Thursday, November 30, 2023

Prepare For Timely Harvest

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

Years ago, there were considerable educational efforts regarding the initial 40 days of the season. Starting strong — achieving a respectable stand, obtaining good weed control with minimal crop injury, and winning the battle against thrips and seedling disease — is no doubt critical. But I think that in the southerly extremes, the last 40 days are even more important.

Unquestionably, many things are beyond our control, but preparedness for harvest is something we can tackle. If I could change one thing in the lower Southeast, it would be to speed up harvest — apply harvest aids on time and pick ASAP, both probably sooner than most consider proper.

Here are a few harvest-time memories, good and bad. I remember when we had:

• 65-plus consecutive days of open weather to pick the crop.

• Little rain all summer, but then the sky opened during mid-September and it rained almost nonstop until March.

• Record yields of cotton, corn, peanuts, soybeans and wheat, all in the same year!

• An Oct. 13 frost that slammed the door on late cotton.

• Late-season rains that made fields ugly with boll rot and hard lock, yet yields exceeded expectations.

• A hurricane-remnant in September that arrested development.

• A parched dryland crop with nothing at Labor Day that somehow resurrected itself to make respectable yields.

• Michael.

These remind us what can happen in the fall. And tying the thoughts together, why not spray harvest aids at 60-70% open, rather than 90% plus? Reductions to yield and quality are minimal for these early defoliation dates, but threats to both increase with each passing week.

Let’s have pickers ready and pick as soon as possible. For those with a roll picker, why not send one man (or two) to get an early start?

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The Crop Production report for Arkansas released in August by U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated cotton production at 1.47 million bales, up 30% or 337,000 bales above last year.

Yield is expected to average 1,157 pounds per harvested acre, up 24 pounds from 2018 and 33 pounds above our five-year average. Producers expect to harvest 610,000 acres of cotton, up 130,000 acres from 2018.

Progress of our cotton crop continues to be around average on paper. Our huge spread in planting dates has made some of these data points a little more difficult to interpret.

Regardless, most of our crop looks good. The good cotton looks really good and our poor cotton is really poor. Most of our younger cotton appears to have good potential, but a great fall will bring big smiles.

The most recent NASS Crop Progress and Condition report reflects this optimism with crop condition rated at 37% of the cotton as excellent and 46% in good condition.

As we progress, it is important to identify cutout and base input termination and defoliation using heat units beyond cutout.

Crop termination guidelines keyed on heat unit accumulation (DD60) beyond cutout is based on when the last bolls that contribute significantly to yield and profit can be considered safe from insect damage or ready for defoliation without affecting yield and quality.

Our yield potential is good at this time. As we close this season, we must continue to manage the crop in a timely fashion to maintain our yield potential while keeping expenses in check and hope Mother Nature does not throw us more curveballs.

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

As we approach cutout for most of the cotton across Arizona, I am cautiously optimistic about the current crop condition. The spring and early summer experienced abnormally cool conditions, leading to slow growth, stunted plants and an abundance of split terminals in cotton all across the state. Since the latter half of June, we have entered a more normal weather pattern. The crop has responded well and set a good fruit load.

During late July and early August, we experienced several days of level 2 heat stress. The heat stress is obviously going to have the biggest effect on the central Arizona crop as the western crop (Yuma) has completed its fruit set and is nearing time for defoliation.

This increased heat will help the southeastern region of the state (higher elevations above 4,000 feet) that has suffered significantly from the cooler-than-normal spring and early summer.

As the crop enters cutout, the final irrigation decision will need to be made. Identifying the last fresh bloom that will be taken to a harvestable boll is a good way to schedule the final irrigation.

It is typically done well after the crop has reached less than 5 NAWF or physiological cutout. Approximately 600 heat units (HU 86/550F threshold) are required to complete the process of maturation from a fresh bloom to a mature harvestable boll. With late summer HU accumulations, 600 HU is approximately 21 days.

