End-Of-Season Observations

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

I hand-picked cotton yesterday, just one plot in the oldest cotton fertility experiment in the world. One of 14 plots, my assigned two rows by 10 feet were good, and it took 25 minutes to pick everything from fluffy white bolls to those less sightly.

I was reminded of two extremes.

Years ago I worked with Ray, a scrawny old man who probably weighed less than 130 pounds. He was not given to exaggeration, and I believed his tale of a day in which his (hand) picking crew had a contest, winner-take-all. Whoever picked the most got all the cotton for the day.

By mid-afternoon, only Ray and another guy were still picking. Others had quit. Ray finished with 400 pounds, an incredible take, but he finished second.

A glance through records suggests daily hand-picking amounts ranging from 200-300 pounds. No consolation for Ray.

Fast forward to the 21st century and round roll pickers. When I ride in these massive machines, I’m ever amazed at how they gobble up so much cotton so rapidly.

For many years, my family was part of a new church. In the early days, we met in a store front with office, nursery and classrooms on one end and the worship room at the other with a convenience store in between.

As I walked into the service one January Sunday in the mid-2000s, I was told, “You need to meet this man.” He was a gray-haired, late 50s, John Deere engineer working on a project he couldn’t disclose. He joined my family for lunch and watched an NFL game. I didn’t pry for information. When he came again the next November, I greeted him with, “I know what you’re working on.” He was part of the team developing the round module harvester.

Our 2021 crop was once very good. Rains in late August through early October diminished it. Punished it might be a better description. It’s UGLY in places. By early November, we’ll have a more accurate picture and will hopefully be positively surprised in some places.

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

Harvest progress of the 2021 crop continues to echo our season-long delay. However, we appear to be making up some ground slowly as it may be.

Cotton harvest as projected by the National Agricultural Statistics Service was 20% complete going into the second week of October. Harvest progress was about half of our five-year average and about one-third behind last year.

The most current NASS yield projection on Oct. 1 estimated yield to average 1,226 pounds per harvested acre, up 52 pounds from last month and up 47 pounds from 2020. This exceeds our previous record yield of 1,185 pounds per harvested acre set in 2019.

Harvested acreage is estimated at 470,000 acres, and production is forecast at 1.2 million bales.

The 2021 crop is promising record yield prospects along with pricing opportunities of more than $1 per pound for lint. While this is exciting news, input availability and costs for next year will create new and difficult challenges for the 2022 crop.

Most growers are well into planning for 2022. Soil samples for fertility as well as nematodes will likely be pulled in great numbers after harvest and stalk destruction are complete. Get cover crops on your radar if they are not part of your current plan. Look to the University of Arkansas Variety Testing webpage at https://arkansas-variety-testing.uark.edu/ for variety testing results from county and the Official Variety Trials.

The Arkansas Crop Management Conference and county production meetings are scheduled to be live events this year, and dates have already been set. Contact your local county Extension agent for details on meetings and other questions you may have. brobertson@uada.edu

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

This growing season was no different than many others with weather issues. Some cotton was planted late as it was dry during April, and 5-7 inches of rain occurred the last days of the month, leaving gullies and ponds in the fields.

In general, the growing season was too wet, and management was not often timely for herbicides, fertility applications and growth regulators. Cotton is forgiving in that timing can be off, and you still make a good crop.

Cotton that opened early in the bottom of the plant had many hard locked bolls. Dry weather in late September and early October allowed the top crop to open well. Many growers who planted in sandy fields had nitrogen, sulfur and potassium deficiencies. Because of this, yields in some fields were low while others had good yields since moisture was not a limiting factor.

Growers are experimenting with slow-release fertilizer on sandy fields. They are finding it can produce higher yields in some years where high rainfall occurs. The cost is higher and may not show an advantage in moderate rainfall years.

We continue to make higher yields every year when planting after winter grazing compared to cover crops alone. This is due to recycled nutrients, higher microbial populations, better water infiltration and cotton root stimulation.

Even though cotton is grown as a rotation crop for peanuts in the Deep South, cotton prices are getting growers excited about growing the crop again. wright@ufl.edu

camp hand
Camp Hand,

The 2021 production season has been a roller coaster ride for Georgia farmers. Looking back through my contributions to the Specialists Speaking section, you can see the challenges that our growers went through.

As I write this Oct. 16, our cotton harvest is only starting. We are beginning to see some fruit and learn lessons from the past year. I encourage growers to examine their crop prior to harvest and evaluate what went right, what went wrong and take some of those lessons into consideration for future years.

