Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Harvest Preparations Underway

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a saying first attributed to a 1530s animal husbandry book in reference to sheep dogs. I’d like to think it doesn’t apply to cotton growers and ag professionals.
With that assumption, I’d like to propose two harvest-time challenges.

A Quick Plant Map. After defoliation but before harvest, take 5 minutes for a close-up examination of your better cotton. Pull or cut two normal, average plants (not end-of-row or other brag plants) and take them to your truck tail gate.

For each plant, count the total harvestable bolls and nodes. Note the node of the uppermost harvestable boll and the number of pickable bolls on vegetative branches.

Roughly divide the plant into thirds, something like: a) nodes 5 to 11, b) nodes 12 to 18, and c) nodes 18 and above. Estimate the contribution of each zone and include a category for vegetative branches if needed. This simple exercise helps you see where you’re making cotton and where you’re not. In addition to assisting with harvest aid decisions, it may provide guidance for other management needs.

• Final Field Notes. A cotton picker is a high perch that provides an excellent means of observing field variation and problems. Now, I realize a lot is going on as you straddle however many rows at almost 5 mph. [A farmer friend once asked me about his picking speed, “Do you know why we go as fast as we do?” When I didn’t have a ready answer, he supplied, “because we can’t go any faster.”

With a notepad, voice recorder or cell phone camera, you can document weak areas and the probable cause. Messages might include descriptions such as “border damage from stink bugs; hog or deer feeding; suspected nematode damage; poor height management; heavy boll rot area; possible hard pan; low pH; etc.”

The harvester vantage point affords an opportunity to see and record field issues, with the hope of addressing them in the future.

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The Crop Production report for Arkansas released in August by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated cotton production at 1.22 million bales, down 19% or 286,000 bales below last year.

Based on conditions as of Aug. 1, yield is expected to average 1,195 pounds per harvested acre, up 10 pounds from our current record yield produced in 2019. Producers expect to harvest 490,000 acres of cotton, down 120,000 acres from 2019.

This record yield projection reflects the advances the industry has made in germplasm and pest management products and practices. It also shows the ability of producers to combine tools and practices to manage, or trick, a perennial plant into growing like an annual.

While it is good to win the yield contest, it is great to win the profit contest. Oftentimes, yield drives profit, but there is a point of diminishing returns for all inputs. We don’t have the luxury of having a cushion in our cotton budget to gamble on feel-good or look-good treatments that don’t provide a return on investment. This season has not been easy or cheap.

We must preserve our yield and fiber quality potential through well- developed and well-timed cultural practices for harvest aids and harvest management. And we have to combine these with an effective lint contamination prevention program that starts in the field.

The first fields planted are not always the first to be harvested. As we progress toward the end of the season, we must continue to manage this crop in a timely fashion to maintain our yield potential. We also have to keep expenses in check with the goal of having a place to put a picker in the field mid-September.

Contact your local county Extension agent for more information.

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

We’re coming down to the end of the 2020 season with most fields past cutout and some as far along as 30% cracked boll. Decisions regarding terminating the crop and applying the final irrigation in preparation for defoliation will soon need to be made.

The first half of the 2020 season provided an excellent cotton-growing environment. Early season through peak bloom fruit load has been above average in most of the fields that I regularly check closely.

In mid-July through early August, we have seen significant numbers of level two (L2) heat stress events that have the potential to affect fruit set in the later part of the fruiting cycle.

In fact, at the Maricopa Ag Center since the beginning of July through mid-August, 48% of those days experienced L2 heat stress where crop canopy temperature exceeded 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

More specifically, from July 8 through Aug. 3, 66%, or 19 days, experienced L2 heat stress events. This is significantly higher than 2019 and slightly higher than average, which will affect later-season fruit set.

Crops should be monitored accordingly for termination. Under this type of scenario, if the crop continues past what is needed to mature the initial fruit set, you may end up with green, vigorous terminals and “buggy whips” at harvest time.

