2021 Harvest Update

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

As of Sept. 20, little if any cotton was defoliated in Alabama. Most of the state was soaked with heavy rains Sept. 10-20, which hurt open cotton and helped late fields finish. The August and September U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 924 pounds per acre for the 2021 Alabama crop. I hope we exceed that, but it will be a challenge.

Late-season rains produce boll rot and hardlock. Both make us cringe. They represent a loss of what has taken months to produce. Boll rot results from infection from numerous pathogens not effectively controlled with fungicides. Insect damage contributes, too.

Hardlock occurs when bolls open under high humidity; rainy, overcast conditions; and even when the dew is heavy. Hardlock is a failure of seed cotton to dry and fluff normally and creates a lemon wedge-shaped lock. Such bolls typically do not end up in the picker — spindles simply won’t grab them.

Often, surrounding weathered bracts shatter on contact with spindles, and cotton ends up on the ground. However, in rare instances, prevailing sunshine and great drying conditions reverse the curse, and affected locks slightly fluff so these bolls are picked.

There is no cure for big rains on open cotton, no giant umbrella that can protect the crop.

But we can do some obvious things to limit the crop canopy: Be less aggressive with nitrogen and more aggressive with plant growth regulators. We know all that.

If in fact our weather patterns have shifted to give us every year rains into late September, we may need to rethink our production systems. One possibility that continues to intrigue me is wide row spacings and skip row patterns as means of lessening the blow of adverse late-season weather.

Novel, non-standard row patterns need to:

• Be compatible with existing equipment and farm operations, including tractors, planters, sprayers, harvesters, etc.

•  Provide comparable yields to standard row systems.

They also provide opportunities to reduce overall seed and harvest costs and better endure midseason drought stress.

Weather permitting, let’s go get this crop. cottonbrown@auburn.edu

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

Most everyone is still cautiously optimistic about the 2021 crop. We started off slow and ugly but have gotten a little better as the season progressed. September did a lot to bring our crop around and made everyone feel a lot better about it. However, this season is still a long way from being over.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service September crop production report projects Arkansas producers will harvest 1.15 million bales, down 127,000 bales from last year. Based on conditions as of Sept. 1, yield is expected to average 1,174 pounds lint per harvested acre, up 13 pounds from last month but down 5 pounds from 2020.

It is 11 pounds short of our record 1,185 pounds set in 2019. Planted acreage was revised to 475,000 acres, up 65,000 acres from June. Harvested acreage was revised from 405,000 to 470,000 acres.

If the current yield projection stands, it will rank as our fourth highest yield on record. In the past five years, four have been ranked in the top five with a five-year average of 1,150 pounds lint per harvested acre.

As mid-September rolled around, we were just getting our defoliation underway. While the crop looks better as these comments are being prepared, it is still late. Heat unit accumulation appears to be following a more normal trend and generally fades fast in October.

We have seen a great number of challenges thrown at us in 2021, and there are still difficulties we must be prepared to address as the season 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 2022. brobertson@uaex.edu

Bob Hutmacher
Bob Hutmacher,

This has been another production year with a host of challenging situations that have resulted in a wide range of cotton field conditions. Early season lygus caused some significant square and boll losses. High temperature stress periods in June, July and August also affected fruit retention in multiple areas.

However, we have some relatively decent looking fields with OK fruit loads and good boll distribution throughout the canopy.

With limited water supplies in many parts of the San Joaquin Valley, there are some relatively small plants with decent fruit loads. Provided they are not too water stressed at the time of first harvest aid applications, these plants should be relatively easy and less expensive to defoliate.

When those fields get close to open boll targets (60% open) or targets of three to five nodes above cracked boll, growers should make the first harvest aid application. Getting some of those fields on their way toward desiccation and defoliation will help free more time to deal with more difficult-to-defoliate fields. Also be vigilant about checking for late-season whiteflies or aphids.

For fields where early season lygus losses were more extensive, or where fruit set was more uneven due to combinations of water stress and heat stress, a warm and extended fall could help mature late-developing bolls and provide a yield boost.

The downside of waiting longer for those bolls to mature is an also extended period where you must manage late-season insect pests. Hopefully, there will be some good yield surprises to go along with the less desirable outcomes.

For fields where square and bolls losses resulted in large fruit set gaps, it becomes more difficult to use the newer harvest aid timing tool of counting nodes above cracked boll. In those cases, shift back to the more “traditional” harvest aid timing tool of deciding on how many of the top crop bolls are likely to mature and aim for about 60% open boll to time first harvest aid applications.

Before you put away field notes on problem field areas for the year, make sure problem weed species and weedy areas are documented to improve future weed management. As expenses for nearly everything keep going up, take a little time to identify specific field areas where targeted, more intensive weed control efforts could pay off. rbhutmacher@ucdavis.edu

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Few ideal growing seasons occur for any crop. This year was no exception with extensive rain for much of the cotton crop across the state. Many growers were delayed in sidedressing nitrogen, sulfur, boron and potassium along with plant growth regulator use and weed control.

