Assessing The 2019 Cotton Season

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

As I write this mid-November, harvest has not been progressing as expected in West Texas and the Rolling Plains, primarily due to unfavorable weather conditions.

In the Rolling Plains of Texas, Dr. Emi Kimura reports from Vernon that their first freeze this year happened two weeks earlier than what would normally be expected. She does believe this has reduced the yield potential of late-planted fields in the area.

Harvest activity in the Rolling Plains started slowly and will likely continue into December. Dr. Jourdan Bell also reports delayed harvest progress in the Texas Panhandle region due to snow, rain and more snow. A freeze Oct. 11 caught many producers in the region off guard as temperatures dropped to 18 degrees Farenheit in the northern Panhandle.

Cotton in many fields is strung out and/or has many immature bolls that are “frozen” shut. Yields are much lower than previously hoped for, which seems to be the “bigger picture” across much of the West Texas region. Bell estimates that approximately 60% of the cotton is stripped in the region as of this writing.

In the Southern High Plains, the overall picture is more of the same. In and around the Lubbock area, harvest has also been touch and go. Unfavorable weather has kept many of our growers out of the fields, delaying harvest progress.

As of this writing, I estimate about 15% to 20% of the area has been harvested. With some open weather forecasted for the next several days, field activity will definitely ramp up.

Our farmers do an excellent job getting cotton out of the field if conditions are right, and it is quite astonishing to see cotton literally disappear overnight. All things considered, it is very likely we will be harvesting well into December.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

Aside from a few days of light rain and humid conditions, cotton harvest in Oklahoma has proceeded fairly well this fall. As I write this in mid-November, the majority of the irrigated crop in the southwest part of the state has been harvested and the dryland crop is becoming the focus.

In west-central Oklahoma and up into the panhandle, harvest is progressing. Barring unfavorable weather, the majority of the state’s crop will likely be in modules by the end of the year. This represents a drastic change from last year’s harvest, which drug well into the following year due to continuous rainfall and acreage increase.

The biggest takeaway from 2019 so far is that cotton is coming in “lighter than it looks.” In other words, fields that look like they should be running 3.5 to 4 bales per acre are actually producing 2.75 to 3.

From the few dryland trials our program has harvested thus far, this seems to be an issue isolated to irrigated fields. But only time will tell if this problem also becomes widespread on the dryland crop as well.

There are several theories as to why this is occurring. But it certainly does not appear to be a fiber quality problem as the early reports show positive fiber quality values, including 92% of samples falling into premium or the high end of the base range for micronaire.

Further, from the small sample of fields I’ve surveyed, seed production or seed number per loc don’t appear to be abnormal. It may be that the slow start to the season coupled with the extreme hot temperatures the crop experienced during July and August took a toll.

As the year comes to a close, be on the lookout for reports from on-farm variety trials conducted in Oklahoma in 2019 and mark your calendars for the Red River Crops Conferences scheduled for Jan. 22-23 in Altus. For more information on this and other county meetings, contact your local county Extension office.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Generally speaking, yields have been exceptional in West Tennessee. Our previous state record was just over 1,100 pounds per acre. By the time harvest is finished, I suspect we may just break the record. But it should be noted that the previous record — 1,104 pounds per acre set in 2016 — was achieved on approximately 250,000 acres.

This year, we will likely exceed 400,000 acres within the state. Unfortunately, quality has suffered due to rain through harvest, but quality on the whole is much better than in 2018.

In short, it has been a challenging year — from seed quality issues to extremely wet conditions early and then dry conditions late — but overall, it will be remembered as a “cotton year.”

As I write this on Nov. 13, we still have a few variety trials remaining in the field, but the bulk of our research plots have been harvested and are either in queue to be ginned or in queue for classing. As soon as a critical mass of data can be compiled, a preliminary 2020 Tennessee Cotton Variety Guide will be posted to

Full variety trial results should be posted online by the end of December.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

As I write this in November, the cotton crop in Missouri is finishing up a year that has been far too wet. Only 60% of the crop was harvested Nov. 7, putting harvest considerably behind the average of 91%. Our warm and sunny September really pushed the crop along and got it opening. It was especially a blessing with our below-average heat units this growing season.

