Preparing The Crop For Harvest

FLORIDA | David Wright

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

It has been a blessing working with UF Extension/research for 45 years (with retirement approaching Sept. 15, 2022) — and for 38 years with cotton growers in Florida. 

In the early 1980s, Florida only had 2,000 to 3,000 acres of cotton due to the boll weevil with most acres used for wheat/soybean, corn and peanut. The Boll Weevil Eradication Program started in Virginia and North Carolina in 1978 then spread to Florida and other southeastern states in the early 1980s. Cotton expanded in acreage soon after. 

The first cotton producers in the deep south did not have the technology for insect and weed management until 1995, and 10 to 15 spray applications were made to control pests. Along with developing technology for cotton, research for initial strip tillage began in the late 1970s and early 1980s — with cover crops/conservation farming using small grains/soybean, corn, peanut and cotton. 

There were a few researchers who worked together (Touchton, Gallagher and others) from the southeastern United States. Now, conservation farming is used widely. Seed technology from companies also helps growers succeed in producing a crop. At the same time, machinery technology moved ahead making harvesting timelier with less labor (six to eight row pickers, balers on pickers, modules, etc.).  

Florida cotton in deep, sandy soils is irrigated on 30% of acreage. Despite early season dry, weather-delayed cotton growth this year, the crop still has the potential for good yield. Cotton and peanut harvest overlap considerably, and peanut is harvested first. Hurricanes and tropical storms can decrease cotton quality and yield at harvest. Timely defoliation at 60% to 70% open bolls, or five to six nodes above cracked bolls, will normally result in highest yield and quality. Therefore, cotton equipment should be adjusted and ready to go before the harvest season begins to avoid delays or use of custom harvest services. This has many advantages and reduces risk from weather.  

The best way to deliver high quality cotton is to plant varieties that produce good grade cotton and stable yields across a large area, eliminate stress during the growing season, pick on time and store cotton at the right moisture in modules or bales on dry sites. Many cotton fields look good at this point with good rains, and I hope growers have a good crop!

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

Ah yes, bolls are opening, and the smell of defoliant is in the air. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Finally, all the blood, sweat and tears (and money) are being rewarded as we prepare for harvest. As harvest approaches, a few things to keep in mind:

→ This year’s crop is seven to 10 days ahead of schedule. It is vitally important to start looking at your crop and getting ready to pull the trigger when it’s reached 60% open. It will be ready before you are. 

Overall, the Georgia crop looks really good. I know that peanut harvest will be in full swing before too long — however — if you can spare the help, I think it would be wise to try and harvest both crops simultaneously to preserve yield and quality. 

If you are about to mix up and spray defoliant, please keep in mind the lessons learned from the Using Pesticides Wisely training. It is imperative that ALL pesticides are applied on-target for us to remain sustainable. That includes cotton defoliants.

As we enter the beginning of defoliation, I will be traveling the state doing defoliation meetings, and I am in constant contact with our UGA county Extension agents. As always, your local UGA county Extension agent and specialists are here to help! Reach out if you have any questions. 

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

If man could control rainfall, we might have a fight on our hands as this crop finishes. In terms of moisture: too dry, too wet, pretty good or not quite perfect but still good describe the range of conditions across Alabama. Fields planted in late April through the first 10 days of May need drying trends as we move into September and open bolls in what is generally an aggressive canopy and an EARLY crop. Obviously, late cotton still needs rainfall to boost prospects. 

Compared to woes we hear from Texas and Oklahoma, our crop holds significant promise. In June, July and into early August, fruit retention was extremely high, and we’ve seen some remarkable cotton through mid-to-late summer. Our crop could be really special, at least from the areas not too severely affected by drought or by the opposite of excessive rainfall. Many of our summer time rains were afternoon pop-up showers. Fields touched often enough by these rains look really good. Parts of the lower Gulf Coast had measurable rain for almost 30 of 37 days during a stretch in July and August, so it was way wet for too long. Altogether, the last 40 days until harvest have a profound impact on what we wrap at the gin, so we’re still in the tenuous, “hope” stage.

In the lull before harvest, valuable time could be spent in fields OBSERVING, looking for areas affected by nematodes, nutrient deficiencies, other pest problems, etc. If nothing else, the view and perspective offered by a big sprayer, drone or picker help identify portions of a field that need attention. Given the amount of compaction we’ve seen in parts of the state, I also recommend checking for hard pans. That requires poking and prodding, but it provides direction on the need for sub-surface tillage as we prepare for future crops.