In addition to these issues, tropical storms twisted plants in some areas, and it was difficult to run through the canopy when it dried up.

The cotton crop still has the potential to be average if harvest weather is good. Timely defoliation and harvest will help preserve yield and quality. It is important to store bales and modules near the edge of the field in areas that are not prone to flood and have good field road access to move cotton to the gin during wet conditions.

Better prices have been a bright spot this growing season, and I hope everyone finds a better yield than what they have been expecting. wright@ufl.edu

camp hand
Camp Hand,

As I write this Sept. 20, defoliation and harvest are just beginning in Georgia. Generally speaking, by the middle of October we are historically about 20% done with harvest. Mid-September has been less than ideal for harvest preparations. Many parts of Georgia have seen large amounts of rain and a good bit of cloudy weather as well.

This directly and indirectly will affect our ability to get our cotton crop out. It will indirectly affect cotton harvest because of the delays and other challenges incurred during peanut harvest. Although the weather in mid-September has caused some issues, the current forecast for late September and early October looks promising.

With the conditions we have seen in September, I believe we have significant regrowth potential in our earlier cotton. Although the forecast is calling for cooler weather, I believe we will need thidiazuron in our tankmixes for some of the earlier defoliated cotton. Keep in mind that once the temperatures get lower than 65 degrees Fahrenheit, we won’t get as much activity out of thidiazuron.

Although this Specialists Speaking is a “harvest update,” here in Georgia we are just getting started. I hope this harvest season is plentiful for everyone. Stay safe out there, and as always, your local University of Georgia county Extension agent and specialists are here to help! Reach out if you have any questions. camphand@uga.edu

matt foster
Matt Foster,

Cotton defoliation began in some areas of the state during the first two weeks of September. Only about 1% of the crop has been harvested as of Sept. 13. The Louisiana cotton crop didn’t sustain any damage from Hurricane Ida, but defoliation and harvest operations were halted due to rainfall from Tropical Storm Nicholas.

Harvest will be extended this year due to six- to eight-week differences in planting dates. June planted cotton has reached cutout.

About 90% of this year’s crop is in the fair to good range with state yields expected to average about 1,100 pounds of lint per acre. Most growers I have spoken with are optimistic about their crop and plan to increase their cotton acreage next year if the market remains favorable.

This is good news considering how low the state acreage is this year. Delayed planting, wet and cloudy weather, and high plant bug pressure has made this season very challenging. mfoster@agcenter.lsu.edu

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

As I write this Sept. 16, few areas in Mississippi have received harvest aid applications. Currently, the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicholas are moving through the area producing cloudy, showery conditions, which is only slowing an already late crop from maturing.

Most of our crop will get defoliated as soon as this system moves out of the area, and we experience sunny and dry weather.

On this calendar date, Mississippi cotton typically had received a harvest aid application, and some pickers were in the field. This year, we have been behind schedule since the beginning of the season. Repeated untimely rains through May and early June were responsible for the planting delays.

Depending on the geographic region, some areas were planted on time, which will be the first acres harvested. With that said, even the “on time” acres are tracking a couple of weeks behind schedule due to low heat unit accumulation after emergence. On the bright side, daytime temperatures have remained in the upper 80s to low 90s, while nighttime temperatures have remained above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Given the forecast, these conditions should continue for another 10 days to two weeks, which will help mature top bolls and aid in the defoliation process.

Thidiazuron + ethephon products will dominate most applications, requiring a two-pass approach as long as temperatures remain above 65 degrees. With a later crop, a two-pass approach will most likely be needed to open juvenile bolls and remove any regrowth. Regrowth potential could be high with the wet weather we are experiencing prior to defoliation.

Also, some growers applied late-season nitrogen to address deficiency symptomology due to nitrogen losses experienced throughout the growing season. Residual N could contribute to high regrowth potential that could require tweaking the harvest aid mixture.

In Mississippi, a PPO such as Aim or ET+thidiazuron+ethephon typically can help remove juvenile growth, inhibit regrowth and open bolls in temperatures above 65 degrees. We will rely heavily on tribufos products as temperatures drop below 65 degrees.

Hopefully, this is the last of we see from the tropics and can experience a dry and successful harvest. bkp4@msstate.edu

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten,
North Carolina

As I write this in mid-September, we have started defoliating some early planted fields, and so far September weather has been favorable. We really needed good September weather with so much late cotton. So far, we have gotten that.

The bulk of defoliation will occur in October. We normally have decent weather in the first two weeks or so of the month to help finish off a late crop. However, we need to keep an eye out for potential frosts from mid-October onward and be ready to defoliate with mixtures including boll openers if we see a frost on the horizon.

Applying defoliants and boll openers as few as a couple days before a frost can make a difference in how many leaves are desiccated and “stuck” on the plant, which contributes to higher leaf trash levels. This is also true in terms of reducing the potential for frost to prevent bolls from opening.

