Monday, July 22, 2024

Mid-Season Management Considerations

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

Perched in my office in the hanging fluorescent light fixture typical of old buildings is a crow. Yes, a crow. Actually, it is a life-size crow decoy that looks every bit the part. It has connections to past farmer meetings at Crow’s BBQ — I’m rather fond of BBQ, but their offering never was my favorite — and from the times my crop predictions made me “eat crow.” Hardly anyone ever notices the crow, but I occasionally glance up to be reminded of the fallibility of my forecasts.

Indeed, Alabama is so diverse in production environments — soils, rainfall patterns, cultural practices, pest issues and competing crops — that an accurate, current assessment of the crop is always challenging.

As of this writing, December futures are trading near 73 cents. Ugh! One prediction I can make with confidence, one that will not mean a “crow pie” in the fall, is that anything approaching a profit this year will require strong yields. There is simply no other way to cover costs.

Fertilizer folks have a ready, appropriate mini-sermon, “The 4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship.” The right fertilizer SOURCE at the right RATE at the right TIME and in the right PLACE.

We might broaden that to say profitability depends on implementing the right PRACTICE or applying the right PRODUCT at the right RATE, TIME and MANNER. Easy to scratch out on paper but often challenging to implement. Nothing new in this sermon either. Still, maximizing returns for each and every input is the only path to making ends meet.

We can control — or manage — some things but not others. The difference between 1300- and 1750- pound cotton is often not determined by farmer practice but by season-end weather. Long-term averages in the Lower Southeast indicate the latter half of September and all of October are our driest periods. Great for finishing and picking cotton. We saw last year what that means, and unfortunately, we’ve seen years in which the average was overwhelmed by tropical storms and hurricanes.

Capturing good yields means implementing all the good Rs now and praying, hoping for a good fall. That’s how this old crow sees it.

ARIZONA | Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Randy Norton,

The summer is finally beginning to heat up. After a mild to cool and wet spring, we are beginning to turn the corner and face the furnace head-on. A few days of above 110 degrees in the low deserts have already been experienced. Most of the central and eastern Arizona crop is just heading into early squaring as of this writing. The western Arizona crop, planted much earlier, is in the early stages of flowering.

Significant heat stress at this time of the season has a less negative impact on the crop than it will as the crop begins to approach mid- to full bloom. However, it is still a good idea to monitor the crop for fruit load and vigor. Maintaining a balance between vegetative and reproductive growth is critical to optimize production and maximize crop productivity. 

Trends in the vegetative and reproductive balance of the crop can easily be accomplished by taking measurements of fruit retention and height-to-node ratios. Comparing measured values of these two parameters to baselines that have been developed from thousands of data points can lead to more informed management decisions with respect to various practices including fertilizer applications, irrigation frequency and the application of plant growth regulators (PGRs). Information on how to collect the data needed for these parameters and the reference baselines can be found on the University of Arizona Extension Crops and Soils website at

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

As I sat down to write this, I began under the assigned topic of “Mid-Season Management” by talking about plant growth regulator use and how Georgia isn’t like the Mid-South, how we have a long season and all that fun stuff. Then I went and read my June article and saw I had pretty much just rewritten it! So here goes again for the second attempt.

Cotton planting was a slow go in Georgia through May and early June. With constant rain showers across the state, it’s really a miracle we have been able to plant as many acres as quickly as we did. As I am writing this June 7, I just finished planting our cotton June 5 at our last farm on the station. It is a good feeling to have that behind us, but now on to making the crop.

One question I’ve gotten is that since everyone is so behind on everything as we sit today, they are wanting to throw multiple products in the tank to spray in a single pass “so we don’t get further behind than we already are.” In many cases, causing injury to an already slow-growing and delayed crop is not a good thing, so we want to mitigate unnecessary injury from too many products in the tank as possible, while also keeping in mind the cost of diesel fuel, other inputs and your time.

Dr. Phillip Roberts, University of Georgia cotton entomologist, and I initiated a deer repellent trial today, and we are excited to be looking into potential Band-Aids for the deer issue. I actually visited with a grower about that today as well, but if anyone has questions, feel free to contact me.

As always, if you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to reach out. Your local UGA County Extension agents and specialists are here to help!

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

As I write this in early June, most of Mississippi’s cotton acres are around the five-leaf stage. So, we are in between what we refer to as early season and mid-season. However, weather has played a huge role (as it always does) in variability of crop progress. During May, rain pelted south central and north Mississippi, hindering planting progress for many farmers. Repeated rain events resulted in delays and even prevented planting in some cases.

