Thursday, July 25, 2024

2023 Cotton Crop Update

ARIZONA | Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

In last month’s comments, I had discussed how our spring and early summer had been significantly milder than in recent years. Well… that has all changed. Beginning in early July, the normal summer heat began to develop with daily high temperatures between 115 degrees Fahrenheit and 120 degrees Fahrenheit for the low deserts, with the higher desert production areas coming in with daytime highs between 110 degrees and 115 degrees.  

As of this writing (first full week of July), the monsoon season has yet to begin with any significance. However, some weather forecasts are beginning to have chances of precipitation come into the longer 10-day forecasts for mid-July and into later July. We’ll see how that develops. National Weather Service, in their three-month long-term forecast, still has all of the cotton-producing regions of Arizona marked for lower-than-average precipitation and higher-than-average temperatures. However, due to the mild spring and early summer, most of the crop is approximately 200 heat units behind where we normally would be this time of year. This, coupled with the fact that a good portion of the crop was planted later than normal (approximately a week to 10 days), means most of the crop will be entering mid bloom during this heat wave.  

Proper irrigation and crop water status management will be critical to avoid issues with heat-induced fruit shed. The temperatures and monsoons are not something we can manage, but we can do our best to minimize crop stress by maintaining good water relations in the crop with timely and adequate irrigation. During the next several weeks, monitor fruit retention and look for heat-stress-induced fruit shed. Be ready to manage the vegetative reproductive balance of the crop appropriately with plant growth regulators as needed.  

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TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As I write this in early July, the cotton crop in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend regions have been struggling with the extremely warm conditions that have prevailed in the area for the past few weeks. With daytime temperatures above 100 degrees and nighttime temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, many of the dryland fields are showing drought symptoms with plants quickly approaching physiological cutout. Many of these fields are experiencing conditions that are leading to flowers and small bolls being shed from plants. Even irrigated fields are showing some signs of flower and fruit shed with the current temperature conditions. Without additional rainfall or relief from the heat, the crop is on a trajectory to progress and finish very quickly this year.

Conditions in the Upper Gulf Coast region have turned off dry and warm as well, but soil moisture conditions are more favorable than the LRGV and Coastal Bend the first week of July. Most fields in this region range from early to peak bloom, and any additional rainfall during this timeframe would help the dryland acres finish out the season strong.

Some areas of the Blackland Prairie production region are experiencing abnormally dry conditions. The cotton crop across the region ranges from second week of squaring in later plantings to late bloom in the earlier planted fields. While the crop condition in the region is mostly good currently, potassium deficiency symptoms are beginning to show up in some fields. More timely precipitation in July and early August would help push the Blackland Prairie dryland crop across the finish line with good yields and fiber quality.

Dry conditions persist in other production regions across the state, including the West Central region and some areas within the Rolling Plains. The High Plains received heavy rainfall in early June, and in some cases, it may have been too much at once. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture June acreage report, it appears that Texas will be down approximately 1.7 million planted acres compared to 2022 with a total of 6.1 million planted acres this growing season. 

LOUISIANA | Matt Foster

matt foster
Matt Foster,

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, planted acres of cotton in Louisiana are at 130,000 acres, down 65,000 acres from 2022. As I write this July 6, approximately 75% of the cotton crop is squaring and 15% is setting bolls, which is slightly below the five-year average of 78% and 23%, respectively. 

It has been hot and dry in most cotton-producing areas of the state. Irrigated cotton fields have been a common sight while travelling throughout the state. Some wilting has been observed in dryland fields, but nothing too concerning. Since heat unit accumulation has been higher this year, most of the crop is progressing rapidly. Square retention was excellent as we approached first bloom. Some of the crop is weedy mainly because pre-emergent herbicides weren’t activated well with the minimal rainfall. Despite hot and dry conditions, most of the cotton crop throughout the state looks good. 

For the remainder of the season, growers and consultants will focus on insect control and growth management. Insect pressure from plant bugs, aphids and spider mites has been sporadic; however, I anticipate plant bug pressure will increase in the next few weeks as our corn crop is maturing rapidly.  Currently, applications of mepiquat chloride are being made to manage plant height. Hopefully, timely rains will occur through the remainder of July and August to finish out the crop. Louisiana growers are currently optimistic about the cotton crop as the end of the season approaches.

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

As I write this July 5, overall, our crop looks good. Despite a few replanted acres, most of our cotton was planted by May 15 and is blooming or approaching bloom. In 2022, our crop was further along on this calendar date compared to the 2023 crop — primarily due to the environmental conditions we have experienced. Recent scattered showers and cloudy weather have caused some blasted squares but nothing out of the ordinary. 

During mid-June, there was violent weather that ravaged crops across Mississippi. Several wind and hail events stripped cotton down to match sticks. There was cotton ranging from three to 12 nodes that was affected. Considering the date of the hail damage, there was really not a “best” option moving forward.  Some growers with less severe damage opted to keep the cotton crop and see what happens. Others replanted either soybean or corn. 

On the bright side, timely rains have allowed for good growth and development. We have experienced adequate dry periods to get all management practices done in a timely fashion. Plant bug pressure has been normal with some areas having greater pressure than others. Primarily, the greatest pressure is near corn fields or ditch banks, which is to be expected. Managing growth with PGRs should be based on varietal growth habit and vegetative potential of the plant. Ideally, there should be a two-to-three inch spacing between the fourth and fifth node from the terminal.  A quick-reference guide can be found at Mississippi Crop Situation website or the following link:

Hopefully, August will cooperate and we will have a good crop this year!

