deficit irrigations is often reduced yields.

This year’s observations also pointed out a lot of yield variability across both Pima and Acala/Upland fields. This resulted in early problems with uneven stand establishment with some varieties, repeated early and midsummer hot spells, and difficult irrigation and plant growth regulator decisions given some fruit retention difficulties associated with lygus damage.

At the time of this writing, there are many fields likely to be in the 3- to 4-bale-per-acre range. Many others are yielding closer to 2-plus bales per acre. Yield differences can be attributed to a range of partial causes, including limited water, high temperature stress during mid-July or early August, and in some areas, high lygus counts at critical times.

With the potential threat of La Niña weather systems this winter, it may be useful to remember that most cotton varieties can be managed to shorten the growing season. This is done through reductions/delays in irrigation and more aggressive plant growth regulator applications. It can be more easily accomplished with drip irrigation than with furrow irrigation, especially across different soil types where rooting depths and water-holding capacity differ.

Cotton varieties and types (Upland, Pima) can also make a difference in how much you can shorten up the growing season to reduce water use and resulting yield reductions and effect on quality. It may be worthwhile to consider some on-farm strip trials to evaluate these options with multiple varieties on your own operation in 2022. rbhutmacher@ucdavis.edu

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

When cotton started opening in early September, it looked like the lower crop was hard locked as we had about six to eight weeks of almost daily rains. However, weather improved by mid-September and the later opening bolls looked good. Picking began in mid-October.

Most of Florida’s cotton had ample rain, if not too much, for top yields or for managing growth and getting through fields for insecticide and nitrogen applications. Even though the state will not make record yields, most growers had decent yields and quality.

The heaviest soils that normally have highest yields had less-than-average yields due to wet soils preventing timely N and growth regulator applications. This led to lower yields. Sandy fields were able to be managed better and often made good yields.

Growers are excited to grow cotton again with current prices and are planning ways to better manage new varieties. Our farmers who have stripped-tilled cotton behind grazed winter cover crops have continued to find these are their highest yielding fields (often by 200-300 pounds per acre).

Producers are finding ways to fence new fields and put in wells for watering livestock through EQIP and other incentive programs. Many different contracts can be made with livestock producers through cattle gains. This practice can add profits during the winter and leave more nutrients in the root zone for summer crops. wright@ufl.edu

camp hand
Camp Hand,

As I write this Nov. 12, it feels like we are just getting going good with cotton harvest in Georgia. The latest crop progress report puts us just shy of halfway done, which is right on track with last year. This is also where I am for on-farm variety trials. I am just shy of halfway done. Hopefully, by Thanksgiving we will pass the halfway mark!

In terms of yield, from what I am hearing across the state, Georgia will have an average to above-average year. It seems that 900 to 1,200 pounds per acre is a good average for right now. But occasionally, I’ll hear a number around 1,500 to 1,600 pounds.

The first variety trial that was harvested this year was in Midville, Georgia, at the Southeast Georgia Research and Education Center. It averaged more than 1,400 pounds (shout out to Anthony Black and the crew in Midville — some of the best in the business!!). As I mentioned before, our crop as a whole was fairly late. As the late-planted crop gets harvested, things are sure to change. But this is where we currently stand.

With respect to quality, I would say we are off just a hair, but not way in left field.

Micronaire is about normal, while strength and uniformity are slightly down. The question everyone had this year regarding quality was, “Do you think we will have seed coat fragment issues again this year?” We had a little scare there at first, but our seed coat calls have gone down since the first report. It isn’t zero, but thank the good Lord it isn’t where it was last year.

As always, your local UGA county Extension agent and specialists are here to help! Reach out if you have any questions. camphand@uga.edu

matt foster
Matt Foster,

Cotton harvest in Louisiana is wrapping up and was about 90% complete as of Nov. 8. Harvest operations are going smoothly this year due to good weather conditions. Looking back on the growing season, the cotton crop was extremely variable due to fluctuation in planting dates, excessive rainfall and heavy plant bug pressure.

Despite those challenges, about 92% of this year’s crop currently is considered in the fair to good range. Average yields for the state are projected to be about 1,000 pounds of lint per acre, which is in line with the 2020 state average.

baled cotton louisiana
Baled cotton awaits transport at Lake Providence, Louisiana

Fiber quality for the 2021 crop is looking good. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Marketing Service figures Nov. 12 out of Rayville, 8.2% of the bales received have produced a micronaire value of 5 or greater. This year’s fiber length, strength and uniformity are averaging 1.19, 30.72 and 81.91, respectively.

In preparing for the 2022 growing season, one of the most important decisions producers make is variety selection. The results from the LSU AgCenter official variety trials and on-farm demonstrations will be available soon at https://www.lsuagcenter.com/topics/crops/cotton.

With favorable weather conditions following harvest, now is a good time for soil testing. Evaluating soil test results in the fall will give producers ample time to plan for fertilizer applications in the spring. mfoster@agcenter.lsu.edu

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

We are in the short rows for Mississippi’s cotton harvest as I write this Nov. 11. I have mentioned delayed maturity in most of these articles, and hopefully this will be the last time it’s mentioned for a while.