With so much cotton on the late side this year, boll openers will be more important than regrowth prevention. keith_edmisten@ncsu.edu

seth byrd
Seth Byrd,

In last month’s issue of Cotton Farming, I made the comment that we needed a favorable September to provide the Oklahoma cotton crop a chance to catch up on maturity. Thankfully, that’s what happened. By the middle of the month, there were many fields across the state that were running between 10% and 50% open bolls.

Fields that were further behind in maturity also benefitted, and the potential for the crop improved as the month progressed. While 2021 won’t be a record-breaking year, the outlook has certainly become more optimistic considering the slow start to the season.

While the dry September helped accelerate crop maturity and fiber development, it also created some drought stress, particularly for the dryland crop. This, coupled with the immaturity issues of some of the irrigated crop, will likely create a scenario where optimal defoliation will be more of a challenge.

Drought-stressed leaves typically respond better to herbicidal defoliants, while lush, green, mature leaves are typically addressed through products containing tribufos or thidiazuron + diuron.

It’s likely that several of the fields on the earliest end of the spectrum could be ready for harvest by the time this issue reaches you. The rest of the crop will likely have received a harvest aid application if one is going to be made.

Based on the condition of the crop as I write this in mid-September, it’s likely that harvest will be well underway by mid-October.

I hope everybody will have a safe and profitable harvest. seth.byrd@okstate.edu

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Temperatures are forecast to break cooler than we would like by the end of this week (Sept. 20). While sunshine in the forecast will likely still push maturity of our uppermost, immature bolls along, it looks like we will begin our defoliation under less-than-ideal temperatures.

Thidiazuron, one of our best first-shot products by far, has almost no activity when daytime temperatures fall below 75 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures fall below 50 F.

Following a cold snap, plant activity slows, and the need for more aggressive defoliant rates increases. By the time you read this Oct. 1, I will likely be recommending stiff rates of Folex and half the labeled rate of boll opener in our first shot.

Almost every Tennessee acre from here on out will require a two-shot approach. Product and rate in the second shot will depend on what remains on the plant.

I’m hopeful we will see a warming trend during the first week of October, since most in our area will be in the thick of defoliation Oct. 4-8. traper@utk.edu

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

Cotton harvest in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend has more or less come to an end. As of mid-September, nearly 400,000 bales have been classed at the Corpus Christi office.

Currently, the average mic from this office is 4.47. Reports of 1,100- to 1,250-pound yields have been common in both regions, with some fields yielding higher and others yielding lower. Harvest in the Winter Garden region has just started.

In the Upper Gulf Coast, about 40% of the cotton crop has been harvested. Several growers made a strong effort to get as many acres harvested as they could prior to Hurricane Nicholas making landfall in the region. High winds and rainfall brought some damage to standing cotton, especially in fields closer to the coast. Early reports of yields and expected yields in the area are in the 2-bale range.

el campo, texas, cotton harvest
A picker harvests one of Gary Schoenfield’s cotton fields near El Campo, Texas, recently. He and his son, Eric, were happy with the yield. Although they got little rain from Tropical Storm Nicholas, the accompanying winds did knock some cotton from the bolls onto the ground — photo by Vicky Boyd

In the Blackland Prairie, cotton defoliation and harvest preparation are well underway. Most are waiting to get equipment in the fields to get the crop out. Preliminary yield estimates in the Blackland Prairie are slightly above average at 1.5 bales, although many fields in the area may average 2 bales or slightly higher.

Like much of the state, cotton in the Rolling Plains region is delayed in heat units, and the crop is behind where it normally would be. Warm, late-season temperatures have helped the crop progress in August and September, but most acres in the Rolling Plains will be harvested later than usual. bmcknight@tamu.edu

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda,
Texas A&M

As I write this in mid-September, we continue to make headway on the weather side. With cooler-than-normal temperatures throughout most of our growing season so far, the September heat has been appreciated. At this time last year, we had already seen temperatures in the 30s and 40s across much of West Texas.

But this year, we are still holding steady in the low to mid 90s. Our first cold front is forecast to drop temperatures into the 50s around Sept. 20. But highs will remain in the upper 80s and low 90s through at least Oct. 1, which should be beneficial.

Irrigated fields in the region look about as good as I’ve seen them since coming to Lubbock. Our dryland has also benefited from timely rainfall during the season and heat, as of late. Fields planted closer to the middle of May are starting to open and seem to be progressing well. Overall, I think the crop still has great potential, weather cooperating.

Our main concern this season will continue to be fields planted toward the latter part of May and some even well into June. Historically, we cease to accumulate any heat units by mid-October. I anticipate harvest will have started, albeit slow, by that time. Our 2021 harvest aid guide has been posted on the Lubbock website at https://bit.ly/3kq3LiD.

By the time you read our next Specialists Speaking column, we’ll likely be rolling full speed with harvest. Please stay safe out there pulling in those long hours. Wishing you and yours a blessed and bountiful harvest season! mmaeda@ag.tamu.edu

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