Thursday, November 30, 2023

Midseason Management

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

This is supposed to be about midseason management.

I listen to my esteemed colleague from Arizona Dr. Randy Norton talk about growing cotton in the desert. I am amazed at what they know and how they go about producing the crop. It’s like following a recipe.

So many aspects of their production system seem precise and exact. Yes, they are subject to seasonal variations in heat units, which affects their productivity, and they probably worry about water. But more often than not, they make big yields and pick high-quality cotton under near-perfect conditions.

Almost like growing cotton in a greenhouse.

Precise, exact, predictable — it’s not like that here. I don’t mean to minimize the challenges growers face in other environments, but I want to paint a contrast. In the Lower Southeast, weather and pest variables are numerous. They fluctuate WILDLY. We know how to grow cotton. We have our recipe, so to speak.

But with changing conditions and pest issues, we must figure out how to manage this crop amid a unique growing environment. Maximizing our opportunities requires adjusting as the season progresses, carefully thinking through what might be tweaked, altered or scrapped altogether.

Championship ball teams sometimes win because they dominate their challengers, but often — especially with intense competition — they win because they make the best adjustments. They figure out how to do some things better to meet the specific tests imposed upon them.

Our crop is late. Appropriate adjustments typically mean being more conservative with nitrogen, more aggressive with plant growth regulators, more vigilant with insect management, and minimizing stress if we can irrigate. We make these adjustments with considerations for rainfall, temperature, crop progress, calendar date, etc. Tweaking.

Altering. Changing. Adjusting.

One grower said to me recently, “No two years are the same; you’ve got to deal with what’s happening here and now.” Precisely.

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

While at this point of the season in 2020 we could have described the crop as being late, we are just as late or later and far wetter in 2021. For some, about 20 inches in just a few days wetter.

The March Prospective Plantings report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated cotton plantings in Arkansas at 490,000 acres, down 7% from the 525,000 acres planted last year.

With planting delays experienced this season and favorable crop alternatives, our acres will probably land near 450,000 acres, down 15% from last year. Losses due to flooding will most likely result in greater abandonment rates than we typically see in Arkansas.

We expect to see flowers by July 4 on May 1 planted cotton. We likely will see just a few flowers by Independence Day this year. With more than half our crop going in the ground the last half of May coupled with record breaking cold temperatures over Memorial Day weekend, first flowers on many fields may be as late as July 15-20.

Ideally, at first flower we will find nine to 10 first-position fruit above the first white flower. This verifies we have the foundation to establish and develop high yield and fiber quality potentials. O

ur goal is to maintain no less than 80% retention going into first flower. With our current maturity status, we have no cushion for mistakes. We must concentrate on the basics. This includes avoiding excessive nitrogen rates and striving for well-timed irrigation.

Maintaining a balance between vegetative and reproductive growth will help 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 we need this season. Contact your local county Extension agent for more information.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

June is the month to fight weeds in cotton and July is the time to manage growth, finish up fertility needs and control late season weed escapes. In fields that normally have high growth rates, first applications of growth regulators should be applied at eighth node or before and around 15-18 inches plant height.

Last nitrogen applications should be made at the latest by or before the third week of bloom. Our data shows that N put out for the first application after this time, such as fifth or sixth week of bloom, would not yield any more than cotton with no N applied. Better to put out N early — from squaring until to first bloom — which would be about from mid-June to July 1 when blooming starts.

There are many new commercial cotton varieties that have three Bt genes for insect control. Fields should be scouted for problem insects and weeds. Control weeds when they are as small as possible to get better results and often use lower herbicide rates.

Much of our cotton was planted under dry conditions. Weed escapes often get by growers who are busy with other management duties, so directed sprays may be needed to control large weeds.

The latter part of May was dry, so many farmers finished planting their crop in June after the rains came. However, the cotton came up and is doing well. If timely rains continue in August and early September, the cotton crop has good potential.

camp hand
Camp Hand,

We finally made it through planting. It was a rough stretch of being too cool and wet, followed by too hot and dry, followed by too wet, but Georgia growers did not waver. At this point, much of our crop is squaring, and we need to shift to midseason management. Here are a few thoughts:

• Weed control at squaring or flowering should be nearly complete. Although many will opt for a third postemergence application over the top, one of the best choices for resistance management is a layby application.

