Eyeballing The Cotton Crop

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

Our Alabama crop is all over the board in terms of growth stage and condition. I’ve seen good, bad and ugly… and late. Struggles have been many. High mid-May temperatures and lack of rain interrupted the planting cycle. Stands are erratic in places. May, June and early July rains were very spotty.

Thrips and aphid pressure was often extreme, while spider mites, plant bugs and stink bugs have been plentiful. Pigweed and morningglories were as hard to control as ever. We don’t have an exceptional crop, but rains in late July and August could resurrect some cotton to good and propel other fields to really good.

At this stage, a couple of key inputs can help maximize potential. Most importantly, don’t give up bolls to stink bugs. The last few days of July and all of August are prime time for boll development and bug damage. Stink bugs feed on seed and introduce pathogens into the boll, reducing both yield and quality.

When walking fields, I frequently crack young bolls (about the size of a quarter in diameter) to look for signs of internal damage in the form of warts or callous tissue on the inside of the boll wall and general discoloration in, on or around seed. If they exceed thresholds, stink bugs can be a profit-killer. Obviously, intervention for stink bugs should coincide with considerations about worm pressure.

Foliar fertilization is a secondary management input that may boost fields with good potential. Foliar nitrogen in the form of urea or similar products can be useful if at-plant or sidedress N rates were borderline and plant growth and color are suspect.
Potassium is a little tricky.

As bolls develop, K moves rapidly from the leaves to seed. Even with adequate soil levels and good fertility programs, heat stress can limit K uptake in pre-bloom cotton, resulting in deficiencies during boll fill. Foliar K can sustain the plant a little longer and may make a difference in situations with marginal K levels in plant tissues. Admittedly, foliar fertilization provides only incremental amounts of N or K but can help finish a good crop. smb0165@auburn.edu

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

Mother Nature has certainly kept this season interesting. At this writing, things are coming on pretty well pre-Barry. Some of our older cotton looks really good. It started with plenty of horsepower with a lot of fields at nine to 10 nodes above white flower at first flower. Some of the younger cotton has struggled a bit, and nodes above white flower won’t be quite as good but still not bad.

As these remarks are being prepared, Tropical Storm Barry is in southern Louisiana. The gorilla in the corner of the room is how much rain and other storm-related issues will arise from its passing. Most are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

Tracking maturity by monitoring nodes above white flower from first flower to cutout (NAWF=5) can offer great insight on the condition and potential of the crop. 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 to identify the last cohort or group of bolls that will contribute significantly to yield and profit. It is this group of bolls and their development that we base our end-of-season decisions by accumulated heat units (HU) 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 local county Extension agent. brobertson@uaex.edu

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Scattered rainfall has continued to fall over the past few weeks, and here on July 12 we are expecting a tropical storm to provide another large rain in the coming days.

Our crop is growing rapidly, and aggressive plant growth regulator applications are being made across most of our acres. Late May-planted cotton is not quite blooming yet, but we will likely have blooms in most of our crop by July 17.

Light thrips pressure on our early planted cotton transitioned to very high levels on our late-planted cotton, but (to date) plant bug numbers have generally been low and retention has been high. Although I would have preferred to have more of our cotton planted at an earlier date, the West Tennessee crop appears to fall in the good to excellent range.

I’ll be posting a blog during the first few weeks of August about the last effective bloom date. Understanding what that date means and how it affects management decisions is extremely important to maximize profitability. Investing resources to protect fruiting bodies that develop after this date is a gamble.

Based on historical weather data, there will be a less than 50% chance that those bolls will mature and make it into the picker. Keep an eye out for that article on news.utcrops.com.

As always, reach out to your local Extension agent if you have any questions or concerns. traper@utk.edu

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

Tropical Storm Barry made an appearance during mid-July; however, rainfall appeared to be heavier in east Mississippi than in the Delta. While rain was substantial in some areas, we may have dodged the first bullet since October 2018.

Open bolls will likely not be a common sight until late August or early September this year compared to mid-August in years past. Managing this crop throughout August and into September will become a balancing act.

Our last effective bloom date, or the one on which a bloom has a good chance of maturing and making it into the picker basket, generally occurs during the third week of August, depending on location in Mississippi.

Fall weather is unpredictable, but some thought should be given to pushing management a bit later than normal given the lateness of this crop. There is no guarantee we will have a long fall and that prolonged management will pay off.

However, to maximize potential yield, conduct a thorough examination of predicted weather. We desperately need warm temperatures until early to mid-October to ensure fruit maturation on this crop. dmd76@pss.msstate.edu

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

This year’s cotton is extremely variable due to the difference in planting dates from the last week of April through the second week of June. Excessive rainfall and replanting earlier in the season is responsible for the alteration in planting dates.

