National Agricultural Statistics Service August Crop Production report projects Arkansas producers to harvest a record high yield of 1,226 pounds of lint per acre. This surpasses last year’s record by 81 pounds. The Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program currently has a total of 200,335 acres of cotton on their maps. This record yield projection reflects the advances the industry has made in germplasm, pest management products and practices, and the ability of producers to combine tools and practices to manage or trick a plant that is a perennial to grow like an annual. While it is good to win the yield contest, it is great to win the profit contest. Often yield drives profit, but there is a point of diminishing returns that can lead to losses for even the most needed of 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 to the producer. As we move toward 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. Improving our overall efficiency is what’s needed for cotton to be sustainable.
A majority of the cotton crop will be receiving an application of harvest preparation material, either defoliant or boll opener, or both. A few things to keep in mind when making these applications include the maturity and stress level of the crop. Harvest preparation is really our effort to stimulate and enhance the natural process of crop senescence and leaf drop. Applications of harvest prep materials applied prematurely may lead to poor defoliation and increased leaf trash in seed cotton or the opening of immature bolls – thus degrading overall fiber quality. A general rule of thumb that has proven effective in timing harvest prep applications is that of estimating percent open boll. When 60 percent of the bolls in the crop are open or cracked, a true defoliant can safely be applied with effective results. If a desiccant such as sodium chlorate is being used, it is better to wait until more of the crop is open, generally around 80 percent open. The other item to consider is crop stress level. Remember that the application of the defoliant is an attempt to enhance the already progressing physiological process of senescence. If the crop is too stressed when the defoliant is applied, the physiological activity of the plant has diminished to the point that the plant does not effectively assimilate the chemical defoliant.
Farmers have had an average year for most of the cotton-growing season with a few weeks of drought along with periods of wet weather. There has not been a lot of excitement with cotton this year, but many farmers are pleased with the way the crop is looking. New varieties seem to hold up well and produce good yields with minimal inputs. Several fields that were planted in late April are beginning to open, and some cotton will be picked in mid- to late-September. Most producers in our area will harvest peanuts first, and many of the cotton fields will be at least 60 percent open by defoliation. Cotton is an essential part of our rotation on sandy soils with peanuts, and we look forward to higher cotton prices to keep those good rotations.
Yield potential of the 2015 cotton crop continues to look very favorable. 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 had 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 later 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.
September will mark the culmination of an entire season’s worth of work for the 2015 cotton crop in Mississippi. A good portion of the crop will likely receive at least one harvest-aid application during the month. Many folks try to estimate yields throughout the year, but until the leaves start coming off and bolls start opening, you never really know what you have in the field. Preliminary USDA yield estimates for Mississippi are quite optimistic at 1,228 pounds per acre. If realized, this would be the second highest yield on record and the third year in a row that Mississippi producers have averaged more than 1,200 pounds per acre. I am not convinced that we have a 1,200-pound crop in the field; however, we have a very good crop especially considering all of the challenges we faced in 2015. Taking the previous comments into account, exercise caution when making harvest-aid applications. Little else will leave a taste in your mouth like that of picking a 1,500-pound crop but losing points to exceedingly high leaf grades. While many folks attempt to remove leaves and open bolls in one application prior to harvest, two applications are often made for a number of reasons. If you are planning on making two applications from the beginning, do not get over zealous with the initial application and stick leaves on the plant. It is much easier to make a second application to remove leaves and/or open bolls than it is to unstick leaves on a cotton plant.
The Missouri cotton crop is slowly moving toward harvest. According to the Crop Progress and Condition Report issued in mid-August, 67 percent of the cotton is setting bolls compared with 86 percent last year and 92 percent for the five-year average. In looking over the weather date, there is a major difference from last year when we had a record yield. At the Portageville location, in 2014, from May 1 through Aug. 15, we had 16.5 inches of rain. The maximum and minimum temperature averages were 84.0 and 63.7 degrees, respectively. This year, during the same time frame, we had 10.9 inches of rain. The maximum and minimum temperatures were 86.5 and 67.8 degrees, respectively. We had night temperatures in the mid- to upper-70s for more than a week as the bloom period started. The highs forecasted for the next 15 days are in the low 90s and upper 80s. Our last effective bloom date was around Aug. 15. The Cotton and Wool Outlook of Aug. 14 projects Missouri’s harvested acreage at 165,000 acres. This is our lowest harvested acreage since 1986. The yield is projected at 931 pounds per acre – considerably less than the 1,113 pound per-acre Delta average. Some of the early planted cotton looks really good. Since so many of our acres were planted past our optimum planting date, we are very dependent on good weather during boll opening and harvest season.