It is important to evaluate the crop at this stage to determine the last intended fruit for harvest and then irrigate accordingly to fully mature the fruit set. Keep in mind that 600 heat units, or about 21 days in September, are required to develop a harvestable boll from a fresh flower. As we get into late September and early October, daily HU accumulations begin to drop significantly, and many more days are required to mature the fruit.

We have developed boll maturation schedules that can be found on the AZMET website under reports for cotton that will help you estimate the number of days needed to develop harvestable bolls given a specific fresh bloom date.

These reports can be helpful in making crop termination decisions. For more detailed information related to this and other topics, feel free to contact me at or visit our website at and

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

The cotton-growing season has been average in that we had good rainfall until the last few weeks of boll set, which has been mostly dry. Cotton normally looks good through August and starts going back in early to mid-September. In many cases, this is due to a heavy boll load from the new cotton varieties.

Cotton producers become concerned because they don’t want the plants to look bad. Many growers who have irrigation may put on a small amount of nitrogen or look for other reasons that the crop does not look good or continue to irrigate.

Newer cotton varieties often mature two to three weeks quicker than varieties that were grown in the past. There is very little management in September that will increase yield except to control stinkbugs or other insects that can affect young bolls.

I have heard of growers putting out plant growth regulators in September to help mature the crop more uniformly. However, this timing is too late to affect yield.

If you are tempted manage the crop in September with practices other than defoliating and picking on time, check with the county agent. They can determine if the crop is just maturing or if there really is a problem that indicates there were difficulties in boll set.

Many growers remember Hurricane Michael and know the importance of getting the crop out on time. They also realize that timely defoliation is critical to be able to pick when quality is highest.

Growers have done a good job growing crops this year even though the supply chain may have been affected by the pandemic.

Mississippi brian pieralisi
Brian PieralisiMississippi

Summertime afternoon pop-up thunderstorms have been hard to come by over the past two weeks in the Mid-South. Mississippi experienced an unusually cool, dry start to August, which was quickly replaced with hot, muggy conditions that dominated our region. As a result, cotton is maturing relatively quickly with most of the state past cutout or 5 nodes above white flower.

Mississippi growers with irrigation capabilities are doing so to finish out the crop; conversely, dryland growers are hoping for a rain, which needs to occur sooner rather than later. Hot and humid is a recipe for rain in Mississippi, and I hope some farmers benefit from a “crop maker” event.

Potassium deficiencies have popped up in a few places in cotton with a heavy boll load that can be attributed to plant usage or dry conditions.

mississippi cotton irrigation
Mississippi cotton gets a drink in mid-August — photo by Vicky Boyd

Cotton looks good across the state, especially where growers can manage water stress. As I mentioned earlier, most cotton is past cutout; therefore, it is time to monitor DD60s to predict termination of insect pest applications and appropriate defoliation timings.

Every year is different and on wetter years, cotton has the potential to hang around 5 NAWF. But this year, we experienced a rapid progression to 4 NAWF, and so on. Once cotton accumulates 350 heat units or DD60s past 5 NAWF, most insect pests will not pose an economic injury threat, excluding stink bugs and some foliage feeders.

Defoliation applications should begin after accumulating 850 DD60s following 5 NAWF. Defoliation can be tricky, and environmental conditions at the time of application often dictate effective products. Dry, sunny conditions at defoliation and the days following are best for product efficacy.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

On Aug. 13, I’d say the average cotton acre in the Missouri Bootheel is in good shape for the most part. Pest pressure has been lighter than normal, and fruit retention has been very good with adequate soil moisture present for most of the year.

Bollworms and plant bugs are showing up later than they typically do. Irrigation was just starting during bloom, and it looks like the start to fall will be much drier than 2019. Many fields are nearing physiological cutout the first week of August with our last effective bloom date closing in.

To close out this growing season, it appears we will be irrigating as we are not forecast to receive good rains to finish out this crop. Regardless, we need a warm, dry fall to finish the crop. Hopefully, the early frost some are predicting will come well into October.

As we close in on preparations for the 2020 cotton harvest, focus on proper defoliation timing to balance the pursuit of high yields and the need for high fiber quality. One option is to time the application to coincide with 60% open boll. Another method is to time the application at four NACB (nodes above cracked boll).

