Friday, March 31, 2023

Mid-Season Focus On Management

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

The 2020 season has been a challenging one thus far to say the least. As I write this June 2, our acreage is noticeably down due to prices and especially to the abnormally uncooperative planting weather throughout the large majority of our planting season.

Many of our acres fell to prevented planting, other crops (primarily soybean), or both, although it is difficult to quantify our final acreage at this point.

We had a five-day stretch of good planting weather May 13-17 and intermittently at other times during the month. Planting was interrupted by cool spells or exceptionally wet weather in most parts of the state throughout most of our typical planting window.

Regardless of when it was planted, there isn’t much difference in maturity at this time. Currently, the 2020 crop is noticeably later than normal. Cotton planted in early May should be nearing the squaring stage by mid-June in most years, whereas this year, nearly all cotton is anywhere from cotyledon to one to three true leaves, regardless of when it was planted. Thrips sprays will clearly be important this year.

Timely management is critical for managing the crop this since it is behind schedule. Therefore, growers cannot afford to:

• Be late on any necessary sprays for thrips, lygus, bollworms, stinkbugs, etc.

• Allow for excessive growth due to delayed plant growth regulator applications when they are needed.

• Further delay maturity with excessive fertilizer rates or delayed applications, or any injurious fertilizer or herbicide injury that could cause fruit to abort.

The focus for the foreseeable future is managing for earliness by retaining as much fruit as possible. This is best done through thorough and frequent scouting and timely management while avoiding practices that further set the crop back.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Even though everyone including growers did not know how the pandemic would affect the growing season, most farmers in Florida planted slightly ahead of time with favorable weather conditions. There have been challenges with the crop, including some replants, thrips and grasshoppers that are still causing problems.

Weeds are always an issue in June. Residual herbicide applications are made into July as cotton laps over the row and helps with competition for late-emerging weeds. Most of the sidedress applications of nitrogen will be finished by the middle of July as cotton normally has been blooming for a couple of weeks.

Our data indicates we get little or no yield response to nitrogen applied after the third week of bloom.

Therefore, nitrogen should be applied earlier during squaring until no later than the third week of bloom. Most growers apply sulfur along with sidedress N, which is needed on our sandy soils.

Recent high rainfall from the tropical storm delayed some management of cotton. But, in general, we’ve had good growth, and cotton blooming and boll set continues as growth regulators are being applied as needed. Non-irrigated cotton still continues to be the rotation crop for peanuts in the Southeast.

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

BASF introduced the plant growth regulator Pix (mepiquat chloride) 40 years ago. The product inhibits synthesis of gibberellic acid, a natural PGR that stimulates cell expansion. This means mepiquat manages the crop canopy by reducing stem elongation and leaf area.

The initial label was somewhat limited. Applications were based on a narrow criteria of plant height, bloom stage and stress. Subsequently, other formal use regimens were added.

Now, after decades of use, most growers have their own outline of how they want to use the product and how they want the cotton to look as a result. If we had 40 cotton folks in a room, there probably would be 75 different programs for PGR use.

In the early 1980s, the first replicated Pix experiment I participated in involved irrigation and increased nitrogen rates. The logic was that with an effective tool to manage cotton growth and height, we could “pour it on” with higher N and water and make more cotton.

It wasn’t that simple. Pix was not and is not a quick, easy way to BIG yields, but it has become a standard tool for managing cotton in most systems.

I once worked with a corn expert who wanted an exact program for using Pix in cotton. Growing cotton is not like manufacturing bolts and screws. It’s a biological system with many nuances that requires thought and adjustments, especially with PGRs. Considerations to factor into decisions about PGR initiation, rates and follow-up applications include:

• Field history and likelihood of aggressive growth, which also includes current variety, fertility program and irrigation capabilities.

• Current growth stage, fruit retention, bloom cycle and boll load.

• Current growing conditions and predicted weather patterns in the next couple of weeks.

• How much time is left in the season for effective flowering. The list could go on.

If you have a standard program in mind, think about the current situation to answer the question, “Should I be more or less aggressive?” That requires thought and some guesswork. And most of the time, your PGR program is not the single most important factor that determines yield.

Mississippi brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi

As we transition into July, there is a lot happening in Mississippi cotton. Weed control is a concern for many producers due to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling for dicamba herbicides. Producers in possession of these products can legally apply them through July 31.

Outside of this ruling, there are still options for making post applications, including using conventional layby rigs, row hoods and glufosinate for Palmer amaranth control.

Currently, we have received abundant precipitation followed by hot, dry conditions conducive to rapid vegetative growth. Depending on the cotton’s age, this development will influence both plant growth regulator and insect management.

Throughout the state, cotton has experienced great growing weather. As a result, older cotton is beginning to stretch into rapid vegetative growth.

I am getting calls about applying PGRs and recommend a few points to consider. In short, mepiquat chloride should be applied to decrease internode length in rapidly growing cotton. Be sure to evaluate the variety’s growth habit before making a PGR application.