As we transition from early season management to mid-season management, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.  Managing plant architecture with growth regulators is key to producing the most efficient and effective plants. Application decisions should be rooted in knowledge of varietal growth habit and vegetative potential of the crop. Field history and environmental factors influence vegetative potential, and this can vary from year to year. In many cases, an introductory application of a plant growth regulator can be effective for eight- to 10-node cotton. This helps keep a proactive versus a reactive PGR management plan. As the crop matures, managing the distance in between the fourth and fifth node down from the terminal to a 2”-3” spacing will result in a plant capable of a sturdy boll load that is efficient to harvest.

Nitrogen management through mid-season is important during June, and there are many strategies that are effective in nitrogen management. Keeping nitrogen-use efficiency in the forefront, split applications tend to increase use efficiency by hedging against N losses due to environmental factors. Regardless of N strategy, all nitrogen should be applied prior to bloom. As cotton enters bloom, ideally all N would have been applied and a fully charged soil moisture profile present as cotton begins setting fruit. This will help reduce fruit shed and mitigate stress on the plant.

MISSOURI | Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson, Missouri

The Missouri Bootheel cotton progress is widely different at the time of writing these comments. Cotton growth stages range from cotyledon to eight to nine nodes in areas of the Bootheel.

We have been stuck in a rainy pattern on the mid- to northern edge of the cotton-growing region in Southeast Missouri for most of May and even early parts of June. Several acres have been underwater due to the rainfall pattern. Late replants have been needed due to hail damage and flooded acres. Management considerations for cotton that is squaring at this time include the need for an additional nitrogen application (second shot), plant growth regulator applications to slow vegetative production and likely insecticide applications for tarnished plant bugs that will feed on small squares.

Management considerations for later-planted cotton will likely include the same management regime; however, I believe lowering the nitrogen rate will be beneficial to mature the crop in our short-season environment. Recommendations of nitrogen on late-planted cotton are at 80 pounds of total nitrogen. Also, being more aggressive with our PGR regime may benefit the crop to mature quicker as we are in an increased risk for running out of time to fully mature this crop.


Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this May 29, the last few acres of cotton are being planted or spot replanted. Overall, stands have been very good across most of the state, except in a few areas that received intense and repeated rainfall during the middle to latter half of May. Most of the intended acreage was planted in a timely fashion and is off to a decent start. There are a few intended acres planted to beans primarily in areas that were too wet before the crop insurance deadlines for cotton.

Thrips, which are one of our most consistent insect pests, were a challenge in some areas depending on planting date. Temperatures have been on our side since very late April and remained decent throughout most of the planting season, allowing for more rapid early season growth than what we saw in 2023.

A lot can happen between now and next month, but July is usually the time for plant growth regulators and the last fertilizer applications for some growers. The need for PGRs is determined by many factors, including moisture leading up to a potential application, the weather forecast following application, planting date, variety, current and past insect pressure and other factors. Field-by-field monitoring of plant growth (current height relative to target height, nodes above white bloom, week of bloom, internode distance between the fourth and fifth true leaf near the top of the plant, etc.) is necessary in order to make the best decisions.

Remembering last year, many growers were concerned about late maturity during early July of 2023, simply due to the slow growth we observed in June.  However, hot dry weather in late July and into August drastically sped up maturity, and too much so, in some cases. It will be important to remember that when making decisions this year.

Applications that are too aggressive, especially when made too early, can force the crop into a premature cutout if hot and dry conditions prevail following application. Additionally, research has shown that there is very little impact on plant growth, and essentially no impact on yields, when PGRs are applied at cutout.

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Large rainfall events spaced relatively evenly throughout the month of May wreaked havoc on planting intentions and challenged the health of many of our earliest planted acres. While the area noted one of the best late April planting windows we have seen in recent memory, that window quickly transitioned to the worst May most can recall.

Although the overall rainfall amount for the month is large, it was the interval between rainfall events that has been so challenging; with few exceptions, as soon as most fields dried enough to allow for the crop to be “mudded-in,” another rainfall event — often several — would occur over the course of several days. For those who were able to grit their teeth and close their eyes for long enough to get part of this crop planted, prolonged periods of saturation severely damaged seedling health and has delayed growth. In my June comments, I mentioned that many would likely have an opportunity to pick in September. The chances of that, now, look very, very slim.

As I write this on the third of June, I would encourage you to consider every option for emphasizing earliness in this crop. As you read this in the first few days of July, that would include aggressive management of plant growth, an overall reduction in the amount of nitrogen applied and very aggressive management of plant bugs in an attempt to hold first position fruit low on each plant. The 2024 crop still has potential, but in Tennessee, it will be remembered very differently than the 2023 crop.

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As I write this the first week of June, it is evident that summer has arrived as daytime high temperatures are consistently in the 90s and creeping upward every week. Rainfall in the month of May across South, Central and East Texas has been a mixed bag. The Lower Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend are both in need of additional rainfall as moderate drought conditions begin to set in. Cotton in these regions is at cutout or is quickly approaching cutout. Scouting for plant bugs and stink bugs should begin to ramp up in these areas, especially as the harvesting of grain crops begins.