From the uppermost first position cracked boll on the plant, count the mainstem nodes above it to the uppermost harvestable first position boll, sample 40-50 plants across the field and average them.

Inspect the upper bolls prior to defoliation by cutting a boll cross section to determine if the seed coat is dark. Defoliation will not reduce yield on these mature bolls.

Second position bolls should not be used to determine maturity as first position bolls contribute 81% of the yield, while also requiring 120 heat units to mature a boll further out on a fruiting branch. A first position boll only requires 60 heat units to mature one node higher.

Regrowth issues were present in 2018-19, and thidiazuron will likely be in short supply again this year. Plan accordingly for fields with high regrowth potential, especially if the fall turns out to be as wet as the last two years.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

The 2020 season continues to be challenging. As I write this on Aug. 5, our crop is variable in terms of growth, maturity and especially yield potential.

As discussed in previous articles, the abnormally uncooperative planting weather resulted in a late crop in most areas. We also have a poorly rooted crop due to excessive soil moisture during the early part of the season.

In several cases, cotton planted during early to mid-May experienced prolonged stunted growth. The plants finally started growing well in late June. However, many of these fields collided with excessively hot temperatures and prolonged, severe drought in July when the crop entered the bloom period.

As a result, the cotton had insufficient stalk height and cut out very quickly. Many fields in this scenario will not likely recover due to substantial drought throughout July in some areas.

With that said, there is some good cotton here and there, especially in areas that happened to receive rain at the right time during July. Rains returned to many of the drought-stricken areas in very late July or early August, and Hurricane Isaias brought us a few inches Aug. 3-4.

Most of the reports of crop damage were related to tobacco and corn, with only minor issues of windblown or tangled cotton. In most cases, rains were welcomed although our hearts go out to folks affected by the tornados that occurred.

Depending on planting date, date of first bloom and stalk height when it entered bloom, and July rainfall, some fields have strong yield potential. There’s still a chance for strong yields in some places if rains are good throughout August and if the crop can be managed in a timely fashion for insects.

For fields that bloomed and cut out very quickly with plants only a foot tall or so, drought has taken its toll. Odds are that these fields won’t recover much.

Fields with slightly better plant height, or that caught a rain or two in July, and/or started blooming a little later in July, may have a decent chance at good yields. August rains, and subsequent fall weather will dictate yields for these fields.

In these cases, it will be important to manage for earliness. The best way to achieve this is to be timely, especially with insect sprays, and avoid anything that may cause injury, cause fruit to abort, or further delay maturity.

With corn drying down earlier than normal, corn acreage remaining high, and with cotton acreage noticeably lower, it’s important to scout thoroughly and frequently for bollworms. Scouting and treating may continue into September, especially for late May or early June planted cotton. Lastly, it is important to keep monitoring for lygus until the end.

As we’ve learned over the past few years, September and October weather has the final say for North Carolina yields. Dr. Edmisten and I recently participated in the development of a valuable Extension publication regarding hurricane preparedness in the Southeast. It can be found on the North Carolia State University Cotton Portal website (https://co or directly at

We sincerely hope 2020 finally shows us some mercy during the fall this year.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

As I write this in mid-August, the cotton crop across Oklahoma is progressing rapidly, with many fields near or past cutout. With warm temperatures in the forecast, the crop should continue to mature quickly, although a widespread rain or two in the second half of August would greatly benefit the dryland crop across the state.

If the environment continues to favor rapid crop development, there will likely be some cracked bolls by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you.

If no significant rainfall is received for the remainder of August and early September, harvest aid applications in some areas could be triggered in mid- to late September, particularly for the crop planted the first half of May.

The late May and early June planted acres will not be far behind. This timing would be a few weeks ahead of last year.
Avoiding the cool, rainy October we experienced in 2018 would create favorable conditions for defoliation and boll opening.

However, this scenario would also lead to some degree of late-season water stress for the limited irrigated and dryland crop.
Drought-hardened leaves are more difficult to remove compared to lush, healthy vegetation and may require different categories of defoliants or tankmixes to achieve adequate leaf drop.

