Monday, April 15, 2024

2023 Harvest Update

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

Long ago, I was part of a group that received, for research purposes, a one-row, self-propelled, low drum, red picker — probably a late 1950s version. We sent the machine to the repair shop for new spindles and moisture pads and added a platform and diversion shoot for plot harvest. The shop said it had a great picking mechanism, but we soon saw it was not designed for high-volume flow and high yields.

I learned a few other things. The man who first drove it probably thought he was king of the world, riding on a machine that cleanly gathered the crop and eliminated hand picking. While he may have felt great atop the slow-moving picker, when I drove it, I felt like I was riding on a concrete block. Comfortable — it was NOT. When spindles collided with the column of moisture pads, I also learned to estimate necessary repair costs to be about $100 per pound. With inflation, that number has probably tripled.

I’ve also ridden in JD roll pickers. Incredible machines! Every bit as revolutionary as Bt and herbicide-tolerant technologies. They gobble up cotton six rows at a time and at amazing speeds. In a year when I questioned the link between spindle versus ground speeds and bark issues (Extraneous Matter deductions), one farmer friend said to me, “You know why we drive/pick as fast as we do?” then quickly answered, “’Cause we can’t go any faster!”

Regardless of whether the machine is brand new or aged, a cotton picker requires meticulous daily maintenance and occasional repair. So many moving parts, often in places so hard to access! It is also a place for bruises, cuts and, unfortunately, amputations. Not only is downtime frustrating, but missing a few good days or a week of picking can be terribly costly. Injuries can be even more costly.

Admittedly, there are times when I’ve driven across the Southeast and wished I had a giant vacuum cleaner capable of gathering all the white cotton waiting for harvest.

Whether your cotton dumps in a basket and then in a module or wraps in a round roll, enjoy the ride. Be safe.

ARIZONA | Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

As we head into harvest this fall, I do believe we are going to see a mixed bag of results from across the state. High levels of heat stress experienced in the low desert during the month of July will likely have a negative impact on the crop in 2023.

The majority of the crop in Arizona has had irrigation terminated and now, decisions turn to harvest preparation and defoliation. These can be difficult decisions to make as effective harvest preparation is dependent on so many factors with a high degree of variability. These factors may include, but are not limited to, crop moisture and nutrient level, fruit load, crop vigor, etc. We have several guidelines to help in making a decision regarding timing of an effective defoliant application that have proven successful in the past. These include estimates of open boll percentages and timing from the final irrigation event.

A certain level of moisture stress in the crop will aid in defoliation, and as a general rule of thumb, approximately two times the late-season irrigation interval serves as a general guidepost for timing the defoliation application. For example, if your late-season irrigation interval was 12 days, then at approximately 24 days post final irrigation, you should begin looking seriously at harvest prep activity. This guideline will vary with soil texture and weather conditions. Sandy or coarse-textured soils and hotter temperatures may decrease this interval and the time needed to achieve the appropriate amount of crop stress.

Another rule of thumb that can serve as a guide in making defoliation decisions is percentage open boll. Research has shown that at approximately 60% open boll, the crop is at a stage where it will most effectively respond to a defoliant application. Open boll can be estimated by counting the total number of nodes above the upper most, first position cracked boll, to the upper most harvestable boll. When this number reaches four, the crop is at approximately 60% open boll.

We have published some guidelines regarding defoliation materials and recommended use rates based on crop and environment conditions that can be found at our Cooperative Extension publications website at

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

As I write this Sept. 7, we are nearing the end of the line on this cotton crop. Fortunately, the weather has been phenomenal across the state and overall — we are looking at a good crop. This year has been the first since I started where we have not seen significant losses due to boll rot. My advice is to defoliate and harvest this crop in a timely manner. Let’s get this crop out, get paid and start getting ready for next year.

Looking at historical data, by the time this article will be published, Georgia should be roughly 15% harvested. In my conversations with people lately, it seems like growers are gearing up and itching to get started. I anticipate that we will be at 15% around the same time per usual, unless something wildly abnormal happens.

As we are harvesting the crop, take note of weak spots in the field, along with what worked and what didn’t. There is no time like harvest to start getting ready for next season. Nematode samples should be taken now, while I would start planning for other things like soil sampling and fertility. Look at the crop and evaluate how successful pest management strategies were. If they weren’t successful, and you don’t have a consultant, that might be the nudge you need to consider hiring one.

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

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi, Mississippi

As I write this Sept. 5, dry weather is still the story for most of the state. However, some areas did experience abundant rainfall over the weekend. Nevertheless, cotton bolls are opening quickly and harvest is about one to two weeks away. Some cotton was harvested last week, but it was not our best cotton as it was drought stressed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has the Mississippi cotton yield estimated at around 1,100 pounds per acre. This is possibly a little optimistic, but we will see how it all shakes out. Hopefully, dry weather will continue and everyone has a successful harvest season.

