Cotton Crop Looks Promising Overall

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

This has been an unusual cotton-growing season with rain since the middle of May and often little time to get into the field to manage the crop. However, most growers got the weeds under control and were able to apply sidedress nitrogen when needed.

The crop is growing well and looks promising at this point. Cotton is blooming and fruiting with a good boll load in most fields. We could have an outstanding cotton crop this year if weather continues to be favorable. However, there will be insect and weed issues that emerge during the remainder of the season.

Higher prices have a lot of growers looking for ways to optimize yields, and this is the first time I have seen this kind of excitement for cotton in a while. Growers should stick to proven management practices.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

The speed at which this growing season is passing is amazing. Planting season seemed to never begin, and in a few short weeks college football will be upon us.

As a whole, cotton in Mississippi looks outstanding. Some of our oldest cotton has been blooming since the third week of June, while our youngest cotton has been blooming for a couple of weeks. Mississippi growers have set the stage for a strong crop as overall retention was outstanding in many cases as of mid-July.

The theme for Mississippi cotton production in August is finish strong. In many cases, irrigation and insecticide applications will cease in this month; however, do not be tempted to cut either of these short in an effort to save money. In a sense, that would be letting a nickel stop a dollar.

Folks have been spending money all year to produce this crop, and it is tempting to try to save on the backend. However, things such as insecticide applications, which should be based on established thresholds and will cost us yield and money if exceeded, should be viewed as a sound investment in maximizing yield and profit.

Closing out August with solid management practices is the first step of the last leg of the race.

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

As of July 11, the cotton crop is progressing quickly due to May and June being hot and abnormally dry. Irrigation started across the state during the latter part of June.

A large portion of the crop is in the second and third week of bloom. However, some dryland fields across the state have already reached cutout. This year, fruit retention is good, and the crop has not experienced any fruiting gaps from plant bugs or cloudy weather.

With fruit retention being good this year, controlling plant height with mepiquat chloride applications has been manageable. We should see some open bolls during the early part of August. Many of the dryland fields are in need of rain if we are to remain optimistic on the yield potential of this year’s crop.

Dr. Trey Price, plant pathologist with the LSU AgCenter, reports that no bacterial blight and a minimal amount of target spot has been found in commercial cotton fields. Also, Dr. Sebe Brown, entomologist with the LSU AgCenter, says plant bug numbers have been manageable so far this year. And bollworm numbers are lower compared to the past two years.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this on July 1, the cotton crop in North Carolina is generally in good shape. The challenging planting season left us with both an early planted and late-planted crop.

With that said, timely rains and good temperatures during June resulted in vigorous early season growth. Excessive rains led to severe water-logging in some areas of the Blacklands, but most cotton appears to be growing well at this point.

Hot temperatures over the past few days resulted in several fields beginning to wilt, even in those that received decent rains last week. This is a reminder that we are never more than a few days away from a drought.

For growers with irrigation capabilities, timely applications and subsequent and frequent soil moisture and plant growth monitoring is necessary to avoid wilting and the associated yield loss potential. This is important throughout the entire bloom period. Later-planted cotton will likely be in peak bloom when this article appears.

Applications for bollworms will also likely be underway the first part of August. Growers should be using the recommended egg threshold for WideStrike, Bollgard II and TwinLink cotton and the larval threshold for WideStrike 3, Bollgard III and TwinLink Plus cotton.

It is critical to scout thoroughly and frequently for this insect pest and take any necessary action once thresholds are met. Additionally, a timely diamide spray can greatly improve yields, especially in two-gene varieties, if applied before worms become established.

For late-planted cotton, remember that our last effective bloom date generally falls between Aug. 20 and 31. Therefore, growers should manage for earliness in late-planted fields to maximize boll retention for those set before this date.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Tennessee’s cotton crop entered July with the potential to be record-breaking. Abnormally warm conditions during the first 40 days pushed maturity. For fields planted in early May, scattered blooms were present by the last week in June.

