Sunday, June 23, 2024

2023 Cotton Crop Recap

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

The world’s two oldest cotton experiments are a couple of blocks away on the Auburn campus. Yield data are determined by hand picking two rows by 10 feet, and then a one-row, tractor-mounted, 1960’s version, red picker gathers the entire block, altogether a couple of acres.

I’ve participated in hand picking in past years and was looking forward to doing so for the 2023 harvest. The morning was dew-less and another obligation delayed me. When I arrived at The Old Rotation, graduate and undergraduate students were literally picking the last locks of the last plot.

The final picking.

There will be a final harvest for each of us, some by our own choice, some by others’ choices, still others by something unexpected or even tragic.

Given the complexity and enormity of most farm enterprises, prudence requires a plan for transition to the next generation or heirs. We often don’t know exactly when the “baton will be passed.”

Several years ago, I was invited to a dove hunt, one of my favorite activities. Farming was minor part of the overall enterprise of this farm, and their other highly specialized business required unique equipment valued in the millions. The owner was past his mid-70s, and his many exploits and ventures qualified him as a candidate for the proverbial, “world’s most interesting man.” When I saw all the stuff and knew the skilled work force his operation required, I thought, “I hope he has a good succession plan.”

I once visited a good friend who was dying of ALS. He knew it and so did I. I urged him to make sure his life’s details were in order, specifically that he had a will for instructions about his business, property, etc. He did not. Two weeks later, he died. No will.

Again, the complexities of each and every farming operation, along with life’s uncertainties, demand plans regarding the future. Transition plans, succession plans, estate plans, wills — whatever the label, such need to be in place. Year’s end is good time to finalize these formal documents.

December is a time to recap the season but also to prepare for the future.

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

When looking back at a growing season, many folks say something along the lines of, “Well, it wasn’t a normal year.” Meanwhile, I ask myself what a normal year is, as it seems like each year presents unique challenges. The 2023 growing season was no different.

We had the best May we have had in a couple years, with timely rains throughout the month leading to likely some of the best stands we have had in a long time. The deer then took their share, and once we got to June, the plant bugs ate on a good bit of our cotton as well. A cooler-than-average summer delayed our crop a hair, but a hot and dry August caught us back up. We did have a favorable August and September for reduced boll rot and hardlock compared to the last two years, which was welcomed by many. Overall, harvest weather up to now (I’m writing this Nov. 6) has been impeccable. We are a little further behind than I’d like to be at the point I am writing this, but part of that can be attributed to a delayed peanut crop as well.

To this point, I believe our crop is average to above average. Many growers I have spoken to are thrilled with their crop, and I haven’t heard a ton of reports of “bad cotton” throughout Georgia. Some have been all over the board, but farmers have mostly positive things to say.

I spoke with someone recently about the current outlook headed into next year. There are a lot of questions for me this far out, but I would definitely start thinking about next season if I were a grower. Keep an eye out for variety trial results and county meeting dates. Myself and the rest of the cotton team are looking forward to getting out on the road again, talking with you all about this year and preparing for next year. As always, if you ever need anything, your local UGA county Extension agent and specialists are here to help! Don’t hesitate to reach out.

NORTH CAROLINA | Keith Edmisten

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten,
North Carolina

Cotton yields in North Carolina are, overall, not as good as what we would like to see. Cool weather early and high thrips pressure delayed much of the crop and made yields more dependent on August rainfall than normal. Many areas had little to no rain in August and therefore did not produce a top crop to contribute to yield. We are seeing yields start to pick up as we picked a lot of the drought-stressed cotton first and have been getting into better cotton. Fairly small amounts of rainfall in August really made a difference in yields. 

The quality of the crop is generally good. Some areas and gins are reporting a higher-than-normal percentage of high micronaire. However, we are pleased that the average micronaire is 4.57 as of Oct. 26 with the early classing, which disproportionately comes from drought-stressed cotton. About 10% of the bales classed to date have micronaire values of 5.0 or higher. We should see this go down as we move forward into cotton where growers had some top crop and were waiting for that to mature. 80% of the bales classed so far have a 31 color, and the staple, strength and uniformity values are good.

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

Here we are again with another cotton season recap.  Another chance to recapture the highs and lows we experienced here in Mississippi! At least the dry fall we hoped for cooperated with us, allowing for a timely harvest.

