Although late, the Oklahoma cotton crop has made good progress in the past several weeks. A significant amount of irrigated cotton was on time with respect to cutout during the last half of August. Even though the crop pretty much reached cutout on time, the loss of about two weeks of blooming due to late planting will likely impact yields. In most areas, Irrigation was adequate to meet crop demands. Since rainfall became scarce in many areas during July, the possible “home run” dryland crop struggled with short moisture conditions in August. September temperatures were good for fiber maturity. However, the continued scant precipitation ramped up moisture stress in many fields. As far as yield prospects are concerned, we may see somewhat lower yields than average from many irrigated fields – again due to the late crop. The dryland crop should be fair to good but will likely not produce what it could have if provided sufficient rainfall. As we move further toward crop maturity and harvest-aid applications, producers are encouraged to assess their fields and keep an eye on the forecasts. Good temperatures are needed to maximize ethephon- based boll opener product effectiveness. Also, when one considers forecasters’ discussions of the El Niño situation, producers need to be aware that early harvesting could be very important in 2015. Many field-weathering studies have indicated the overall value of early harvesting. Delayed harvesting can result in increased leaf contamination, higher bark incidence, shorter staple, reduced fiber uniformity and negative impacts on fiber strength, just to name few.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service September Crop Production report lowered the yield estimate for Arkansas cotton producers to 1,218 pounds of lint per acre, down eight pounds from the August estimate. As our crop matures and harvest nears, the increased occurrence of flat-sided bolls and the lower than usual number of seed per boll in nice-sized bolls leads many to believe our yields will continue a downward trend. The heat we experienced in July and August had a greater impact on lint yield and possibly fiber quality than expected. Early reports from Arkansas corn, sorghum and rice producers are coming in about 10 percent lower than expected, and there is little evidence at this point to believe that cotton will not follow the same trend. Yields and prices for all commodities have everyone looking toward next year with concern regarding their possible crop mixes. These decisions will not be easy. When things get tough, it is often beneficial to step back and review the basics. Doing the right thing at the right time will help improve efficiency while working toward keeping costs down to improve our profit potential. Unfortunately, we can’t buy yield. We have to keep spending in sync with our income potential. Formulating crop budgets based on producing record yields is not realistic. As we move into harvest, we must remember to preserve our yield and fiber quality potential through well developed and timed cultural practices for harvest aids and harvest management and combine these with an effective lint contamination prevention program that starts in the field.
October is harvest month for cotton, peanuts and later maturing soybeans. Producers will need to take advantage of every opportunity to harvest in a timely fashion this year as we are in a strong El Niño weather phase. The last time we entered harvest in a similar situation was during the fall of 1997 when we lost a lot of our cotton from wet conditions that never let up. By expecting wetter weather and cooler temperatures, we can plan on harvesting wetter fields first and be prepared to harvest all of the crop in a timely manner. Producers should check with their county Extension offices for defoliant recommendations that allow a onceover operation for defoliation, boll opening and regrowth suppression as harvest days may be less this Fall. The cotton crop has good yield potential and is needed for a profitable crop year.
Harvest of the 2015 crop in North Carolina will be well underway by the time this report is read. Defoliation began around Labor Day, starting with shorter drought-stressed cotton that matured slightly earlier than normal. As I write this on Sept. 10, the 2015 crop is widely variable, depending on planting date, rainfall and primarily the timing, duration and intensity of drought stress. However, there is some very good cotton in the mix where ample rainfall occurred at the right time. The rains that occurred around Labor Day weekend triggered regrowth in several fields, primarily in the areas with the early maturing shorter cotton. This came as no surprise as boll demands in these fields had long been met, and warm temperatures prevailed. Hopefully, regrowth issues will gradually subside as we begin defoliating some of our better cotton or when we get into cooler temperatures. If regrowth continues to occur, producers should focus on using appropriate rates of TDZ-containing products to address this. The cost of harvest-aid mixtures is generally on producers’ minds this time of year, as it should be. Therefore, it is very important to achieve optimal defoliation in a single pass if at all possible, to minimize the need for a second pass, which is an added expense that can be avoided in most cases (but maybe not always). Two factors come to mind: (1). Select products that are appropriate for the crop’s needs and use rates that are appropriate for prevailing temperatures. Avoid cutting corners by trimming down rates of necessary products. (2). Use appropriate application volumes. Some producers attempt to defoliate using eight to 10 GPA, and I must admit that amount is sometimes sufficient. There are many cases where these low application volumes are insufficient and result in sub-optimal defoliation, necessitating another trip across the field. Using 15 to 20 GPA and appropriate nozzles usually results in good coverage and optimal defoliation in a single pass.
Yield potential of the 2015 cotton crop continues to look very favorable in Louisiana. Current estimates are around 1,000 pounds of lint per acre, down 175 pounds from the 2014 crop. July and the first part of August were hot and dry. As of Aug.17, we have accumulated 18 percent more heat units when compared to the 2014 season. As the season is winding down, less insect pressure from bollworms and plant bugs is being experienced as the end of August approaches. Defoliation will begin in the latter part of August, and harvest will begin in the earlier planted fields during the last week of August. As we prepare the 2015 crop for harvest, we should review some of the basic defoliation timing principles. There is always a balancing act between yield and fiber quality when defoliating cotton. There are several accepted methods to time defoliation, and all methods have strengths and weaknesses. The following is a review of some of the more common defoliation-timing techniques. These three methods or options for timing the defoliation of cotton are: 60 percent open boll, four nodes above cracked boll or 1,050 heat units beyond cutout (NAWF=4). Most importantly, whatever method is employed, producers should include inspecting the uppermost harvestable boll prior to defoliation by cutting a cross-section of the selected bolls. A boll is considered mature if it is difficult to slice with a knife, and seeds have begun to form a tan/brown or black seed coat. Once a dark seed coat has formed, defoliation will not adversely affect the yield of those bolls.