Soil moisture conditions in the Upper Gulf Coast have remained good with regular rounds of rainfall occurring throughout most of the region. Early season thrips and cotton fleahopper pressure was extremely high in many portions of the Upper Gulf Coast this year, and as boll development progresses, scouting efforts should include evaluating for stinkbug feeding damage.

The Blackland Prairie region has received abundant rainfall over the past few months, and many growers with intentions of planting cotton never had the opportunity to do so as the clay soils of this region never dried enough to get planting equipment in the field. Many growers that were able to get the crop planted have experienced a few rounds of hail, and damage has ranged from minimal to severe. In some cases, waterlogged soils in the Blacklands have led to poor early season cotton root development, which may result in an early onset of drought symptoms if conditions dry out rapidly as the summer months progress.

Good rainfall in the Rolling Plains has improved conditions in the region as growers finalize planting activities during the first few weeks of June. Rainfall over the past few months has improved soil moisture conditions in the West Central region, but additional rainfall would greatly benefit the cotton crop in this region as abnormally dry conditions have again returned to begin the month of June.

TEXAS | Ken Legé

Ken Lège, Texas

Ever since I have worked in West Texas, I have found that everyone is obsessed with having a bloom by July Fourth. Over the decades, I have found these Independence Day blooms very elusive, aside from an occasional volunteer plant. Should growers truly be concerned if they do not have blooms by July 4? The data from modern varieties indicate there is no need to panic.

Dr. Craig Bednarz and a recent West Texas A&M graduate, Emily Brorman, reported some excellent findings on earliness from a study conducted in the Texas Panhandle at Etter. The target development curve from the old COTMAN days (developed primarily from South Texas and Mid-South data), indicated that we should have a bloom by 60 days after planting (DAP). Dr. Bednarz’s work indicates that in the Texas Panhandle (and I would suggest, also in the southern high plains of the Lubbock area), we reach first bloom in 70-78 DAP, which didn’t surprise any of us in West Texas who closely track such things.

Related to this, the old model suggested that each new node prior to bloom developed at one node per 2.7 days (most of us routinely round this to 3); Dr. Bednarz’s model showed that the West Texas node development is more like 3.5 days per node. This is significant for West Texas growers who constantly strive for early maturity to avoid harvest season losses from fall storms and battle low micronaire from cool, fall temperatures during boll fill. And this all relates to how you manage the crop mid-season.

So now that we have realistic expectations for when to expect first bloom, what management strategies should West Texas growers employ to achieve early maturity? Some are obvious:  good weed control can avoid maturity delays due to weed competition, and good insect control (particularly thrips and fleahoppers in West Texas) will help ensure high square and young boll retention and, therefore, translate to earlier maturity.

However, many growers have unrealistic expectations when it comes to how much mepiquat chloride hastens maturity and when to apply it to get that desired effect. Most of our data in West Texas indicate that, if you want to hasten maturity, applications during squaring and the first week or so of bloom are most effective. And even then, maturity will only be hastened a few days (not weeks!).

Suffice it to say, under moisture-limited environments like West Texas, use caution when applying mepiquat chloride to avoid any yield reductions and extreme plant height effects. Applying mepiquat chloride in excessive amounts during late bloom and boll fill has little to no effect on maturity in West Texas. Growers may see color change and even height effects, but if the purpose of these late applications is to hasten maturity, they will be disappointed. Target those applications during squaring if striving for earlier maturity.

VIRGINA | Hunter Frame

Hunter Frame
Hunter Frame,

As we move into July, most of the cotton has been side-dressed with nitrogen and the later-planted cotton is left to be fertilized. Managing that added fertility will be the primary focus of your season moving forward. Some cotton has received plant growth regulator applications and most will be receiving the remaining applications.

Research in Virginia has shown that applying PGRs at matchhead square is the most effective application timing in order to manage plant height. A key consideration will be the variety that is being managed as it has been well documented that certain varieties need higher application rates of PGRs than other varieties. Knowing your variety growth habit on your farm is critical to successful PGR management.

The second aspect of mid-season management is scouting for insect pests, especially tarnished plant bugs, during this time. Consult Extension recommendations for your state, but remember that rotating modes of action for insecticides will greatly reduce the risk of insecticide resistance. When scouting, it is also important to take into account the surrounding crops and landscapes as this will impact plant bug populations, and fields may be more susceptible to predation when neighboring certain other crops. Overall, management during this phase of the growing season is directing the energy of the plant towards reproductive growth and retaining the maximum number of bolls per plant as possible.

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