Cotton season is progressing well in New Mexico. There has been more rain and irrigation water available to producers than in the previous years. During July, there was an outbreak of southwestern cotton rust in southern New Mexico. However, farmers responded quickly by spraying for this fungal disease. It appears to be under control, and many affected fields appear to have recovered. Also, many fields affected by hail earlier in the season have recovered, although yields of severely affected fields are expected to be lower than the normally expected yield. In the absence of any late-season problem, cotton yields are expected to be good this year.
The crop in North Carolina is very variable due to lack of generalized rainfall for much of the summer. In general, the crop in the northern tier of counties is better than farther south, although there is some good cotton scattered where timely thunderstorms occurred. This variability will make a difference in how we approach defoliation. The cotton with a good boll load will be easier to defoliate primarily because it will have less juvenile growth and less residual nitrogen for potential regrowth. Defoliation mixtures with thidiazuron (the active ingredient in Dropp or FreeFall, etc,) will be important during September and early October, particularly in areas without heavy boll load due to regrowth potential. Higher rates of thidiazuron not only tend to result in better defoliation, but also a longer period of regrowth control. If you are using a premix of thidiazuron and diuron, you may want to consider spiking with additional thidiazuron to increase regrowth control where needed. The potential for regrowth control will likely decrease as we move into mid-October. Defoliating cotton with dense canopies can be very difficult, especially where significant regrowth has already started. Producers need to pay attention to proper nozzle selection and application volumes. More detailed information can be found at cotton.ces.ncsu.edu.
Now that our boll load is beginning to drain our crop, it is evident that nitrogen deficiencies have again become a major issue for several producers in West Tennessee. Above-average rainfall after planting contributed to large losses, particularly on hillsides. There are several take-home messages from these observations that should not be ignored. First, we rarely need more than 90 pounds of N to maximize yields in Tennessee cotton. So why did 90 pounds not produce this year? Pre-plant applications are far from peak N demand. Applying a full rate sidedress would be preferred, but that option is still second to a split, with the last application occurring pre-bloom. This approach minimizes the gap between applied N availability and demand from the plant. How do you know if you have a problem, since deficiency symptoms near cutout typically mean you have hit the correct rate? Premature cutout and large reductions in NAWF in deficient areas, which result in fewer nodes and fruiting positions as compared to sufficient areas, are telltale signs that something went awry.
Having one of the driest summers on record following one of the wettest springs has made for a challenging year and has brought the cotton crop in South and East Texas to a quicker than expected end. The Rio Grande Valley had much of its fruit set before the soil moisture was depleted, and harvesting continues with slightly above average dryland and irrigated yields. Harvesting in the Coastal Bend has actively begun with yields being highly variable within and between fields, depending on early season drainage. The Upper Gulf Coast and Blacklands of Texas will be in the full swing of harvesting the last week of August, but the dryland cotton didn’t reach its full potential. The lack of rain, hot days and poor root system pushed the cotton to reach cutout quickly followed by the quick progression of open bolls. The fully irrigated cotton in these areas fruited very late but has good yield potential. The Rolling Plains cotton remains behind as the final flowering date has passed for the Northern Rolling Plains, but decent yields are expected with an open fall.
As I ride through the cotton-growing areas of the state, the 2015 cotton crop is up and down. It just depends on when and how much rain you received. Some fields have upwards of two bales, and others will be lucky to reach two bales. Nitrogen, potassium and sulfur have been a wild guess as dry periods led to excessive precipitation and then back to dry conditions. Bolls began to open during the week of August 20 in some fields. On lighter soil types, the crop may be defoliated earlier than usual, so producers need to consult defoliation guides to ensure that harvest aids are applied to optimize leaf drop given the current environmental conditions. Almost all the cotton was planted in the first two weeks of May for Virginia, so I anticipate that most of the harvest will begin in early October. USDA has predicted an average yield of 1,200 pounds of lint per acre for Virginia. However, the reality on the ground is that the crop most likely will be well below that. For Virginia cotton, peanut, soybean and sorghum producers, the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center will be hosting its Annual Pre-Harvest Field Tour on Sept. 17 with registration to begin at 7:30 a.m. and tours starting at 8:00 a.m.View More in our Archives