Cooler fall weather means cotton defoliation is on the mind of many farmers in northern Alabama. Most cotton fields are maturing rapidly, due in large part to limited late season rains. After fighting more weeds and insects than we have seen in several years, most cotton fields still have a good yield potential. Many farmers are still harvesting corn and full season soybeans, so farm resources are stretched to the limits. Early cotton defoliation results look excellent, but the main portion of this year’s crop probably will not be defoliated until the latter part of September or early October.
Most of the questions we have about our crop are answered in October. Yield and quality of the crop for many fields will be known by month’s end as the target harvest completion date for much of Arkansas is Nov. 1. Mother Nature has made this year challenging and unusual from start to finish. We have done a pretty good job of playing the cards we have been dealt to our advantage. Our goal at this point of the season is to preserve the yield and fiber quality potential of the crop. Our harvest-aid programs go a long way toward accomplishing this goal. We also know the importance of module placement and management for worker safety and preservation of quality. The simple practice of monitoring and removal of standing water on the tops of module covers should not be overlooked. Having well-built and well-placed modules are key to preserving quality. As the potential for contamination has increased in recent years, we must be more vigilant in keeping our fiber clean of plastic and other contaminants.
With the season winding down and harvest just coming into full swing for most of the state, I am optimistic about this year’s crop. Heat-related crop stress was not a factor for most of the state with only a handful of days with heat stress levels at a point that would significantly affect crop production. Timely monsoon moisture relieved water stress that was increasing in certain areas of the state in late June. With a good boll load on most of the crop, we have seen a slightly earlier maturing crop in 2014. A moderate level of insect pressure around the state has also provided conditions for high fruit retention and controlled vegetative growth for the crop in 2014. A significant portion of the 2014 crop was planted to Pima cotton with slightly more than 15,000 of the total 167,000 acres. This is more Pima cotton than Arizona has seen in many years. A lot of it looks good while the price still remains fairly strong with USDA daily spot quotations above $1.80 per pound. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic affects cotton planting for the 2015 season.
Like every year in crop production, producers face new challenges that they may not have faced before and do a good job of managing through them. This was the case for many Florida farmers who faced an all-time record drought in the May through August period in certain areas of the state and timely rains in other areas. As we enter harvest season and cotton is opening and ready for defoliation, there have been almost daily showers in some areas while other areas are still in the middle of a drought. The decision on when to defoliate with daily showers is tough since cotton will sprout after opening if it continues to rain with high temperatures. We still have a chance for good cotton yields as conditions for picking improve with producers optimistic that they may make near record yields if the crop is picked in a timely fashion. As picking is underway, those producers harvesting fields should make note of any areas that appear weak so that they can be sampled for nematodes and nutrient content of the soil. We continue to have better varieties for nematode resistance each year as well as high-yielding varieties that are being replaced more frequently. High yields are necessary with prices being 10 to 20 percent lower than at planting.
Hot and dry conditions remained throughout much of August, resulting in very rapid maturity and boll opening in much of the early planted dryland crop. However, heavy rains returned in early September, which slowed down boll opening a little bit. A significant portion of our cotton, especially dryland fields in Southwest Georgia, was ready to be defoliated in early September. Therefore, the rains won’t help the early crop much at all. However, it could potentially be beneficial for later planted or irrigated cotton that could use some rain to fill out the top crop. The first fields that I know of were harvested shortly after Labor Day, which mostly consisted of the early maturing dryland crop that experienced prolonged drought stress. By the time this is read, widespread harvest should be underway, depending on whether rains subside. The Georgia crop remains variable. Strong yield potential is likely in many irrigated fields, and yields are highly variable across dryland fields, depending on the length and intensity of drought stress. The USDA-NASS Crop Production Report for Sept. 1 indicates that Georgia producers anticipate harvesting 1.37 million acres with an expected yield of 911 pounds per acre. Hopefully, the rest of the season will allow us to achieve this. As I write this on Sept. 14, several fields have easily observable regrowth issues, especially in fields with a fully mature or open crop that likely reached cutout early due to heat and drought. Producers should consider using appropriate rates of thidiazuron in defoliation mixtures, especially when conditions are warm and wet and therefore favorable for regrowth. Application volume of 15 to 20 gallons per acre (for a ground sprayer) could improve overall defoliation or prevent the need for a second application. Here’s hoping that defoliation and harvest will go well on your farm.
Cotton harvest began during the first week of September in Louisiana. Yield estimates were lowered for this year’s crop due to high amounts of rainfall received during the latter part of August. The wet conditions created by the rain have produced ideal conditions for boll rot and target spot problems. Nevertheless, the 2014 crop should be a fairly good one if sunny weather will hold during the remainder of September and October. Although insect pests were common, they were not overwhelming, and our producers did an excellent job of staying on top of things. Early season thrips caused some difficulties. Bollworms weren’t particularly bad, and plant bugs were manageable. Also, late-season potassium deficiencies causing premature leaf shed were noticeable in fields scattered throughout the state. Cotton prices will need to increase for acres to hold steady or increase in 2015. Soybeans, at their current price, will make it extremely difficult for cotton to compete for acres next year in Louisiana.