As irrigation termination is pushed further into the fall, the number of days to mature that flower to a harvestable boll begins to increase significantly. The return on that investment of crop length doesn’t always pencil out. Proper moisture is needed during the boll maturation period to help ensure proper fiber development.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

It is important to be ready for a timely cotton harvest season. Many of our farmers learned a hard lesson in 2018. When cotton is open and ready to pick, it should be picked to retain quality and yield.

Last year, a lot of cotton had been defoliated in September, and many fields were completely white in early October when Hurricane Michael came through. Many of these fields went from 1,400 pounds per acre lint yield prior to the hurricane to 100 or less if farmers could get back to the fields.

The Southeast has always harvested peanuts first followed by cotton when both crops are ready at the same time. Now you need to have trained people ready to harvest cotton as soon as it is ready even if it means hiring extra hands during harvest.

Most of the early planted cotton will be ready to defoliate in mid-September at 60% or more open bolls. Timeliness in farming is critical in all phases of management.

Mark Freeman, Georgia
Mark Freeman

September marks the beginning of the end for the cotton season in Georgia. Some of our earliest planted fields will be defoliated this month, and our latest planted fields will be winding down irrigation applications.

As we approach the end of the season, we need to proceed with caution in regard to irrigation. With Georgia’s high humidity and rainfall patterns, boll rot becomes a concern during this time. As we approach open boll, crop water demand decreases dramatically.

Once we reach open boll, subsurface soil moisture should be monitored with a soil probe or shovel. If we can detect subsurface moisture, there is probably adequate moisture available to finish out the crop. If soil moisture is inadequate and weather forecasts don’t show rainfall in the near future, you may consider one more irrigation. However, irrigation applications should be terminated at 10% open boll.

Gaylon Morgan/Texas A&M University Agriculture & Life Sciences
Prior to defoliation, growers should include inspecting the uppermost harvestable boll by cutting a cross-section. If a dark seed coat has not formed, as shown above, the fruit is still immature and not ready to be defoliated.

Defoliation timing for many growers is often confusing. If the crop is defoliated too early, unopened bolls and micronaire issues may result in yield and quality losses. If defoliated too late, losses may come from dislodged lint and unnecessary weathering.

There are multiple techniques to determine when a field is ready. The first is using percent open boll. Some fields, if there is a good uniform crop load, will be ready at 60%. However, in Georgia that is probably a little early with 70-75% being a safer bet.

Counting nodes above cracked boll (NACB) is another option with 4 NACB typically correlating to 60% open boll.

The last technique is to cut and cross section the uppermost harvestable bolls to determine readiness. If the cotton “strings,” and the seed coats are dark with visible cotyledons, that boll is safe to defoliate. Of course, growers should use each of these techniques to make the best decision possible for their fields.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

On Aug. 12, I’d rate the average cotton acre in the Missouri Bootheel to be in good shape for the most part. Pest pressure has been lighter than normal, and fruit retention has been very good with adequate soil moisture was present for most of the year.

Bollworms and plant bugs are showing up later than normal. Irrigation was just starting at the beginning of August, anticipating it would be a hot, dry month.

Quite a few of the fields I have observed reached physiological cutout the first week of August as our last effective bloom date closed in. To finish this growing season, it appears we will be irrigating as good rains were not in the forecast. Regardless, a warm, dry fall is needed to finish the crop, and hopefully the early frost some are predicting is well into October.

While the crop condition is good in general, there is a definite issue with spider mites, and they seem to be fairly widespread throughout the Bootheel. The recent rains should help with this problem, but the dry weather in the forecast is the recipe for an outbreak across the Bootheel. Bacterial blight has also been reported with some cases being severe. Hopefully this drier weather should help mitigate it.

The crop is in worse shape this year compared to this time last year, and heat unit accumulation has been behind. Last year, 5% percent of bolls were already rated as open by Aug. 4 with none open in 2019. This year, boll set is rated at 48%, considerably behind the average of 63%.