Most areas have been blessed with sufficient rainfall up to this point (July 12). Severe thunderstorms have lodged a few farms and put some low-lying acres under water, but affected acres are not widespread. Fruit retention has been good, and insect pressure has been average.

We are watching reports of bollworms in adjacent states due to the two Bt-gene trait issues noted last year. I suspect we will be treating soon, but we have not had to treat yet.

We are definitely a long way from the end of the season. Up to this point, however, the crop couldn’t be in a much better position.

Galon Morgan, Texas
Galon Morgan,

As of mid-July, excessive rains in mid-June removed the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend from drought status. However, it was too much, too late, to improve the cotton crop and was quite detrimental to the sorghum crop.

Some of the very late replanted cotton in the Coastal Bend has benefited from the rain. But the earlier planted cotton was heavily stressed, and the rainfall triggered a lot of premature defoliation caused by nutrient deficiencies and secondary pathogens.

Much of the Upper Gulf Coast cotton did benefit from the heavy rainfall in mid-June and scattered showers since. However, nutrient deficiency symptoms became apparent following the standing water and compromised root systems in June.

Texas cotton near Snook
This cotton field photo was captured in late June near Snook, Texas, in the Brazos Bottom, which was formed by the Brazos River — photo by Vicky Boyd

Where secondary pathogens have infected these plant leaves, premature defoliation is occurring in the area.

Irrigated cotton in the Southern Blacklands is looking good, and the 3 Bt-gene varieties are holding up to high bollworm pressure in this region. Dryland cotton in the Southern and Central Blacklands has suffered from moisture stress most of the year, and yield potential is quite low. The Northern Blacklands is looking fairly good with more rainfall.

In the Rolling Plains, the crop is highly variable due to scattered rain showers and whether the rain was preceded by hail.

Irrigated cotton is well into flowering, while dryland fields are approaching first flower. Across the Rolling Plains, yield potential is quite low due to limited moisture and high temperatures most of the season. Some recent rains have definitely been helpful to the irrigated cotton in this area but will not be sufficient to help the struggling dryland crop, unless more rain happens soon.

On the positive side, for the past month or so reports of off-target herbicide movement has been minimal across the state, and we all hope it stays that way.

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

In the first two weeks of July, we experienced some high temperatures with a few days of level two (L2) heat stress in the low deserts of Arizona. We are likely to see additional days of level one (L1) and L2 heat stress the remainder of the season.

The effects are most pronounced after several consecutive days of L2 heat stress when the crop is at or near peak bloom. The main evidence of heat stress is fruit loss and typically appears as a layer of aborted sites at the same point vertically on the plant across the field. The fruit loss will be fairly uniform across the field and will coincide with the heat stress event.

The fruit development stages most susceptible to heat stress are very small one- to three-day-old bolls. Fruit that survives heat stress may have partial seed pollination within the boll, resulting in misshapen or “hook-beaked” bolls. These often do not mature and open properly, making any cotton produced in that boll difficult to pick. Keep an eye out for this phenomenon in the field and be prepared to take corrective action in the event of significant fruit loss.

Keep in mind that the fruit is a sink for carbohydrates produced through photosynthesis. If that fruit is lost, the energy produced by the plant is diverted into vegetative growth — sometimes in excess, which can complicate late-season management and harvest preparation. Properly timed plant growth regulator applications can help manage excess vegetative growth if this occurs in your field.

Keep in mind, too, that other factors affect heat stress response and effects, including variety selection and management factors, such as plant water status. Water stress can exacerbate the issues associated with L2 heat stress. Maintaining a healthy crop through proper irrigation and fertility is very important.

For more information on heat stress and other cotton management related topics, go to

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture acres planted report estimated Oklahoma’s 2018 cotton acreage at 720,000 — a 23 percent increase from the acres planted in 2017.