Essentially, the goal is to manage the crop to make a compact plant to effectively apply insecticides and defoliants and ultimately have an efficient harvest. However, for younger cotton, it was paramount to monitor for thrips as we entered a drier mid- to late June to avoid any reductions in vegetative growth.

Nitrogen applications are also in full swing. Given the cost of production and importance of efficiency, nitrogen management is critical. I have been asked about including urease inhibitors with UAN.

We recommend urease inhibitors if the applicator is not covering the trench associated with a sidedress nitrogen rig, unless soil incorporation, irrigation or impending rain occurs within 36 hours of application. Broadcast applications of urea follow the same criteria.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

After a rough May, we finally moved into what felt like summer during the first week of June. Warmer temperatures, relatively clear skies and a few days without rain let much of our crop finally begin to grow. As I write this June 10, we are fighting thrips and making post applications to keep weeds at bay.

We typically strive for blooms on July 4, but since the average cotton acre in Tennessee was planted 10-14 days later than we would prefer, blooms on most acres will be few and far between. As a result, we must push this crop for earliness.

Several decisions made during the bloom window can help us. First, I encourage you to aggressively fight plant bugs. The crop is currently setting positions that contribute a great deal to our overall yield. In a late crop, we typically don’t have time to compensate for lost early fruit at the end of the year.

Second, do your best to keep plant growth adequate, but not excessive. Focusing on these two management strategies during July should allow us to move into August with a compact, loaded plant nearing physiological cutout.

Keep an eye on for insight into variety response to plant growth regulators and other pertinent information, and reach out if we can be of assistance.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

We’ve had frequent rainfall across most of the Bootheel, but as I write this, the long-range forecast says we are in for some drier times. But don’t be tempted to irrigate squaring cotton unless there is a substantial dry spell soon.

However, starting the flowering period with adequate soil moisture is essential and water should remain at adequate levels to ensure proper fruit set and boll fill. Irrigation decisions need to be made on a field-by-field basis due to varied planting dates.

July is a critical time for setting bolls for earliness in cotton, and it appears that some fields in the area may start blooming before July 4. Most cotton begins blooming in early July and blooms through August. It is important to ensure adequate moisture and fertility are available to set a good crop the first couple weeks of bloom. Having an early boll set also helps reduce the amount of vegetative growth and growth regulator needed.

With the varied planting dates due to the cool, wet spring, growth regulator applications should be made on a field-by-field basis to maintain a proper ratio of vegetative and reproductive growth. Measuring the distance between the upper fourth and fifth node can help determine if a PGR application is needed.

If internode length is 2 inches, growth is inadequate and PGR use is not warranted. Internode length of 2-3 inches is adequate, and internode length greater than 3 inches is excessive and requires PGR applications to promote earliness and limit rank growth.

Past research has shown that farmers in the Missouri Bootheel should have a final plant height goal 2 inches greater than the row spacing with 38-inch rows typically in the range of 40-45 inches. Proper growth management is essential to optimize earliness while preserving yield potential and fiber quality.

Past research at the Delta Center has demonstrated that irrigated cotton produces about 20-22 nodes during the season with dryland cotton producing roughly three to five fewer nodes. Cotton that was replanted due to spring weather issues needs to be managed for earliness and not delayed by pest issues or rank growth.

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

One word to describe the crop this season is late. Planting dates ranged from late April to the very end of May (and then some) as a result of our narrow planting window. Planting progress was about half of our five-year average through mid-May.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service Crop Progress and Condition report estimates that just over 80% of the crop is in good to excellent condition as our older cotton is starting to square. The main issue is that instead of 15% of our crop squaring, we had only 1% squaring mid-June.

We expect to see flowers by July 4 on May 1 planted cotton. We likely will see few flowers by Independence Day this year. The status of our cotton plants at first flower reveals much about the past and indicates what we must do down the road to end up where we want to be.

Ideally, at first flower we will find nine to 10 first position fruit above the first white flower. This verifies that we have the foundation to establish and develop high yield and fiber quality potentials. Our goal is to maintain 80% retention going into first flower. With 52-cent loan cotton and our current maturity status, we have no cushion for mistakes. We must concentrate on the basics.

Maintaining a balance between vegetative and reproductive growth will help to optimize earliness and preserve yield and fiber potential. An effective fruiting window of three weeks between first flower and cutout (NAWF=5) will provide the yield and earliness cotton producers need this season. Contact your local county Extension agent for more information.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

With the exception of the Panhandle, the majority of the cotton crop in Oklahoma was planted the second half of May through first week of June. We had favorable temperatures and soil moisture conditions for early season growth.

However, as of mid-June, much of the western half of the state has yet to see significant precipitation since late May. Much of the dryland crop and cotton in the irrigation district would benefit from a rain, while much of the irrigated crop outside the district has already received one or more pre-squaring irrigation applications.

Any dryland cotton planted after June 10 was likely planted into marginal moisture at best. The vast majority was dry planted in hopes a rain would soon follow. A severe weather system moved through the state June 9-10, bringing high winds. It’s likely a significant number of acres sustained damage that will at best delay growth or at worst, result in a replant or crop failure.