After a slow start and what seemed to be a very fast summer, harvest time has arrived in Mississippi. Some of the earliest cotton was harvested in the state during the second week of September. However, harvest will kick into full swing during the first week of October. The USDA has predicted yields for Mississippi cotton at 1,120 pounds per acre, which, if not for last year, would be a new state record. If final yields come in close to this estimate, this is a testament to those growing cotton, the varieties they plant and all of those that help make that crop. As soon as harvest is completed, everyone knows that field operations begin in preparation for next year. To that end, keep this past spring in mind when performing these field operations. Due to the late start, we got on some land when it was wetter than we would like. As a result, we have compaction issues in some areas. Spend a few minutes checking fields for hardpans and try to remedy the problem.
While we have an excellent boll load and yield potential, defoliation has just begun. As of Sept. 14, cotton boll opening is at 32 percent compared with our five-year average of 47 percent. So, instead of a promising scenario, we will not have cotton out of the field for another 10 days from now. We have had more rainfall which has helped to settle the dust. During this season, we have not had any abnormally dry conditions in our cotton growing area. However, it is still easy to see the impact of irrigation on the outside of pivot circles or non-irrigated fields. Ninety-seven percent of the cotton is in the fair, good or excellent categories. The main difference this season compared with last year is that we had a higher percentage of cotton in the very poor and poor categories. Last year at this time, we had three percent very poor and 15 percent poor. The difference was the heavy rainfall during late July and early August. Our DD-60s are rather low compared with our average but are in the range of 2008 when we had a record yield. However, we are still about two weeks behind normal and our cool conditions remain.
October is official defoliation month. Defoliation is often tricky, but I think it should be more straightforward this year. One thing that often makes defoliation difficult is residual nitrogen, but that shouldn’t be a problem this year with all the rain we have had. Not only does this make defoliation easier, but it reduces regrowth potential. One other thing that contributes to difficult defoliation is a poor boll load, which often contributes to regrowth at defoliation and regrowth potential following defoliation. This year, we should be able to save money on regrowth materials and concentrate on boll opening and defoliation of mature leaves. The rates used on our main regrowth material, thidiazuron, should be based on temperatures and length of regrowth control desired. It is likely that we can get by with low rates to help with defoliation in these fields with heavy boll loads and little regrowth potential. I can’t talk about regrowth in October without reminding you that we typically do not have the consistent temperatures to increase yields after Oct. 15, and waiting past that date can result in defoliating under less than ideal conditions.
As the 2014 growing season winds down, Oklahoma producers are facing a mixed bag with respect to the crop. Although June and July were very cotton friendly with good-to-excellent rainfall in many areas, August was brutal with significant heat and a 30-day run of no rainfall in many areas. Laterplanted cotton in some areas was blessed by rainfall in September, which was valuable with late-season lint production. Overall, it appears that we will be in somewhat better shape with respect to cotton production in 2014 compared to last year. However, I don’t think we will see the extremely high yields in as many fields as we did last year. The dryland will likely be better in many locations, but there is no doubt we left a lot of yield potential on the ground after the tough August. Many producers are concerned about crop maturity, and, as of this writing, we have had more than 2,400 heat units at Altus to just over 2,100 near Weatherford. So, as September winds down, we have to keep in mind that our cotton maturing weather results in heat units trending to zero by the middle of October. As usual, we just have to wait and see what kind of hand Mother Nature deals and respond as best as we can.
As a whole, Tennessee’s cotton crop has made up much lost ground over the past month. Still, with cool temperatures in the forecast, it does not appear that all of the bolls we’d like to pick will end up in the basket. With that said, my biggest concern here on Sept. 17 is delaying our defoliation applications into less-than-ideal conditions in order to allow that last uppermost boll to mature. Historically, we do not get enough heat units to justify delaying an application past the first week in October, and this year does not look to be an exception. Given that many will be picking at the time this is released, I would also like to encourage those who have the capabilities to monitor yields to do so. This may cost you some time and may be a slight pain. Still, the regret you may suffer during next year for not collecting yield data during our current year may pale in contrast to the regret in years to come. Although this data has substantial value now, several emerging variable rate/precision ag tools have the potential to increase exponentially their current value in the near future. To quote Dr. Paul Fixen of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) on the topic of data stewardship: “What about your data? Is it on the way to the landfill or becoming part of your legacy?”
As a whole, Tennessee’s cotton crop has made up much lost ground over the past month. Still, with cool temperatures in the forecast, it does not appear that all of the bolls we’d like to pick will end up in the basket. With that said, my biggest concern here on Sept. 17 is delaying our defoliation applications into less-than-ideal conditions in order to allow that last uppermost boll to mature. Historically, we do not get enough heat units to justify delaying an application past the first week in October, and this year does not look to be an exception. Given that many will be picking at the time this is released, I would also like to encourage those who have the capabilities to monitor yields to do so. This may cost you some time and may be a slight pain. Still, the regret you may suffer during next year for not collecting yield data during our current year may pale in contrast to the regret in years to come. Although this data has substantial value now, several emerging variable rate/precision ag tools have the potential to increase exponentially their current value in the near future. To quote Dr. Paul Fixen of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) on the topic of data stewardship: “What about your data? Is it on the way to the landfill or becoming part of your legacy?”View More in our Archives