North Carolina Harvest Update

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

So far, 2020 is the year that keeps on giving. We can’t seem to catch a break, and most folks are ready to get this year behind us.

Despite all the challenges we’ve faced, we have a substantial top crop — albeit late maturing — that has developed since early August.

We were all hoping for fall weather similar to 2019 to give the late crop a decent chance. Unfortunately, that has not happened. September and early October have been cooler than normal, and upper boll maturity is negligible or slow at best.

As I write this Oct. 5, defoliation has only recently begun but will likely proceed rapidly with sunny conditions predicted until Oct. 10 and cooler weather arriving by mid-October. Right now, we’re doing our best to open bolls that aren’t quite mature given the weather we have.

This year’s crop is widely variable, and the outcome will depend on how well upper bolls open. This is going to be a field-by-field success or failure, primarily depending on the length and severity of the July drought.

Additionally, weather at the time of defoliation in relation to boll maturity will influence the success of boll opening. We’ll know where we stand by the time this article is read.

The Weather Factor

Like 2019, this year clearly illustrates how much the weather during September and October can influence our yields and quality. Normally, we worry about tropical storms or prolonged cloudy, wet weather during these months. So far this year, cooler weather colliding with a late-maturing top crop seems to be the topic of discussion.

north carolina cotton
Cotton in a Martin County, North Carolina, field — photo courtesy North Carolina State University

While defoliation and harvest are the primary focus right now, growers should take advantage of any favorable weather to establish cover crops for 2021.

Winter cover crops planting date and seeding rate often play a major role in stand establishment and biomass accumulation throughout the winter and early spring. Delaying cover crop establishment until the late fall or winter months can result in less-than-ideal ground cover for next year’s crop.

Variety Selection Tools

Variety decisions for 2021 will begin in late November and December. The results of the North Carolina On-Farm Cotton Variety Evaluation Program and North Carolina State University Official Variety Trial will be posted on the NCSU Cotton Portal Website ( They also will be posted in the NCSU Cotton Variety Performance Calculator (

There are fewer variety trials this year due to COVID-19 restrictions during the spring, in addition to very challenging planting weather in 2020. Regardless, the trials we do have are important when making variety decisions for the coming year. Variety performance will also be discussed thoroughly during our winter meeting season.

For more information, contact Collins at

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