Yields seem to be up from last year in the Senath area due to the lack of extreme rainfall that occurred late in the 2018 season. Another 1,200 pounds per acre yearly average looks to be possible again this year as long as harvest can progress at a sufficient pace. Hopefully, the clear weather forecasted for the next two weeks will allow harvest to wrap up before the end of the year.

There was some cotton that was harvested from the 2018 growing season in March 2019. Hopefully, the weather will be a little more cooperative late this fall to get harvest wrapped up before Christmas.

Any remaining acreage will most likely be weathered as the heavy rainfall and cool temperatures will delay the return of pickers to the field. The widespread re-growth issues that occurred late in 2018 don’t appear to be occurring this year.

With harvest wrapping up, it is time to look forward to next year with some growers already placing seed orders. Final results from the Missouri OVT-Clay trial are available at

Currently, much like yourselves, I have been picking like mad to try to get everything out before this cold and dreary weather sets in. As of Nov. 7, all OVT trials have been harvested with the exception of the Clarkton location. When this reaches you, the preliminary data for other locations should be posted as well.

I encourage you to attend the Missouri Cotton Production Conference on Jan. 22. It will be hosted at the Fisher Delta Research Center in Portageville, Missouri, and the agenda is posted on the Mizzou Cotton Blog alongside the OVT results.

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten
North Carolina

This year was one of the most variable years for yield with very good yields in some areas and very low yields in others, primarily due to rainfall. Another factor for some was seed quality.

Growers need to be mindful of the cool germ test values for their seed in the coming year. It is dangerous to assume you have high cool germ values based on the limited testing we have seen over the past couple of years.

The quality of the crop this year is good as of the middle of November, with average strength of 30.9, 4.67 mike and 36.7 staple. About 12% of the crop — most likely from drier areas — had high mike, but more than 80% was between 4.3-4.9.

Defoliation and harvest conditions were better than several of the most recent years with 68.2% of the crop having a leaf rating of 3 or less and 67% of the crop having a color of 11, 21 or 31.

Bob Hutmacher
Bob Hutmacher

The past few years have been a roller-coaster kind of experience for many California cotton growers, with very challenging insect pests resulting in a difficult production year in 2017. This was followed by some truly outstanding yields in 2018, and now a more mixed range of yields in 2019 covering territory from less than 2 bales per acre to well over 4 bales per acre in some areas.

As we got into harvest this fall, it was apparent that many fields had a lot of early square and boll losses due to early lygus pressure. This resulted in the need to manage many fields to get as much of a top crop as possible.

In general, we have benefited from a long, relatively warm and dry fall that helped out in opening up many of those late-developing bolls.

For your 2020 cotton plans, decisions on variety choices, irrigation methods to consider and a need for soil amendments to build or at least maintain adequate soil structure and fertility are right around the corner.

Cotton acreage on subsurface or shallow-placed drip continues to increase and can be a good way to stretch irrigation water supplies. With what appears to be a dry winter looming so far this year, drip irrigation also can be a good option that allows you to do targeted, timely irrigations in years when you need to stretch water supplies and if you need to practice deficit irrigation.

Cotton remains a relatively good rotation crop during which you can attack some weed management problems that develop or get worse during rotations with many other crops, particularly some vegetables.

Available glyphosate-resistant varieties with good Fusarium Race 4 wilt resistance are widely available in the Pimas. Those varieties provide good options that can help with some of your weed control issues while addressing the need for Fusarium resistance.

In reviewing data from some university trial locations and field calls last year, it is evident that there were a number of fields that could have benefited from greater attention to irrigation and fertility management.

Low commodity prices can be a reason to cut back on soil fertility evaluations, particularly phosphorus and potassium. But some periodic assessments in university trials have pointed out that yield-limiting P and K deficiencies can occur (particularly in high- yield situations) in both Pima and Upland cotton.

While the difficulties of the 2019 production season are still on your mind, think about which fields had the most severe growth and yield problems and use that information to help decide where alternative varieties with better vigor or conversely, more manageable vegetative growth, would best fit your operations.

Basic seed cotton yield results of the University of Califonia cotton trials will be available by mid-December from your UC farm adviser or on the UC cotton web site:

The estimated lint yields will follow hopefully in early January after we complete ginning for the research trials. Basic fiber quality tables from these trials can also be accessed on the same website. Look at variety performance across a variety of conditions represented in these trials to give you a better handle on what you might expect in Pima, Acala and non-Acala California Upland plantings.