If drought stress leads to fruit shed followed by rainfall, there would be increased potential for regrowth, another factor to consider when selecting products for a harvest aid tank mix.
For more information on cotton harvest aids and decision-making tools for Oklahoma, contact your local county Extension office or visit

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Scattered rainfall moved through the area recently, and I’m hopeful we get another round today (Aug. 15). The following 10 days include little chances for rain. Our crop remains seven to 10 days behind, on average, but the dry weather will likely eliminate some distal fruit. I suspect some will likely be considering defoliants by the end of September.

Our dry August is setting us up to have high levels of regrowth, especially if we receive rains late in September or early in October. We had some tough experiences with this a few years back. Even prior to the first defoliation, you will likely see some areas begin to add vegetative structures at axils low on the plant.

This growth is extremely difficult to remove with any chemistry. The main issue is coverage. From our research, the best approach is to increase droplet fines and spray volume. Most acres that experience these levels of regrowth will require two applications — the first targeting mature leaves still present on the plant and the second targeting regrowth.

If we are lucky enough to get to our first defoliation application on without generating regrowth, I encourage you to carefully time your defoliation events in front of your picker. The main concern in a year like this is that water has prevented uptake of a portion of the nitrogen.

After a rainfall, the plant will begin to take up N again and attempt to grow rapidly. For more information, tune into my talk on cotton defoliation at the University of Tennessee Virtual Cotton Tour, which will be posted online Sept. 2.

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight
Texas A&M

Growers in the Rio Grande Valley were just getting started with harvest July 24 when Hurricane Hanna came ashore and devastated much of the crop in this region. Several farmers were looking forward to an above-average year, especially on irrigated acres.

Open bolls were exposed to the high winds associated with the storm and much of the lint was blown away. Many of the fields in this region were also inundated from heavy rain. The latest estimates of total or near-total crop loss is more than 130,000 acres.

As I write this Aug. 12, harvest activity in the Coastal Bend region was ramping up significantly. Dr. Josh McGinty, Extension agronomist in Corpus Christi, indicated that 20% to 25% of the crop has been harvested and 80% to 90% should be out within two weeks as long as favorable weather holds up.

Yields of more than 3 bales have been reported, and fiber quality looks promising.

Harvest is also underway in the Upper Gulf Coast in some of the earlier planted fields. Yields in this region look promising as much of the area received good, timely rainfall throughout the growing season. Favorable weather conditions will hasten the harvest activity in this region in the coming weeks.

The Blacklands’ cotton crop is more of a mixed bag. Some areas received adequate rainfall, and the crop appears to be in the 1.5- to 2-bale range. Other areas within this region experienced a dry June and July, so yields will be significantly lower. In the next few weeks, cotton harvest preparation will be in full swing as the grain crop harvest is completed.

The dryland crop in the Rolling Plains is quickly approaching cutout or is already in cutout. Crop condition reports from this area are quite variable. Some of the dryland acres look good despite limited rainfall. Irrigated acres in the Rolling Plains are progressing and still have a way to go before reaching cutout.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

Cotton has come a long way in West Texas. Spotty showers have been beneficial to those lucky enough to find themselves under a nice cloud. But overall, much of the region remains fairly dry.

Many farmers around here like to look at the first week in August as a benchmark to reach physiological maturity. As I write this in mid-August, most fields seem to be at, or pretty close, to cutout. However, we do have fields running a few days to a few weeks late.

In fact, we have both dryland and irrigated fields blooming out the top, as well as some that just started blooming, with anything and everything in between.

The dry planting season has definitely created variability across the region this year. While temperatures have been hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit during much of July and August, we know that in West Texas we can make or break a crop in September.

Considering the variable maturity we have, we hope for an extended season to finish the crop that’s in the field.
Traditionally, Lubbock has its first freeze around Oct. 30, while the Amarillo region sees a first freeze 15 to 20 days earlier. Our friends down in South Texas had an outstanding crop this year, and some of it, especially in the Rio Grande Valley region, has been damaged by Hurricane Hanna.

We continue to keep those affected in our thoughts and prayers.

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