2023 cotton was off to a really good start this year until mid-June. Torrential rain and violent storms affected a number of regions, which delayed maturity and created a vulnerable situation for dryland cotton. The impending drought compounded a late crop, creating a recipe for low yields and poor fiber quality. The southern Black Prairie experienced excessive rainfall for multiple days in July, causing significant fruit shed, most of which was in the money zones. By money zones, I am referring to low-to-middle nodes and first position fruit.

Central and south Delta had the makings of a bumper crop in August, but the drought was a little too severe in some locations, reducing yield expectations by 100 pounds to 200 pounds of lint per acre.  Based on my observations, the best cotton was picked in the north Delta and northern Black Prairie in pockets that received adequate rainfall.

By far, the most severely affected region was the southern cotton-producing areas near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Unless irrigation was available, these crops rendered little, if any, cotton lint yields. To date, there are still fields in this region that haven’t received significant rainfall since July 2 and are tremendously behind the 30-year rainfall average. Hopefully relief is in store in terms of rainfall to offset the drought and recharge these soil profiles.

Mississippi State University official variety trials and on-farm demonstrations will be available on by Dec. 1, 2023. Feel free to contact me if there are any questions regarding MSU cotton variety trials!

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As we approach the end of 2023, it seems for many the feelings about this past year are similar to those experienced at the end of 2022. This year again presented many of the similar weather-related challenges that cotton producers across Texas experienced last year. For some, early season precipitation and adequate soil moisture was enough to get the crop out of the ground and off to a decent start. As the months of June and July rolled around, temperatures again rose into the triple digits for extended periods of time and the chance of rainfall was slim. Yields in many parts of the state were mostly below average in dryland production systems, and irrigated cotton yields were a mixed bag with some great yields in some cases.

As we approach a new growing season in 2024, I’d encourage producers to be active with soil testing over the next few months to determine plant nutrient needs for the next crop. One of the top concerns of cotton growers in Texas is rising input costs, and having an idea of the precise amount of fertility amendments to apply for a desired yield goal can help curtail some unnecessary costs associated with overfertilizing.

Additionally, variety selection is often at the top of everybody’s to-do list over the fall and winter months, and I encourage growers to look at variety testing results to assist with this decision-making task. The Texas A&M RACE Trial results will be published beginning in December at, and these results can be a great resource for assisting growers with selecting suitable varieties to plant in 2024 for their operation. The Texas Plant Protection Association Conference will be held Dec. 5-6 in Bryan, Texas, and the 2024 Beltwide Cotton Conferences will be held Jan. 3-5 in Fort Worth, Texas. I look forward to seeing you at the meetings!

ARIZONA | Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

The 2023 season has ended up being one of the most unique seasons we have seen in several years. The early part of the season (April through June) was much cooler than normal with delayed emergence and slow early season growth. In early July, the season changed dramatically with temperatures increasing and remaining above normal for a significant period of time through the remainder of the season.

“Some varieties can handle heat stress better than others and will pollinate some compartments of the boll,” said Arizona cotton specialist Randy Norton. “This results in misshapen, ‘hooked beaked’ bolls that may not abort but will not open symmetrically, which reduces yield.”

Many new records for high temperatures across Arizona were set along with a new record for the number of consecutive days over 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the month of July in the low desert areas of Arizona. These weather patterns resulted in a new record for the number of Level 2 (L2) heat stress days for Arizona at 36, as recorded at the University of Arizona Maricopa Agricultural Center. Nearly 25 consecutive days of L2 heat stress was measured in central Arizona.

Coupled with the excessively high daytime temperatures were elevated overnight temperatures, which have proven to have a significant negative impact on fruiting patterns. During the period of July through mid-August, very little fruit was set in a majority of the Arizona crop. Monsoon moisture was also nearly non-existent in many parts of Arizona during the 2023 summer and that fact, coupled with reductions in available irrigation water, resulted in lengthened irrigation intervals and higher levels of water stress in a lot of the crop during the peak of elevated temperatures.

All these conditions resulted in a suboptimal year for cotton production across much of the state in 2023 and even though the final numbers have not been released yet, the statewide average yield is likely to be reduced when compared to recent years. A lot of what was experienced in the 2023 season was largely beyond the control of the producer. However, attempting to manage a crop to minimize the potential of outside stressors on the crop is the best we can do in a year like 2023. I am always amazed at the resiliency of the producers in Arizona and even though 2023 was an incredibly difficult year, they will be back in the spring with fresh hopes of a successful and productive season in 2024.

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