As we close in on preparations for the 2019 harvest, consider balancing yield and fiber quality when defoliating cotton. Proper defoliation timing is needed to balance the pursuit of high yields with the need for high fiber quality. One option is to time the application to coincide with 60% open boll. Another method is to time the application at four NACB (nodes above cracked boll).

From the uppermost first position cracked boll on the plant, count the mainstem nodes above it to the uppermost harvestable first position boll, sampling 40-50 plants across the field and averaging them.

Inspections on the upper bolls should also be done prior to defoliation by cutting a boll cross section to determine if the seed coat is dark as defoliation will not reduce yield on these mature bolls.

Second position bolls should not be used to determine maturity as first position bolls contribute 81% of the yield while also requiring 120 heat units to mature a boll further out on a fruiting branch. A first position boll only requires 60 heat units to mature a boll one node higher.

Regrowth issues were present in 2018, and thidiazuron will most likely be in short supply again this year. Plan accordingly for fields with high regrowth potential.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this on Aug. 2, the North Carolina crop is more variable than we’ve seen in several years. This is primarily due to excessive heat and drought throughout late June and July and very spotty rains during this time.

We have some cotton that reached a hard cutout too early during the bloom period in areas that were neglected when rains passed through, and other cotton that looks as good as I’ve seen.

However, statewide rains during late July followed by much milder temperatures have improved the status of nearly all North Carolina cotton at this point. At this time, bollworm sprays have begun and will likely continue throughout August.

As we learned last year, plant bugs can be problematic throughout the entire season, necessitating thorough scouting until all harvestable fruit has reached a safe stage of maturity.

The challenge I foresee going into the fall will likely be defoliation timing. Some areas that reached cutout too early due to drought stress may have less-than-ideal yield potential on the bottom crop. However, recent rains have triggered renewed terminal growth in some places, which could result in a meaningful top crop that could contribute to yield.

It is important to remember that our last effective bloom dates generally fall around Aug. 20-25, depending on fall weather. The chances of developing harvestable bolls diminish rapidly when blooms appear beyond Sept. 1.

Therefore, it may be wise to flag a few plants on the nodes where the last blooms appear during our last effective bloom period, so you can know which blooms to chase and which ones to ignore.

It is also wise to accurately assess the yield potential of both the bottom and top crop once bolls begin to open. For example, growers with a 300-pound bottom crop may want to chase a good top crop, whereas growers with a 2-bale bottom crop may want to chase the bottom crop if the top crop wouldn’t add much more to overall yield potential.

Although summer weather plays a huge role in developing yield potential, September and October can make or break our crop in any year. September rains will be needed to develop some of the top crop, but prolonged wet or cloudy weather can do noticeable damage to earlier set bolls that begin to open. Sunny, drier weather will be needed to prevent boll rot and hardlock, and we don’t want hurricanes during this time.

If part of our crop is ready to harvest earlier than normal, growers are encouraged to begin defoliating and harvesting as soon as the crop is ready. This may help get some of the crop in before a hurricane. If a storm is coming and the crop cannot be harvested before it hits, growers are strongly encouraged to wait and defoliate after the storm has passed.

In recent years, a lot of cotton has been lost in fields where defoliation occurred just a few days before a storm hit, whereas yield loss resulting from hurricanes was much less for growers who waited to defoliate until the storm passed.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

To no one’s surprise, August brought scorching temperatures and high humidity. White blooms started climbing stalks and appearing higher on the plant as the month progressed. In some cases, open bolls were present by mid-August.

However, a portion of our crop will not have open bolls until Sept. 1 or after. As such, harvest aid applications will be delayed until late September in certain fields.

Uneven emergence in fields, which was common in 2019, further complicates harvest aid application timing decisions. When making these decisions, do not forget about delayed emergence if this phenomenon occurred in your fields.

Making these applications when many plants are not mature will most certainly have a negative effect on yield. Given the current market, the need to maximize yields to turn a profit is obvious.