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Tennessee’s cotton crop is off to a relatively good start. Several in the area were able to take advantage of a very early May planting window. As we moved further into May, several large rainfall events broke up our planting window and drove replants up. June brought mild temperatures and very little rainfall.

Many consultants have been quick to share how deeply rooted our cotton crop is this year. I’ve had several ask about my concerns with lack of “heat.” On the contrary, I can’t imagine a better June for cotton. Dry conditions during June can help us drive the plant toward flowering and help naturally regulate vegetative growth. We commonly point to optimal growth maximum and minimum temperatures of 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively; average maximum and minimum temperatures through June will likely end up falling very close to 86 degrees and 55 degrees.

Activating residuals has been challenging in many areas with the lack of rainfall, and grass control remains an issue for us. Our biggest problem in many acres has been the relatively early influx of plant bugs into this crop, which has, in some areas, driven retention down. Scattered rainfall has moved through the area in recent days (I’m writing this July 6), but the area is now in need of several good soaking rainfall events to provide adequate moisture to push us through the effective flowering window. Cotton has finally turned the corner and, again, here in the first week of July, PGR applications are beginning on a large number of acres.

NORTH CAROLINA |Keith Edmisten

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten,
North Carolina

I am writing this July 6, and it is hard to find a bloom in the state. Most of the cotton is two to three weeks behind normal due to cooler weather. This has reduced our effective bloom period from six to seven weeks to about a four-week window. A warm, late summer and fall can help out a lot with a late crop like this, but what we need to do now is concentrate on timeliness. This is especially true of insect control. With a shortened bloom period, we cannot afford to let insects damage the crop. We have lost most of the ability of cotton to compensate from damage to pests like plant bugs and stink bugs.

There will be a lot of talk about using mepiquat to help with earliness. We need to be careful there and not just automatically use it just because the crop is late. We do not want to limit the production of fruiting branches on the plant, and excessive mepiquat can reduce or slow down the production of new fruiting nodes. We need this cotton to put on nine to 10 fruiting nodes and control insects to have a shot at a two-bale or more cotton crop. Mepiquat can make the crop earlier by increasing sunlight into the lower portion of the canopy and increasing the retention of fruit lower in the canopy.

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

Each season is unique, and this one is no different. Thus far, we have had our fair share of challenges in Georgia. Plant bugs have been higher than ever in our state, which could result in some season-long issues if not corrected. By the time you are reading this, I hope they are out of our cotton crop. 

The glaring issue to me right now is that our cotton crop is behind across the board. Although our mid-May- and early June-planted cotton seems to be growing off a little better than our early planted crop, it is still behind with respect to degree day accumulation. Compared to the past four seasons, we are 100 DD-60s behind in our early- and mid-May-planted crop. We aren’t that far behind in our June-planted cotton but still behind. 

This time of year, we can normally accumulate 100 degree days in a hurry — but my worry is that we will not be able to catch up based on the current forecast. Over the same span, we have averaged right around 10 DD-60s per day in October, which puts us about 10 days behind. Compound that with the plant bug issues we have had this year, and I think it could be a bad combination. In my opinion, we should consider being more aggressive than usual with PGR strategies to encourage some earliness in this crop. 

We were so glad to see everyone at the Georgia Cotton Commission Mid-Year Meeting in Statesboro, and I hope to see everyone at the field days coming up in August. Field day dates are as follows:

Southeast Research and Education Center Field Day – Midville, GA – Aug. 9

Southwest Research and Education Center Field Day – Plains, GA – Aug. 16 

Cotton and Peanut Research Field Day – Tifton, GA – Sept. 6

As always, if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your local UGA county Extension agent. They, along with your UGA specialists, are here to help! 

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

The cool, wet spring of 2023 created a late and slow start for the Alabama crop. Very little cotton was planted in April; most went in during May, and we did hear of a planter running on May 61 (aka June 30) in the Wiregrass. Indicative of how our crop seemed to track behind, we have a block of cotton planted May 2 in Prattville. Normally, we expect first bloom to occur 50 to 60 days after planting, but at that site, we didn’t see any flowers until July 6 — 65 days after planting. From the rare field planted in April, we had one report from Selma of a bloom April 22, which marked 61 days.

The first half of June was dry enough to cause concern, but the latter half brought abundant, if not excessive, rainfall to most of Alabama. A few sites saw hail. The “oven” came on during the last week of June. Temperatures reached the mid-to-upper 90s and humidity remained high, stressing people and crops.

Early square brought unusual plant bug activity. Our entomologists Scott Graham and Ron Smith received calls from every part of the state. Dr. Smith, now in his 52nd crop as an Extension cotton entomologist, stated, “This appears to be the most widespread and highest pressure we have ever seen in Alabama.” Most years, plant bug controls are common for the Tennessee Valley, with other areas spraying sporadically. We did observe “embedded” populations — reproducing adults with nymphs and eggs — in some fields in southwestern Alabama in 2022, and the subsequent yield losses increased the awareness and control-readiness for that region.

Stink bugs typically become a common pest in late July, and they require aggressive treatment in most areas. Early observations suggested stink bug numbers might be less this year, but still, if present and untreated, they can rob a lot of cotton.

August will be the tell-tale month for our crop. Potential is there even though we’ve been a little behind. Good moisture, good insect management and favorable fall weather could mean a really good crop at the gin by Thanksgiving … or maybe into December.

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