Diuron plus MSMA is the go-to for Palmer amaranth control, but glyphosate can be substituted for MSMA to help with grass control. Envoke herbicide can be added to either mix for morningglory control.

• Dr. Bob Kemerait says it is time to start thinking about foliar diseases, such as target spot and areolate mildew. If necessary, initiate fungicide applications at flowering.

• Sidedress nitrogen should be applied between squaring and first flower. Dr. Glen Harris recommends applying N closer to first square for growers who think they lost some nitrogen from the big rains we had at the end of April. Harris also says there is no need to panic and sidedress a lot of potassium. It isn’t as leachable as nitrogen, and the University of Georgia trials have shown minimal benefits from split potassium applications.

• It is time to start thinking plant growth regulator applications. In fields with high growth potential (i.e. high fertility, irrigated, aggressive varieties, history of rank growth, etc.) pre-bloom applications may be necessary. As with any other pesticide application, timeliness is key in terms of managing growth.

As always, your local UGA county extension agent, and specialists, are here to help! Reach out if you have any questions.

matt foster
Matt Foster,

It’s been a difficult year for Louisiana cotton. As I write this June 13, about 90% of the crop has been planted, and most growers will finish within the next few days. Most of the cotton crop was planted in late May and early June. A significant number of growers planted their intended cotton acreage to soybeans.

A few growers have said, “This is the first time in 40 years that I haven’t planted cotton.” Several cotton gins have stated they don’t plan on operating this year.

Even though wet conditions have made nitrogen applications following emergence and weed management very difficult, the cotton crop throughout the state looks good. Thrips pressure was heavy enough in some areas to justify foliar insecticide applications. About 20% of the crop is squaring.

Since squaring began, populations of aphids, fleahoppers and plant bugs haven’t reached treatable levels in most parts of the state. As more of the crop begins to square, growers and consultants will focus on square retention and managing plant height with plant growth regulators.

Once cotton reaches match head square stage, monitor plant growth, environmental conditions and square load. A few factors to take into consideration when planning for pre-bloom PGR applications include variety growth habits, soil type and total nitrogen available to the crop.

PGR applications should be based on current plant growth characteristics and the anticipated growth rate determined from expected growing conditions for the next seven to 10 days.

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

The 2021 Mississippi cotton season has been anything but desirable since it began in early May. Short planting windows followed by extended wet periods have made it almost impossible to plant on time. Continued cloudy, wet conditions have prevailed through mid-June, confounding all management strategies to date.

From June 1 to June 8, we have accumulated 6 inches of rain in most areas and about 115 heat units, which was better than some weeks where we averaged less than 10 daily heat units.

From a mid-season management standpoint, the primary limiting factor is the environment. We need sunshine and favorable growing conditions to get the crop moving in the right direction to implement management strategies.

Cotton planted as early as April 28 has only accumulated 410 heat units and is almost stationary at the five-leaf stage. A comparable crop with adequate growing conditions would have accumulated more than 425 heat units, have eight-plus nodes and be on the brink of the first plant growth regulator application.

We have planting dates scattered across the month of May and into early June, with not much separation in the growth of any of the cotton. Days keep ticking away with little growth productivity due to environmental conditions suppressing growth. I like to stay hopefully optimistic that these conditions will soon pass out of our region, and we can turn this crop around.

Crop delays and yield reductions are primarily due to things out of our control. But there are strategies to consider as we move forward with the 2021 crop.

Thrips pressure has been high across the state, with most cotton locations receiving two foliar applications to date. Continued monitoring for insect pests through June is paramount, protecting first position fruit and keeping the first fruiting branch at fifth or sixth main stem node to protect yield potential and avoid further maturity delays.

Also, late crops and wet conditions only complicate nitrogen strategies. Carefully consider N losses (denitrification or leaching) before making applications outside of the target rate to avoid late season excess nitrogen issues.