Growth ranges from the five- to six-leaf stage to the second week of bloom. From a statewide perspective, the crop at best can be considered in the fair to good range.

For the first part of July, temperatures were around the mid 90s during the day and the upper 70s at night. The first part of July was dry. Irrigation started across the state during the last week of June. However, Louisiana did experience rainfall from Tropical Storm Barry that came in out of the Gulf.

As of July 11, cotton producers were concentrating on controlling plant bugs and bollworms. According to Dr. Sebe Brown, entomologist with the Louisiana State University AgCenter, treatment thresholds for Bollgard II, Twinlink and WideStrike cotton are when the presence of 20% eggs per 100 plants is found. For Bollgard III, WideStrike 3 and Twinlink Plus cotton, recommended treatment thresholds are when 6% fruit injury with the presence of live larvae is found.

Also, Dr. Trey Price, plant pathologist with the LSU AgCenter, reports that no bacterial blight or target spot has been found in commercial cotton fields. dfromme@agcenter.lsu.edu

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

The 2019 cotton season got off to a slow start in Oklahoma. But as we reach the mid-point, the overall status of the crop has improved. Once stands were established and the first two to three true leaves were developed, favorable weather conditions became more prevalent, and crop progress during the second half of June into July was tremendous.

As of mid-July, cotton planted early to mid-May is flowering with most of the rest of the crop putting on squares. Weed issues have been largely controlled as warmer and dryer conditions have slowed flushes and allowed for timely post-emergence applications. Insect pressure has also been light, with no reports of any major outbreaks so far.

cotton bloom
Oklahoma cotton specialist Seth Byrd says cotton planted early to mid-May is flowering with most of the rest of the crop putting on squares — photo by Carroll Smith

Early season struggles still had an enormous effect, namely in planted acres and the condition of the remaining crop. Large areas in the central, northwest and panhandle regions that were planted failed to produce a stand, and producers turned to alternative crops.

In the north central and eastern areas of the state, wet conditions prevented growers in many areas from planting summer crops all together.

For a large number of acres that remain, the crop is two to three weeks behind where it should be, due to either delayed planting, delayed emergence and/or slow early season progress. It is already apparent we’ll be reliant on a clear, mild September and perhaps first half of October to reach the yield goals many had set during the winter. seth.byrd@okstate.edu

Mark Freeman, Georgia
Mark Freeman

The Georgia crop started out extremely well with just about perfect planting conditions in late April and early May before coming to a screeching halt from the lack of moisture and extreme heat in mid- to late May. Since then, the crop has progressed quite nicely and yield potential looks strong across most of the state.

Because our crop has a lot of variability in terms of maturity, peak bloom in Georgia could fall anywhere from July 1 to the middle of August. Maintaining adequate soil moisture is critical for top yields. Monitoring soil moisture and scheduling irrigations can be done either by using a soil moisture sensor system or by following the checkbook approach.

In either strategy, water demand increases after first bloom with peak water requirements in the third and fourth weeks following bloom, then decreasing each week after until irrigation ceases at 10% open boll.

As I write this July 8, the forecast shows a high chance of rainfall for the next 10 days and even the possibility of some tropical weather on the way. With this moisture comes the risk of foliar diseases such as target spot and areolate mildew. As we learned in 2017 and 2018, areolate mildew can quickly defoliate the canopy if left unchecked.

Scouting for and monitoring foliar diseases should be done thoroughly and frequently. If fungicides are needed, quickly address the issue with effective products. It is also important to be able to correctly identify foliar diseases as some are related to nutrient deficiencies and fungicide applications may not be effective.

For more detailed information regarding irrigation or pest management, please visit ugacotton.com or contact your local University of Georgia Extension agent. markfree@uga.edu

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Cotton has gotten off to a relatively good start and has been actively blooming for several weeks. There is always the question about applying late or foliar nitrogen on cotton after a sidedress application during squaring or early bloom. In general, we do not recommend nitrogen after the third week of bloom.

Our studies indicate that late nitrogen does not add yield unless there is poor boll set due to insects or other factors.

Petiole samples may show low nitrates in the plant in late bloom (it is natural for nitrates to decrease with maturity), but applications after that period do not add yield in most cases. Growers tend to want their crop to maintain a deep green color throughout cotton growth and development, but this stimulates vegetative growth without enhancing yield.