In the southwestern part of the state — the traditional home of Oklahoma cotton — the status of the crop is all over the board as of mid-July. Within a small area, there are fields in great condition approaching peak bloom and others with sparse, newly emerging plants after the first significant rain since planting.

For fields in the better half of this status, August will be a pivotal month as peak bloom is a critical period for timely and adequate water supply. Meeting this demand and avoiding water stress will help ensure high boll retention and timely fiber development and crop maturity moving into the fall.

Other considerations may be necessary for areas with poor stands, late emergence or cotton that is behind in development due to heat and water stress. Applying plant growth regulators can prevent plants from becoming too large and impeding harvest activities in fields with sparse plant populations.

There are concerns about irrigation water availability in the water district surrounding Altus for the remainder of the season. This is because early season irrigation was necessary to stave off the oppressive drought and heat during May and June.

Rainfall in August would provide tremendous relief from a water supply burden that has been carried almost fully by irrigation through the first three months of the season.

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

Mother Nature has certainly kept this season interesting. We have some April planted cotton, but most was planted in May. Our crop has run well ahead of schedule this season although we missed some opportunities for rain in June that would have gone a long way toward having it where we want to be going into flowering.

Some cotton at first flower was running six to seven nodes above white flower (NAWF). Our target is nine to 10 NAWF at first flower. A lot of fields were at five or six NAWF after the first week of flowering. We will be happy with this crop at harvest if we avoid premature cutout by keeping NAWF values at five or better for three weeks.

We can set a lot of cotton with three weeks of effective flowering with good retention rates. Tracking nodes above white flower (NAWF) from first flower to cutout (NAWF=5) can offer great insight on the crop’s condition and potential.

As we approach this time of the season, we are interested in using this tool to aid in crop termination. The first fields planted are not always the first to reach cutout.

Establishing the date of cutout (NAWF=5) for each field is important in identifying the last cohort or group of bolls that will contribute significantly to yield and profit. It is on this group of bolls and their development that we base our end-of-season decisions by heat unit (HU) accumulation or DD60s beyond the date of cutout.

General termination guidelines include plant bug, cutout + 250 HU; bollworm and tobacco budworm, cutout + 350 HU; irrigation, cutout + 350 to 650 HU; stink bug, cutout + 450 HU; defoliating insects, cutout + 500 HU; harvest aid initiation, cutout + 850 HU. For more information, contact your county Extension agent.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

The Fourth of July brought us flowering cotton here in the Missouri Bootheel. The latest Crop Progress and Condition Report shows 71 percent of the cotton is squaring and 33 percent is setting bolls, putting the crop ahead of the five-year average. We are ahead of last year, considerably so from a boll set standpoint as well.

The cotton acreage is estimated to be 345,000, up from 305,000 last year.

The cotton appears to have great yield potential, but I have concerns about sporadic rainfall. We have been considerably drier than during planting time, but thankfully rain is again predicted over the next few weeks.
Cotton condition was rated 5 percent poor, 32 percent fair, 56 percent good, and 7 percent excellent in the latest Crop Progress and Condition Report.

It also rated subsoil moisture supply 30 percent very short, 34 percent short, 34 percent adequate and 2 percent surplus, highlighting the need for adequate irrigation.

Peak bloom occurred the last two weeks of July, and water demands tapered off as we progressed into August. Cotton during this period transitioned from needing 2 inches of rain per week to 1-1.5 inches during the final stages of bloom.

Regardless, the crop is currently growing very rapidly, and a final plant growth regulator application will be needed to ensure sufficient crop earliness. Emphasizing plant bug and bollworm control for the remainder of the season should be on everyone’s minds as well as keeping an eye out for target spot.

We hope the 2018 Missouri cotton crop will catch fall weather similar to last year. Rainfall during August will help finish out this crop and then a warm and dry start to the fall will allow for timely defoliation applications and a favorable harvest season.

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