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

I have never liked making predictions on a cotton crop or the weather.  Both predictions usually end in disappointment. Either way, the weather from now to harvest will determine the fate of roughly 80% of Mississippi’s cotton crop; and the remaining 20% — well, it has probably been determined.  

Dry, sunny days consumed both June and July, resulting in some stunted and drought-stressed cotton. However, most of the crop is still in the hunt to make a high yield. Timely rains and irrigation have allowed cotton to respond well to the environment. Diligent PGR management strategies resulted in manageable plant heights and good node counts. Plant bug pressure was normal to light for most of the state, resulting in excellent fruit retention.

The lack of soil moisture exposed severe potassium deficiency symptomology in some locations. This is primarily a result of potassium contained in the plant tissues relocating to the developing fruit. Severe symptomology was detected on specific soil types with marginal fertility or lack of soil moisture. Most of these scenarios have been isolated and surfaced as the plant was nearing 0 NAWF, directing all nutrition to boll fill.

As I write this, we are within a week or so of crossing economic injury threshold caused by insects. Cotton is ranging 4 – 2 NAWF, on average, with about 160 DD60s accumulated per week. Doing the math, we have about 10 or less days to monitor for insect pests. I suspect harvest will be earlier this year than the past few, and hopefully September will be kind to us. A dry, hot defoliation period followed by a dry fall would be a nice gift… I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Good luck!

LOUISIANA | Matt Foster

matt foster
Matt Foster,

Yield potential for the 2022 cotton crop continues to look promising even though hot and dry weather conditions were prevalent in most areas throughout the growing season. Some areas received much-needed rainfall during the early part of August, allowing most growers to turn the irrigation pumps off. However, the cloudy and wet weather did cause fruit shed in some cotton. Nitrogen and potassium deficiencies have been popping up in some areas around the state. Defoliation began in some areas during the middle/latter part of August, and harvest should begin around early September. 

 As growers prepare for the 2022 cotton harvest, defoliation timing principles should be taken into consideration. Timing cotton defoliation is an art rather than a science, and there is oftentimes a balancing act between yield and fiber quality when defoliating cotton. There are several accepted defoliation timing methods, each with pros and cons. The three most common methods for timing cotton defoliation include 60% open boll, four nodes above cracked boll or 1,050 heat units beyond cutout. 

Prior to defoliation, growers should inspect the uppermost harvestable boll by cutting a cross-section. A boll is considered mature if it is difficult to cut with a knife and seed coats are tan/brown or black. Once a dark seed coat has formed, defoliation will not adversely affect yield on those bolls. Best of luck this harvest season!

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As of mid-August, cotton harvesting in the Lower Rio Grande Valley has surpassed the halfway point, and reported yields for the region have been very good for a state impacted from widespread drought conditions. Unlike the majority of Texas, the LRGV received timely rainfall in good amounts to keep growing conditions favorable for cotton production. Lately, I’ve heard average yield reports of 2+ bale dryland cotton and 3+ bale irrigated cotton in the LRGV. 

Cotton harvesting activities are progressing in the Coastal Bend as well and should be nearing completion by the time you are reading this in September. Much of the cotton in this region failed to emerge earlier in the year due to extremely dry conditions, but growers who were able to maintain a successful stand throughout the growing season have reported yields ranging from 400 to 750 lbs. 

Growers in the Upper Gulf Coast have mostly finished up with the grain harvest and are now focused on getting the cotton crop out of the field. Some early reports of average farm yields in the region are in the 700 to 850 lbs. range. 

Harvest-aid applications are in full swing further north in the Blackland Prairie as growers get prepared for the upcoming cotton harvest. Much of the cotton in this region has very telling symptoms of drought stress, and there have been many questions regarding defoliating a cotton plant in these conditions. 

Under drought-stressed conditions, cotton plants tend to have leathery leaves with a thick cuticle, which may impact the uptake of harvest-aids. Additionally, I have observed several fields with wilted cotton plants as early as 10 a.m. Under these conditions, there is less available leaf surface area for spray droplet deposition and retention. 

One thing that applicators can do to improve product activity is to target their application window prior to the onset of wilting while plants still have mostly unfurled leaves. Secondly, increasing spray volumes is another way to increase coverage of harvest-aid products and may improve results. Lastly, the addition of adjuvants, including crop oil concentrates (COC) or methylated seed oil (MSO) products, may enhance uptake of the harvest-aid materials and improve results. Like pesticides, harvest-aid products have an accompanying label listing application requirements and approved tank-mix partners. For optimum results, I encourage applicators to be familiar with, and adhere to, label requirements listed on harvest-aid labels. 