MISSOURI | Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson, Missouri

It is beginning to feel and look like cotton harvest will be shortly upon us in Missouri. Lately, cotton pickers have been pulled out and producers are servicing them in preparation for cotton harvest. We are still two to three weeks away from our first harvest aid application. Cotton got some much-needed heat and sunlight in the past few weeks; however, the future forecast is predicting cooler daytime and nighttime temperatures, which may impact product selection with respect to harvest aids.

Helpful information on harvest aid selection under various climate conditions can be found in the 2023 Mid-South Cotton Defoliation Guide. As always, you can reach out to me for any additional information you may need. I believe the Missouri cotton crop looks good overall for the 2023 season; we just need to have the weather conditions to get it out quickly to preserve fiber quality.

NORTH CAROLINA |Keith Edmisten

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten,
North Carolina

As I write this in early September, we are reaching the point where the probability of a white bloom resulting in a harvesting boll is diminishing fast. In other words, the bolls you have on the plant at this point are likely all you are going to have a reasonable chance to harvest.

The spotty rain we had in August has resulted in basically two different crops. The areas that had little to no rain in August will likely be below average and ready to defoliate at some point in September. Those fields will likely have high residual nitrogen due to reduced boll load and need to be defoliated under warmer conditions. Warmer conditions are good for defoliant activity, but with the residual nitrogen available, also have the potential to have regrowth if we get rains in September. Including Thidiazuron at higher-labeled rates will be needed if you intend to prevent regrowth. This is especially important where you will be waiting more than 10 to 14 days to harvest or already have existing regrowth.

The cotton that received rains in August will be ready to defoliate later than the drought-stressed cotton and be less likely to have regrowth. For both types of crops, we should start cutting the least-immature harvestable bolls to determine maturity when the crop reaches four nodes above cracked bolls.

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

As I write this on the sixth of September, our crop is moving quickly toward the finish line. Bloom numbers are beginning to decline rapidly, and many fields have already begun to turn — yellow, red and purple hues are appearing on thin ground. We have seen some boll rot in cotton that was a little tall or was grown on soils with relatively high water holding capacity, but overall, our crop appears to be an excellent one.

Plant bug numbers (particularly clouded plant bug) have generally been light after a heavy start to the season, and retention has generally been very good. I suspect, by the time most of my growers will read this, our first shot of defoliant will be out on the majority of our crop and the second shot may very well be in the sprayer. For dryland acres, keep in mind that we have a relatively high potential for regrowth, given our dry finish to the growing season. If harvest is delayed for any reason after the first or second harvest aid application and rainfall provides adequate moisture, this crop will be off to the races.

Watching the forecast and properly timing harvest after the last harvest aid application will be very important this year. For those who have not applied a harvest aid, the first week in October is historically our last good chance at getting enough heat units to efficiently develop an abscission zone or boll suture. Waiting any longer for immature bolls to mature is extremely risky; unfortunately, our area experienced a freeze mid-October of last year and subsequently lost part of our latest-maturing crop.

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As I write this Sept. 5, cotton harvesting is nearly complete in the Lower Rio Grande Valley with only a small portion of the planted acreage remaining following the Sept. 1 stalk destruction deadline.

Further north in the Coastal Bend, harvesting is nearing completion as well. Yields in the Coastal Bend are a mixed bag this year, and the earlier planted acres that received timely precipitation are producing the highest yields. Initial yield reports from this region range from approximately 350 pounds per acre on later-planted fields to approximately 650 pounds per acre on earlier-planted fields.

In the Upper Gulf Coast region, harvesting is under way and should be close to finished, if not complete, by the time you are reading this in October. The dryland yields in this region are also highly variable and dependent on whether the crop received any substantial, timely rainfall. Some fields that missed the rain will be in the 250 pounds per acre to 350 pounds per-acre range, and others that received some precipitation have been yielding 700 pounds per acre to 900 pounds per acre. Irrigated acres in the region look much better with many fields expected to yield 1,200 pounds per acre to 1,600 pounds per acre, and a few even higher.

Like many parts of the state, the Blackland Prairie experienced one of the longest consecutive stretches of 100+ degree daytime high temperatures, and coupled with very little rainfall, dryland yields are suffering. Across this growing region, yields are anticipated to be below average and range from 200 pounds per acre to 350 pounds per acre. The irrigated acres typically found in the river bottoms within this region are expecting good yields this year of 1,000 pounds per acre to 1,500 pounds per acre if irrigation capabilities were abundant and timely throughout the growing season.

Further north in the Rolling Plains, very warm temperatures have progressed the dryland crop and many fields have been at, or beyond, physiological cutout for a couple of weeks.

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