Since these trials are much more limited than in the past, it is important to also talk with neighbors about their experiences with varieties and consider seed company trial data to balance out your review of available information.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Another cotton season is over. The 2019 cotton season was better than the previous year, which had to contend with impacts of Hurricane Michael. Even though we had a two months or longer drought across north Florida during the growing season, most of the cotton yielded and graded well, and the harvest season was successful.

Growers have started planting cover crops for next year’s crops. Cover crops do more than control erosion as they are food for microbial populations, which increase with cover crops (provide soil health benefits) even if planted over a living perennial grass crop.

Variety test data is being summarized and will be presented at grower meetings over the winter. Low prices have growers looking forward to a new year with healthier prices and better international trade relations.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

“If we never see another year like 2019, it will be too soon” is a sentiment that has been commonly expressed for much of this season. Our growers have faced challenges at nearly every turn in the road.

However, Mississippi growers are currently predicted to average 1,082 pounds of lint per acre, which is a testament to their skill and the genetics they plant. While many things could have gone better this year, many things could have turned out worse as well.

I am sure much of December will be spent with family, in a duck hole or in a deer stand. Spend a little time in the off-season studying variety performance, too. Slippage or failure of the two-gene Bt trait packages to control worms has become commonplace in the Mississippi Delta.

When making variety selection decisions, don’t just consider overall variety performance. Spend time evaluating overall profitability, taking into account variety performance as well as the potential need for insecticide applications for worm control compared to control from trait packages. The highest yield does not always make the most money.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and productive 2020 season.

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

We all have another experience in growing cotton under our belt with the 2019 crop. As to be expected, the 2019 season presented several unique opportunities and challenges. While some got a later start than desired, the very timely rainfall patterns and a September that delivered more heat units than August resulted in a high-yielding crop with excellent quality.

The first half of the crop statewide was harvested with very little rain falling on an open boll. However, the last 10% of the harvested crop did not come out easy.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service October Crop Production report estimated Arkansas production at 1.47 million bales, up 337,000 bales above last year. Yield was expected to average 1,157 pounds per harvested acre, up 24 pounds from 2018.

This would be our second highest yield on record behind the 1,177 pounds harvested in 2017 and 33 pounds above our five-year average of 1,124 pounds lint per acre. Harvested acreage was estimated at 610,000 acres, up 130,000 acres from 2018.

Plans for next year should be falling in place. Variety evaluation should be a priority. Evaluating the performance of newer varieties to the ones you grow and comparing notes with on-farm variety testing programs near you and the official variety trial or OVT conducted by Dr. Fred Bourland will help provide the information you need to select the best varieties for your operation.

Visit the University of Arkansas System Division of Ag Variety Testing webpage at for variety testing results from county and the OVTs.

Contact your local county Extension agent for updates on this season’s testing programs and to get the dates and locations of upcoming county production meetings.

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

My mother grew up in Mississippi near Aberdeen. Her daddy was a one-armed cotton farmer and ginner who married and had six children. After his first wife died, he remarried and had another seven children.

My mother was the last of the last.

My grandfather lost that arm in the gin. One of my aunts, probably embittered by suffering she’d witnessed, once exclaimed, “I wish I had the last cotton seed in the world. I’d put it in my mouth and SWALLOW it!” Thankfully, she couldn’t and didn’t … and cotton survives.

We’ve come a long way since the first half of the 20th Century. While there’ve been numerous revolutionary advancements in cotton and crop agriculture, variety and technology developments are at the forefront of improving yield and quality.

Superior genetics and pest management traits are linked with seed. Indeed, “The seed is where it’s at.”

While my grammar is lacking (my mother was an English teacher), it is true that so much happens with the selection and planting of seed.

cotton gin
Your cotton gin can be a meaningful source as you begin to compile meaningful data about 2019 variety performance, says Alabama Extension cotton specialist Steve Brown.

Information abounds regarding variety performance. Now is the time to begin to compile meaningful data from university official variety trials, county on-farm trials, company comparisons and gins.

Also in the mix are what happened on your own farm and what you hear at the local coffee shop. All these are helpful in preparing for 2020.

A couple of parting thoughts: Competition abounds in the seed industry. Competition exists among retailers. As a result, we have multiple good options in regard to variety and technology choices and may find them at fair prices with good service.

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