Cotton harvest began in mid-September in southern portions of Mississippi, and progress continued northward as we moved toward October. Early yield reports have been all over the board, ranging from 500 pounds per acre to more than 1,500 pounds per acre. Although good yields are expected overall, a number of areas in the state went a significant time without rainfall, which will limit yields in those areas. In addition, unlike the past two years, the last two weeks of August and first part of September were relatively cool, which slowed the development and maturity of later planted cotton. Given the current commodity markets, I am hearing increased rumblings from producers and consultants about increasing acreage to some degree in 2016. While I always look forward to harvest and seeing the culmination of a year’s worth of work and expense, the harvest of one crop also signifies the beginning of another crop. For those that grow corn and soybeans, a great deal of land preparation for 2016 has already been completed. October will be a pivotal month for cotton harvest as well as land preparation for 2016. Take this time to alleviate any issues that you may have. If fertilizer is needed, apply as recommended from a soil test. If you have a hardpan, break it up and reset beds for 2016. If you noted drainage issues early in the season, take steps to alleviate standing water from excessive rainfall. Doing these things will be the first step toward a successful 2016 crop.
The Missouri Crop Progress and Condition Report of Sept. 14 shows boll opening at 35 percent, which is 13 points behind the five-year average. The crop condition is one percent very poor, nine percent poor, 49 percent fair, 35 percent good and six percent excellent. The Cotton and Wool Outlook of Sept. 18 has increased our projected yield from 931 pounds to 1,042 pounds per acre. I have seen dryland cotton that will be defoliated very soon. So we are inching toward harvest. While the cotton is later than we would like, we still have an opportunity to get it out of the field if the weather will cooperate. This was an unusual year for weather patterns, but, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, we do not have any areas where we grow cotton that are abnormally dry. Unless we receive rainfall soon, that could change in the next few weeks. At present, we have warm temperatures that will aid defoliation. Most producers are doing as well as can be expected battling resistant pigweed. However, there are resistant weeds along ditches and edges of fields. Even with the new technology, this problem will continue. With PPO resistance, the task could become harder. We have had a lot of chemicals going out to control tarnished plant bugs. However, this is nothing compared to what it was like prior to boll weevil eradication.
Compared to last year, boll maturity today (Sept. 14) is far beyond what we experienced in 2014 and 2013. A mid-May cold snap and wet fields on top of low prices and a delayed corn planting left Tennessee with less cotton than before the Civil War. Still, the acres that made it through our bumpy spring received heat units at the right time, and yields look promising. It is likely that some will be picking in September, with only a few acres receiving their first shot of defoliant in the second week of October. This period of time between defoliation and harvest provides a good window to address contamination, as the canopy is removed and contaminants are easy to see. Take advantage of this time by searching fields (particularly troublesome areas near convenience stores or roadsides) to remove materials that could be picked up by the harvester. In the ever-more competitive global market, maintaining U.S. cotton’s identity as clean and pure is critical. Additional information on this can be found at utcrops.edu.
The Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend have wrapped up harvest after a long drawn process. Yields were highly variable with the primary factors being planting date and field drainage. The Upper Gulf Coast (UGC) and Blacklands have been trying to harvest cotton for weeks now, but progress was slow due to scattered showers throughout the regions. Similar to further south, harvest is about one month behind. Cotton harvested in the UGC and Blacklands were below average for most fields, but the cotton ginned at the Corpus Christi office was good with relatively low leaf grades and other quality characteristics being good. The Northern Rolling Plains still has a decent dryland crop, while the Southern Rolling Plains was less fortunate on rainfall for the past 2.5 months. The irrigated cotton is still running behind, but the long-term weather forecast is encouraging to finish out the crop. Most folks were able to keep the glyphosate-resistant pigweeds under control early in the season. Now the escapes are prolific and may have a detrimental impact on yields and weed pressure for years to come. Unfortunately, for many, low cotton prices and low yield potential did not provide a sufficient budget to continue to spend money on weed control options.
Cotton defoliation and harvest will be early this year in Virginia. Defoliation got started the third week of September, three to four weeks ahead of the 2014 crop. Heat unit accumulation for Virginia was well ahead of normal with 2,322 DD60s on Sept. 21, compared to 2,152 DD60s on Sept. 21, 2014. I suspect that by the time this article reaches readers, most of, if not all, the cotton in Virginia will be defoliated. A dry August hastened maturity of the cotton crop, and yields most likely will be well below the 1,240 pounds of lint per acre mark set in 2014. I believe yields will still impress producers given the environmental conditions faced this year. Multi-tasking will be needed in Virginia this year as peanuts and cotton seem to be overlapping in harvest, more so than in previous years. Typically, producers pick peanuts a week ahead of cotton defoliation.View More in our Archives