I suspect most of our crop will have a shallow root system from all the wet weather we have experienced during root development. Shallow roots often lead to nutrient deficiency symptomology despite having adequate nutrient availability in the soil profile.

Finally, pay attention to thin cuticles on the leaf surface when applying PRE herbicides in conjunction with other herbicides and insecticides. This could lead to additional plant burn and further setbacks.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this June 4, planting is essentially complete, and a few folks are replanting some fields or parts of fields. The 2021 planting season brought its share of challenges with spells of cool weather and gradually decreasing soil moisture. But most folks were able to get their intended acreage in the ground, albeit later in the planting window in several areas.

At this point, we still don’t know exactly what we have in terms of plant stands for cotton planted during the latter part of May, since some seed were dusted in intentionally or unintentionally.

Several areas across the state received much-needed rainfall in varying amounts over the Memorial Day weekend and throughout the first week of June. Hopefully, this will get the crop going. But more rain will be needed during critical fruiting periods to ensure high yields.

Planting season challenges will be realized for quite a while in that we can expect the crop to be later than normal. Even for fields planted in mid-May, emergence was delayed due to insufficient soil moisture for some or most plants.

We will have varying crop maturity within most fields with some plants that emerged normally, some that emerged slowly due to cool weather, some that germinated but didn’t have enough moisture to reach full emergence, and some seed that were dusted in and didn’t germinate/emerge until early June or later. This is important to keep in mind in all aspects of management.

Regarding PGRs, there is a need to manage for earliness, but timeliness is more important than using aggressive strategies or high rates so the shorter cotton isn’t penalized. As far as insect management, particularly lygus and stink bugs, we need to be timely with any necessary sprays. But we might also expect a longer window in which to manage insects.

This will be determined by the weather in July and August, which could have a drastic effect on overall maturity.

seth byrd
Seth Byrd,

As I write this in mid-June, cotton planting is nearly complete in Oklahoma. There is still some dryland cotton left to go in as rainfall and cool weather throughout May created short planting windows. This resulted in cotton being planted between early May and mid-June across the state.

Most of the crop was planted into good moisture, which has allowed for rapid emergence. However, cooler-than-normal temperatures slowed early season growth.

For many May-planted fields, achieving first true leaf was a painfully slow process. This increased the need for over-sprays to address thrips pressure in many areas, which could translate into delayed maturity if not adequately carried out.

With fair to good moisture beneath much of the crop, we’re hopeful to encounter little to no stress prior to the squaring stage. As is often the case in Oklahoma, we’ll likely be back to needing rain once we’ve reached reproductive growth, particularly for the dryland crop.

Another looming concern is the lack of rain that’s been captured by the lake that supplies irrigation water in the Lugert-Altus irrigation district. To say the per-acre allocation under current conditions is low would be an understatement.

While much of the production area to the south of the lake has received enough rainfall to allow for favorable planting conditions, significant precipitation seemed to dodge the lake throughout May. This will force some difficult decisions if the current situation continues, although a few good rain showers in the right places could ease a lot of present concerns.

In other areas, producers should keep an eye on crop progress as we didn’t have the typical May heat to drive early season growth. Understanding the calendar from the crop’s perspective will be key as we monitor key growth stages, such as squaring and first bloom.

If we continue to run slightly behind, the way we manage inputs may need to be adjusted for what could be a shorter season than our planting dates suggest.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

I believe we will be talking about the 2021 spring for decades. Although May finally provided a planting window during the last two weeks of the month, Memorial Day weekend included two nights in the 40- to 50-degree Fahrenheit temperature range and much less sunshine than you might expect.

I had high hopes for a relatively hot, dry June — just what we needed to speed this crop along. Unfortunately, as I write this June 7, the best way to describe the month would be near-daily rainfall from an incessant cloud, which the forecast indicates may persist for at least another week. The crop, which was already late, is trudging out of the gate with thrips anxiously awaiting.

Every activity from here until October must encourage earliness. As we move into July, I’m focused on plant growth and plant bugs. When the crop finally takes off, vegetative growth should be held in check with reduced nitrogen rates and proper plant height management.