I was riding a picker with a grower a few days ago, and we discussed how his cotton didn’t have much of a bottom crop. It looked great in the top, but he couldn’t slow it down with plant growth regulators.

harvesting cotton in September in Georgia
Pickers roll across Terrell County, Georgia, Oct. 18.

We discussed some things that could’ve contributed to this, whether it be tarnished plant bugs, timeliness of PGR applications, etc. It helps seeing the crop with bolls set and open.

Knowing how the cotton plant develops, we can “count back” and see when certain events may have happened. I hope everyone is staying safe as harvest has begun and is pleased when they get their gin sheets back!

Dr. Scott Monfort, University of Georgia peanut agronomist, and I recently started planning county meetings. Be on the lookout for dates in your county or a county near you for the winter and spring.

One meeting date that is set, and I hope to see everyone attend, is the Georgia Cotton Commission Annual Meeting at the Tifton Campus Conference Center in Tifton, Georgia, Jan. 26, 2022. We are looking forward to it and seeing everyone after two years!

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

matt foster
Matt Foster,

As we approach mid-October, approximately 40% to 50% of the state’s cotton acres have been harvested. Harvest conditions have been ideal during the early part of October.

However, cooler temperatures are in the forecast, which can hinder boll opening and the efficacy of some harvest aid products.

Hopefully, we can finish cotton harvest during the early part of November. Louisiana will harvest around 105,000 acres of cotton this year, compared to 165,000 acres in 2020.

About 95% of this year’s crop is in the fair to good range. Yield estimates for the state are projected to be about 1,000 to 1,100 pounds of lint per acre. Most growers I have spoken with are surprised by their yields, considering the adverse weather conditions during planting and throughout the growing season. Wet and cloudy weather was the common theme in 2021.

Louisiana growers plan to plant more cotton next year due to favorable market prices and the substantial increase in fertilizer prices. Some are already reserving pickers for 2022.

Currently, our parish production meetings are being scheduled. Please contact your parish Extension agent for the dates and locations. mfoster@agcenter.lsu.edu

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

As I write this Oct. 13, picking season is in full swing across Mississippi, which finally provides us with a visual of cotton #harvest21. I have received numerous comments regarding this year’s harvest, including but not limited to: “Will there be enough heat units?”, “so many tropical systems in the gulf … ” and “Is boll rot going to affect yield?”

As cotton harvest is underway, yield reports are highly variable, much like the rest of the season. I’ve received reports ranging from 800 pounds per acre to 1,800 pounds per acre.

This year has presented growers, researchers and industry professionals with an overabundance of challenges since the start of the season. Weather-related factors caused a later-than-normal crop and yield reductions. From the beginning, most first-position fruit was set a couple nodes higher than normal, which put more pressure on the upper portions of the canopy to produce most of the yield.

Also, several periods of wet, cool weather in September contributed to boll rot, hard locked bolls and target spot across most of the state. Despite the setbacks, I have received reports of strong yields in a couple locations.

This year, Mississippi cotton took a long time to get established. By late June and into July, the crop seemed to grow slowly, establish a poor root system and was reluctant to set fruit. In some cases, farmers hesitated to apply plant growth regulators in fear of inhibiting vegetative growth and not achieving desired plant stature.

In turn, our PGR management strategies became reactive to control excessive plant growth. For the most part, heat unit accumulation was adequate, and the crop was able to mature appropriately.

A couple of cool snaps and wet periods delayed defoliation in late September. Otherwise, it has been relatively straight forward. Another cool wave is expected Oct. 15 and will remain in place for a week or so.

As nighttime temperatures drop into the 50s and 40s with daytime highs in the 70s, our strategy will shift to tribufos or PPOs + ethephon to defoliate the remainder of the crop.
In a two-pass defoliation strategy, tribufos works well to remove mature leaves in the canopy. PPO defoliants work well to remove excessive regrowth.

By the end of October, I expect most of Mississippi’s cotton crop will be harvested if the weather cooperates.

Currently, Mississippi State University Row Crop Short Course is scheduled for Dec. 6-8 at the Mill Conference Center on MSU’s campus. Stay tuned for updates, and good luck with remainder of harvest. bkp4@msstate.edu

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this Oct. 4, harvest is well underway in North Carolina. Except for a few minor rainy stretches, the current forecast appears to be favorable through mid-October. A lot of our crop is later than normal, but heat unit accumulation during September and early October has been favorable for maturing this crop on time for the most part. I sincerely hope and pray that good weather prevails throughout the fall this year.