On a brighter note, college football has returned and harvest is right around the corner. 2019 will be remembered for many things, and I am hoping one of them is another year of 1,000-plus pounds-per-acre average yields for Mississippi.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

As I write this in early August, cotton harvest is in full swing across South Texas and approximately 40-50% has already been picked at this time, according to Dr. Josh McGinty, Extension agronomist in Corpus Christi. So far, yields are highly variable depending on planting date, but the early cotton is yielding more than 2.25 bales per acre in this area. The variability seems to be the general crop condition across much of the state.

As of this writing, less than 20,000 bales have been through the Corpus Christi classing office, but quality is looking good so far. The hope is to get another two to three dry weeks to allow timely harvest without any loss in fiber quality.

In the Rolling Plains, the cotton desperately needs moisture. Dryland cotton fields — except for some good spots — are showing water stress, and flowering was delayed in some fields due to harsh conditions at planting. Some of the dryland cotton is blooming at NAWF 4 to 5 if not at the top of plant, according to Extension agronomist Dr. Emi Kimura in Vernon. The irrigated cotton also needs rain, but it looks much better and still has good yield potential.

Looking at West Texas, the crop is also fairly variable due to challenging weather conditions during planting season. Good soil moisture early on means many dryland fields have seen good growth.

Growers have done a good job promoting early fruit retention, but unfortunately moisture levels in many areas is not quite adequate to support the fruit load at this time. Some isolated areas have seen scattered rainfall, but many fields are dry and the region as a whole could definitely benefit from some additional moisture.

In West Texas, bollworms have been sprayed in non-Bt cotton. And although in low numbers, aphids have also been spotted in the region. As we progress closer to harvest, growers should still keep an eye on insects to make sure they are under control and below economic threshold. For those with late planted and replanted fields, remember to avoid late irrigation as well as late nitrogen applications, as these can complicate crop termination at the end of the season.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

Hot weather has allowed much of the Oklahoma cotton crop to gain a little ground that was lost to delayed planting and slow growth due to cool conditions earlier in the season. The irrigated crop across most of the western parts of the state looks excellent with both weed and insect pressure kept to a minimum for the majority of the acres.

Much of the irrigated crop is approaching cutout as of mid-August. This is perfect timing given the last effective bloom date ranges from late August to early September across the west-central and southwest production area.

The irrigated crop appears to have a great yield potential and harvest aid applications will likely key in on leaf removal from fairly large plants and boll opening. Timely applications will be key to maintain quality on what’s setting up to be an exceptional irrigated crop.

The warm temperatures have also been accompanied by little to no rainfall for much of the past month. By the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you in early September, it is likely that most of the dryland crop in Oklahoma has finished blooming, unless unexpected rainfall occurs during the second half of August.

If the dry weather persists, much of the dryland crop will be left with a small number of bolls and will mature rapidly during the early weeks of fall. However, if significant moisture returns, regrowth could become a concern and removing regrowth could likely be a key factor to consider for harvest aid decisions on the dryland crop. Refer to our harvest aid guide for more information at

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

By the time you read this, defoliation will be right around the corner. I know many of you have repressed memories from defoliation/harvest last year, but 2018 did provide many important lessons that should be remembered.

During 2018, the time elapsed between the application of defoliants and harvest was often stretched by wet, cloudy weather. As a result, an additional application of harvest aids to strip regrowth was often warranted.

Regardless of product, rate, nozzle or volume, many of these applications were ineffective, especially on basal regrowth. Furthermore, many expressed frustration with the lack of regrowth control provided by even higher rates of thidiazuron than normally used.

With any luck, we won’t have near the regrowth in 2019 that we observed in 2018. Still, it is important to remember that provided regrowth control from even our best products can be short when the environment supports growth. Also, basal regrowth can be difficult to remove from the plant with all but nuclear concoctions, and defoliating too far ahead of the picker can increase the likelihood regrowth develops.

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