Considering the wetter-than-normal year, harvest season has been relatively dry. Most of the “on-time” cotton was picked by mid-October. The only real problem we have faced with harvest was cool weather defoliation. Much of the late cotton had a reservoir of nitrogen underneath it and immature fruit at the top, which resulted in slow defoliation. This cotton received three defoliation applications in some cases.

In terms of yield, most growers are pleased with their outcomes given the weather challenges we experienced from planting until now. Obviously, cotton yields were below those anticipated at the start of the season.

On average, they were off a couple hundred pounds, which can mostly be blamed on lack of a solid bottom crop. Fields that stayed more saturated throughout the season, especially in the eastern portions of the state, experienced greater yield losses.

Fiber quality has been good for much of the crop. As I mentioned earlier, there has been very little weathering, and loan value reports from many producers have exceeded 52 cents. Fewer reports of high micronaire can likely be attributed to less of a bottom crop when compared to most years.

As we put this year in the rearview mirror and look forward to 2022, a few things should be considered. Input costs will likely increase over the coming months, so locking in prices on fertilizer and fuel may be a good idea. Also, pay attention to variety trial data and any data from new technologies that are released.

Mississippi Official Variety Trial and On-Farm Variety Trial data should be available at the Mississippi Crop Situation blog in December. Happy Holidays! bkp4@msstate.edu

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten,
North Carolina

Most North Carolina growers are experiencing a better-than-average year for cotton yields with good fiber quality. With the prices, this should be a successful year for most cotton farmers in North Carolina. Our growers certainly can use it. I think they deserve it after the crop was cut short by cool weather last year and affected by hurricanes for several years in recent memory.

I have noticed when we have a good year, growers often assume that whatever they did was great and should be repeated next year. This can promote complacency about things like evaluating varieties for the coming year.

It can also make one think the new foliar fertilizer, growth regulator, fertilizer rate, etc. they used to be the key to making a good crop. It also includes things like variety selection, the use of new inputs, planting decisions and changes in fertility programs.

Growers should keep in mind that their neighbors also had good cotton and might not have included the same inputs. That is why we recommend that when you add inputs or make changes to your production system, try to include some checks to truly evaluate how beneficial they were. keith_edmisten@ncsu.edu

seth byrd
Seth Byrd,

Cotton harvest in Oklahoma is a little more than halfway over as I write this in mid-November. Favorable weather has persisted for most of harvest, allowing for rapid progress to be made since early October. Early reports are variable, with some fields outperforming expectations. Others are reporting average yields or yields falling slightly below expectations.

The 2021 season threw a lot at the Oklahoma crop, although it didn’t seem as challenging as 2020. Early season struggles with cool weather and slow growth were evident as harvest began.

It’s likely that both planting date and variety selection will be the primary drivers of the yield and quality variability we’ll see as ginning and classing activity progresses. These results and trends will be presented in our annual on-farm variety trial report available at cotton.onstage.edu. seth.byrd@okstate.edu

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

This has been an incredible season. We were able to somehow mature bolls that a textbook would say shouldn’t have made the picker. Boll opening was difficult and slow, but most of the crop was very good to excellent.

Reports from the classing office include micronaire that is lower than normal for us but still falls just above premium. I suspect we will see that number slide into the premium range as we continue to move into later-planted and slightly less mature cotton.

Variety trial data is streaming now, and although we started harvesting later than normal, we are well ahead of schedule. Only a handful of our Tennessee trials remain in the field. I believe we will be able to deliver our variety testing data before Christmas. Keep an eye out for those results and expect information on our Cotton Focus meeting in February to be available shortly. You will not want to miss it! traper@utk.edu

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As the 2021 growing season comes to a close, now is a good time to reflect on how our management programs shaped up during a challenging year. Moving forward, rising prices and product availability will be on everyone’s radar.

I’ve heard many growers share their concerns about product availability going in to the 2022 growing year. Finding commonly used products for my field research trials has already become a concern.

Perhaps now is the time for folks to give next year’s inputs and management practices some thought. For example, determining what our weed control program is going to look like in 2022 may be the difference between securing certain products now instead of running the risk of low or no product availability in a few months.

Contact your distributors and agrichemical representatives about product availability and start securing needed products as soon as possible.

As the cost of fertilizer inputs have increased significantly, I would encourage growers to be proactive in soil testing now more than ever. They will provide the information growers can use as a tool to determine how much fertilizer is needed to obtain a desired yield goal. Knowing the precise amount needed will assist with minimizing the unnecessary costs associated with over-fertilizing with no yield benefits.

The Texas Plant Protection Association Conference is scheduled for Dec. 7-8 at the Brazos Center in Bryan, Texas. The Beltwide Cotton Conferences are slated for Jan. 4-6 in San Antonio, Texas. Pencil in those dates on your calendar. I look forward to seeing you all at the meetings! bmcknight@tamu.edu

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