July typically signals the beginning of cotton flowering in Oklahoma. Similar to 2018, dry conditions may inhibit root development for a large portion of the crop, which will impact the plant’s ability to take up water and nutrients. In the past, this inhibited root development has been a primary driver of potassium deficiency symptoms, particularly in dryland cotton.

Pay attention to the timing of these symptoms, if they appear, and determine if an action can be agronomically or economically justified. After a hot and dry June, we may see a lot of the crop go into bloom with a low number of nodes above uppermost first position white flower (NAWF) or a low number of potential fruiting sites.

Therefore, timely and adequate irrigation will be key to prolong the flowering period and avoid premature cutout. However, don’t overirrigate to avoid crop and fiber maturity issues.

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight

As of June 12, about 80% of the cotton crop has been planted in Texas. Most of the dryland acreage in the Rio Grande Valley is at or approaching cutout, and harvest should be underway in a month or so. Drought conditions experienced earlier in the season will likely have a negative impact on yield potential. Irrigated acres in the RGV are progressing nicely, and the crop looks good so far.

After a very dry start to the season, the Coastal Bend is bouncing back after abundant rainfall received the past month. Most of the acreage in this region has been blooming for three to four weeks. Some areas in the Coastal Bend received 6 inches of rain, and prior drought conditions have improved tremendously.

With abundant moisture followed by warm temperatures, plant growth regulators have been going out in full force. Closely monitoring cotton plant growth following weather conditions like those experienced recently in the Coastal Bend are imperative to making timely PGR applications. Cotton in the Upper Gulf Coast is being scouted regularly following a large moth flight in recent weeks.

The Blacklands and East Texas regions have been fairly dry for the past few weeks. Most of the cotton in these areas is at match head square, and irrigation will most likely be ramping up if adequate rainfall doesn’t occur prior to flowering.

Fleahoppers are being reported but nowhere near the levels of infestation experienced last year. The Rolling Plains had good soil moisture a month ago, but this region has also been experiencing a recent dry spell. Any remaining acres should be planted in the next few days prior to the June 20 final planting date deadline.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

Planting will essentially be completed in West Texas by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you. Moisture has been the main limiting factor for much of the region thus far, and the few dryland acres that had enough to achieve a stand now desperately need rain. Most of the irrigated fields are in good shape, some are struggling where water is limited.

On the insect side, Dr. Suhas Vyavhare, Extension entomologist, Lubbock, says, “Thrips and wireworms are the two major insect issues we dealt with on the Texas High Plains so far. As the crop enters reproductive phase, our focus shifts to the cotton fleahopper.

When abundant, they can cause poor boll set and reduce yield. Pinhead size and smaller squares are the most susceptible to cotton fleahopper feeding, particularly in limited-water cotton production systems.

“Yield reduction and development delays tend to be more pronounced in water-stressed crops. As most of the bolls harvested come from structures set during the first three to four weeks of squaring, it is critical to monitor fleahopper population and percent square set during this period. The current action threshold is based on a combination of insect density and amount of percent square loss.

“We also will start to notice increased activity of beneficials in the fields, which will be the first responders against any unwanted invaders the crop may encounter over the rest of the season. So it is important to help beneficials build up populations by taking an integrated management approach, which includes regular field scouting, adoption of action thresholds and the use of selective insecticides if needed.”

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

June has been abnormally dry in Louisiana, which will increase the amount of supplemental irrigation used across the state. Yield increases are usually a result of precisely timing irrigations during those few weeks when soil moisture is less than optimum due to poor rainfall distribution or soils that have low water-holding capacities. Being short an inch of water at the wrong time can easily result in the loss of at least 60-100 pounds of lint.

The objective in Louisiana is to irrigate before plant stress occurs with a water amount that even with subsequent rainfall will not waterlog the soil, thereby reducing yield. This is often challenging to achieve.

About 50% of the acres planted to cotton in Louisiana are irrigated, and furrow-irrigation is the predominant method of applying water to the crop. Ideally, approximately 2 inches is applied to lessen runoff and reduce plant damage if subsequent rainfall is heavy. Rates can be higher in fields with good drainage because soil saturation is less likely.

furrow irrigationIrrigation initiation for the season varies due to soil type, weather, cultural practices and the cotton plant’s status. One method to time the first irrigation requires determining soil moisture at 6- or 12-inch intervals in and below the anticipated rooting profile.

Installing soil moisture sensors in the root zone provides a good indication if irrigation is staying ahead or falling behind soil drying.

Initiate the first irrigation when 50% of the available moisture has been extracted from the root zone. This ensures a greater rooting depth and reduces the risk of early season soil saturation at a time when the plant is most vulnerable. If the crop blooms before initiating irrigation, do not further delay irrigating. Under these conditions, water can be safely applied without promoting rank growth or restricting rooting.

In some years, timing the last irrigation in Louisiana can be a difficult decision. One needs to determine the last harvestable bolls (those with time to mature) without delaying harvest or increasing the chance of boll rot.

In general, furrow irrigation is terminated just prior to first open boll. However, excess soil moisture from rainfall or irrigation at this time can delay maturity and make defoliation more difficult.

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