If late foliar applications have been a normal practice, I would encourage you to split a field to see what effect it has on your farm if adequate nitrogen has been applied earlier. wright@ufl.edu

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

The cotton crop is moving along nicely in Texas despite having gone through somewhat of a rough start. As has happened for the past 66 years, the nation’s first bale of cotton for the 2019 season has been delivered in the Rio Grande Valley. The FM1944 GLB2 variety was grown and picked in Hidalgo County.

In the Coastal Bend, the crop is at cut-out, and there are already quite a few cracked bolls. Dr. Josh McGinty, Extension agronomist in Corpus Christi says the area has been rather dry and hot the past few weeks of June into early July.

Some afternoon heat and moisture stress is visible for the first time this season around the region. One more good rain would help finish the crop, but the forecast doesn’t look too promising.

Yields in South Texas will be variable. Some of the early planted cotton that survived the blowing sand is looking great and will easily make 2.25 bales. Some late fields that were replanted a couple times will be lucky to make 1.5 bales. The Upper Gulf Coast has had some problems with stink bugs and bollworms, but we’ve seen no trouble with them in the Corpus Christi area just yet.

Farther up the state into the Rolling Plains, seed in many fields went in the ground late due to the continuous rain during planting season. However, it started to dry out late June into the first week of July. Fleahoppers showed up in the area, with some fields needing treatment. Dr. Emi Kimura, Extension agronomist in Vernon, says the crop looks good overall, but it is critical to keep fields weed-free to achieve high yield potential.

In the High Plains and Panhandle of Texas, we have finally warmed up and many fields are well into squaring. For the most part, fields are looking good, but running a little late. A good round of showers across the region the first weekend of July definitely benefited the dryland crop.

As we enter the crop’s reproductive stage, folks need to continue keeping an eye on insect, weed and disease pressure. In early July, there were several reports of fleahopper in the region so farmers should not let their guard down.

Making sure we have good early fruit retention is always important and may be crucial this year in particular if the season is cut short by an early freeze. As field activities pick up and folks get their post-emergence auxin herbicide applications out, always remember to follow the product labels.

We need to continue being good stewards of the technologies, and keeping herbicides on target will go a long way in helping us with that goal. mmaeda@ag.tamu.edu

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

The Fourth of July brought us some flowering cotton here in the Missouri Bootheel, but the latest Crop Progress and Condition Report shows only 15% of the cotton is squaring, putting it behind the five-year average of 62%. From my observations, I’d say squaring and flowering are a good bit further along than the report indicates. The bump in temperature at the beginning of July should help build heat units nicely.

As of this writing, the cotton appears to have great yield potential, but I have concerns about the high rainfall levels. We have been considerably wetter than normal, and hopefully this tropical system doesn’t make its way northward.

Cotton crop conditions were rated rather poorly in the Crop Progress and Condition Report due to the abundant rainfall. Some growers in drier areas are holding off irrigating due to the lack of root growth.
With the bloom period upon us, the plants’ water needs increase from 1 inch per week to 2 inches during the third and fourth weeks of bloom.

Peak bloom will occur the last two weeks of July, and water demands will taper off as we move into August. Cotton during this period will transition 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 rapidly. A final plant growth regulator application will be needed to ensure sufficient crop earliness, especially if higher temperatures hang around and we keeping getting large amounts of rain. An emphasis on plant bug and bollworm control for the remainder of the season should be on everyone’s minds. Also keep an eye out for target spot. Stink bugs are a possibility as well with some already showing up as I write this.

Hopefully, the 2019 Missouri cotton crop will catch fall weather similar to 2017 with rain during August to help finish it out. A warm, dry start to the fall will allow for timely defoliation applications and an on-schedule harvest. meeksc@missouri.edu

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten
North Carolina

As I write this, many areas of the state are dry or on the verge of being dry. This makes growth regulator application decisions difficult. People are wondering if the cotton will take off growing if we get some rain and debating whether to apply a plant growth regulator to prevent excessive growth.

We should think of when and why we use PGRs. They are most effective to help control growth until boll load is heavy enough to take over. Most of the cotton is blooming and developing a boll load that should prevent too much excessive growth. This should happen by the time this article comes out in August.

PGR applications are seldom warranted in August if the cotton is near cut-out. The exception would be for late cotton that does not have a boll load or in a situation where a lot of insect damage has decreased the boll load.

PGR applications in August may make the cotton look a little more uniform, but we have never seen any yield advantage, ease of defoliation or earliness with August applications to cotton with a decent boll load. August should be a time to take care of any possible remaining insect issues and spend some time with your kids and/or grandkids! keith_edmisten@ncsu.edu

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