The importance of retaining first position fruit low on the plant cannot be overstated. We may not have the fall to mature out second or tertiary fruit higher on the plant. Regarding plant bugs, I’m maintaining thresholds with no tolerances. If we emphasize earliness with these activities, we should still have a chance at a good crop.

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

About 60% of Texas cotton acres have been planted as I write this June 8. At this same time last year and over the past five years, total planted acres have been around 72%. Untimely rainfall is to blame for the statewide planted acres being 12% below the five-year average.

I’m not complaining about the extra rain that has fallen across some very dry parts of the state. But it would be nice if Mother Nature hit the pause button until we get the remaining cotton acres in the ground.

Areas of the Upper Gulf Coast, Coastal Bend and Lower Rio Grande Valley have received a lot of rain over the past weeks. In the worst cases, floodwater inundated cotton fields, either totally or partially, and it takes a while to get water off the fields.

In other cases where water has moved off, continued rainfall has left cotton enduring extremely saturated soil conditions for prolonged periods. I have been asked about cotton’s ability to handle flooded or saturated conditions and the timeliness of plant growth regulator application following these rain events.

When pore spaces in soil that are normally occupied by air become entirely occupied by water, oxygen is depleted, and cotton plants cannot maintain normal respiration. While cotton can tolerate saturated conditions for quite some time, plant growth will be slow, resulting in delayed development.

This can delay maturity later in the season. Additionally, some areas of a field may remain waterlogged for longer periods than others. When this happens, plants in these parts of the field take longer to resume normal growth when conditions finally improve.

Variability in plant uniformity makes later management decisions more complicated. Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix. When conditions improve, the plant may go through a lag phase before photosynthesis and plant hormone production is restored to more normal levels to allow typical growth and development to resume.

As conditions improve, growers may want to apply a plant growth regulator to control vegetative growth and plant size. Applying PGRs to cotton that has been under stress from too much moisture may result in a yield potential decrease if applied too early.

Monitor fields frequently and closely inspect plant growth following these conditions to determine the right time to proceed with a PGR application. Growers also should consult with their seed company representatives for recommended PGR management of specific varieties.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda,
Texas A&M

By the time you receive this issue of Cotton Farming, planting will be complete in the Texas High Plains. Early on, we were concerned about moisture (or lack thereof) coming into planting season.

But just like I was told when coming to West Texas, things can quickly change around here. This year we went from waiting for a planting rain to struggling to get everything planted in a timely manner between rains.

Hailstorms seem to have been more isolated than in years past. Although there has been some significant damage that warranted replants, those cases were not widespread. Overall, the cotton that is up as I write this in early June looks good, with some exceptions.

Because we have good soil moisture, I assume many will accept a reduced insurance coverage to extend the planting period for a few days to get the crop in.
While this is understandable, we need to watch crop development very closely since a lot of acres will be planted in the latter part of our optimum planting window. Late-planted fields should be managed for earliness.

It is important to leverage plant growth regulators where appropriate to curtail excessive vegetative growth. Remember that split applications starting at seven to eight nodes are usually better than one big shot. Avoid PGRs if the crop is under stress or likely to be under stress soon.

As always, establishing realistic yield goals and adjusting fertility programs accordingly is the way to go. I hope your crop is off to a good start and wish you a great 2021 cotton season!

Hunter Frame
Hunter Frame

As we move into July side-dressing, cotton will be in full swing along with insect and plant growth regulator sprays. In-season management will be tricky this year as cotton planted mid- to late May will likely have two emergence dates due to dry weather.

Take into consideration the crop will be at different growth stages when applying PGRs. Take care not to apply them at high rates on cotton that emerged after the Memorial Day weekend rains. This may mean spraying PGRs only one time to avoid adverse PGR applications on late emerging cotton.

Remember to scout routinely for pests such as tarnished plant bug in squaring cotton. Use either a sweep net or square retention counts, the latter being the time saving technique. Consult Virginia’s plant bug thresholds for treatment recommendations.

Also, numerous years of research have shown that a total nitrogen application rate of 120 pounds N per acre is needed to maximize the state’s cotton lint yields. Applications exceeding this rate will not provide a return on investment and may be detrimental to yield.

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