Although harvest is just starting, by the time you read this article, the “November trap” as we call it, will likely have arrived. I hope that most, if not all, of our crop is out of the field by that time. Early November is generally when cool weather sets in. This prevents dew or rainfall from drying out quickly, and our daily effective harvest hours dwindle noticeably.

As harvest winds down, I always like to reflect on the past season and the lessons learned during that time. In my opinion, a successful cotton management program begins with thorough planning and adjusting for the future season based on prior experience.

As we have learned in the past, it pays to be timely with defoliation and harvest. To be timely during that part of the season, we must strive to be timely as early as March when burndown begins. For now, we are mindful of establishing cover crops and making repairs to washes, ditches and waterways. We also need to check the irrigation systems and winterize them.

In addition to evaluating variety trial results, which hopefully will be available in early December, growers are encouraged to evaluate the current crop’s root system. Where no-till has been practiced for quite a while, look for the presence of shallow or j-roots. If the malformed root system cannot be attributed to excessive rains shortly after planting, growers may want to consider strip-tilling fields with sandier textured soils. guy_collins@ncsu.edu

seth byrd
Seth Byrd,

As I write this in mid-October, harvest progress is accelerating rapidly. While gins have started running, there has been very little cotton processed. But as the month rolls on, I think we’ll have an early idea of yields and grades by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you.

A few things have stuck out in the last few weeks as we’ve been ramping up for harvest. In last month’s issue, I mentioned one of my concerns was our ability to defoliate the crop efficiently and rapidly. We weren’t seeing natural senescence occurring to the degree that it typically does as bolls were beginning to open. Well, as my bookie would tell you, I’m not often right on my predictions.

But in this case, defoliation has been a problem in many parts of Oklahoma. Multiple defoliant applications have been required in attempts to remove foliage. Recent rains sparked basal regrowth, which compounds the problem. Cooler overnight temperatures have spurred some natural defoliation. But getting the crop harvest-ready has been a challenge for many.

Variability is another noticeable component of this year’s cotton crop. This is most evident in variety trials where some variation is normal, although the 2021 conditions have exacerbated the differences between varieties, particularly in maturity characteristics and boll distribution. Crop variation and challenges in achieving optimal defoliation are due to the cool start to the season, which resulted in early season vegetative growth and delayed fruiting onset.

This year has had no shortage of challenges, and the crop has already survived one storm in early October and held up well. Hopefully, weather for the remainder of the fall will be favorable, and everybody will have a safe and successful harvest. seth.byrd@okstate.edu

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

As I write this Oct. 13, Tennessee is just beginning to harvest the crop; most of our focus lately has been on wrapping up defoliation. The 2021 season has been unlike any other. Our late start and tough June made this the latest crop the state has seen in more than 50 years.

To our surprise, we were able to bring a good portion of our bolls to maturity, and yield potential appears to be above average. I’m not quite as optimistic about this crop as the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. But considering our start, I think most will be pleasantly surprised by the time we wrap up the season.

Given the late nature of harvest this season, I suspect variety trial results will be delayed. The 2022 season will likely see the introduction of several new varieties — many of which vary substantially compared to the varieties we have been growing.

I encourage waiting as long as possible to make your decisions, so you can get as much information as possible on each of the varieties. For those who must take advantage of early price benefits for booking seed, suggest you diversify across a number of varieties. This is generally a great way to reduce your overall risk, especially on varieties we are still getting to know. traper@utk.edu

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As I write this in mid-October, cotton harvest is nearly complete in the Blackland Prairie. About 75% of the acres are already out of the field. Periods of rainfall have staggered harvesting windows, and dry weather is needed in the coming weeks for a timely conclusion to the 2021 growing season.

So far, fiber quality has been outstanding from earlier harvested fields in the Blacklands. Reported yields have been mostly above-average.

Overall, the cotton crop was delayed two to three weeks in Central and South Texas, which delayed the onset of harvest by that long as well. The abundant rainfall experienced throughout much of the state in the early and middle part of the season had a great effect on delaying cotton maturity. When typical summer weather returned in July, good heat unit accumulation over the next few months was beneficial in getting the crop across the finish line.

As the 2021 season begins to wind down, it’s never too early to start thinking about the 2022 season. The fall is a great time to submit soil samples for testing to determine what nutrient inputs will be needed for the next crop.

This may be especially important going into next year as fertilizer prices have already more than doubled in some cases. Visit with your local county agent or go to soiltesting.tamu.edu for more information on how to submit soil samples for testing. bmcknight@tamu.edu

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