TEXAS | Murilo Maeda

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda,
Texas A&M

What limited rainfall we got in West Texas this year was too little, too late. Unfortunately, despite having most of our acres planted in a timely manner, the lack of adequate planting moisture led a high number of acres (especially dryland) failing to come up to a good stand. While the irrigated crop fared much better overall, those with limited irrigation capacity continue to have trouble keeping up with crop needs, and that will ultimately affect irrigated yields around here. 

Our summer thus far has been characterized by above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation — culminating in a high number of fields being abandoned. As we progress through the summer months, crop conditions have rapidly deteriorated and will severely affect production coming out of West Texas this year. For reference, the latest USDA-NASS Texas Crop Progress Report released Aug. 8, 2022, classifies the Texas crop as 14% good, 38% fair and 48% poor or very poor. 

As I write this mid-August, we are closing in on our last effective bloom dates, which usually happen around the middle to latter part of the month. After about Aug. 25 or so, we tend to see a sharp decline in the number of blooms that will make it to harvest. As such, growers should manage inputs accordingly (particularly irrigation) from here on out. It is safe to say at this time that both dryland, as well as irrigated acres, are still being adjusted. Actual harvested acres are likely to continue declining as we approach harvest, given the current weather conditions.

OKLAHOMA | Seth Byrd

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

I’m often asked to provide estimates of harvested acreage, average yield, etc. If you’ve ever personally asked me this question, you’re likely aware I’m one of the worst people to ask, as I’ve never liked trying to estimate these values even in good years. This is probably the most difficult year I’ve had trying to come up with any of these values. I was recently asked about Oklahoma’s acreage, and whether we’re referring to acreage that was planted and successfully established a stand, or acreage that was actually going to be harvested, I had a tough time trying to formulate an answer. As I mentioned in last month’s issue, there is some good cotton in Oklahoma, but as the season has progressed, there are more and more acres ending up in the “worse than good” column. By the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, we’ll probably have a much better idea of how many Oklahoma acres will see a picker or stripper in them, but it’s safe to say it’s not as many as we had hoped three months ago. 

For the acres that will be harvested, it’s going to be key to monitor the progression of boll retention and opening as the season winds down. Fruit shed has been common all year, leaving vegetative growth with no corresponding fruiting sites to support. While this typically won’t cause too much of a problem in drought conditions, should rainfall occur, we could see excessive vegetation that will need to be addressed with harvest aids. There is also likely to be a significant amount of drought-stressed vegetation in some fields that will need to be removed, which may cause a rate adjustment or whole different tank mix of products to properly defoliate. Monitoring growth, fruiting development and the crop’s response to any late-season rain will be critical for those making harvest-aid decisions this year to ensure correct application timing, product selection and rates. We release an updated harvest-aid guide annually, with the 2022 version coming out soon and guides from previous years available for viewing at

ARKANSAS |Bill Robertson

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The August Crop Production report for Arkansas released by USDA-NASS estimated cotton production at 1.22 million bales, down 1%, or 15,000 bales below last year. Based on conditions as of Aug. 1, yield is expected to average 1,195 lbs. per harvested acre, down 53 lbs. from 2021. Our five-year lint yield average is 1,184 lbs. per harvested acre. Lint yields the last three years have been our best three on record. 

The hot and dry weather has presented issues to Arkansas growers that we don’t normally see. Some of our issues were more similar to those often experienced by Texas producers. Rainfall events beginning early August certainly helped preserve the yield potential of our crop. The high temperatures have had some effect on pollen production and viability. It appears seed numbers per boll are off slightly on some of our early bolls.  

The potential of this crop is still good. The shorter effective fruiting period and lateness of some of our fields will impact our state’s average yield. However, we must avoid the temptation of pushing a crop and chasing bolls that realistically have little impact on lint yield and profitability. An almost perfect September for maturing our crop, coupled with wise management, will be needed for us to have a shot at reaching yields we have grown accustomed to achieving. This season has not been easy or cheap and likely will not get any easier. 

The first fields planted are not always the first to be harvested. Knowing our most mature fields is critical in harvest management. Boll slicing may be our best tool to evaluate maturity this season. As we progress toward the end of this season, we must continue to manage this crop in a timely fashion with a goal of getting pickers in the field mid-September. Contact your local county Extension agent for more information.

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Tennessee’s late-planted cotton (end of May to early June) is almost always lower yielding than Tennessee’s early planted cotton (late April or early May). In 2022, the opposite may be true.  

As I write this Aug. 13, our earliest planted acres have bloomed out of the top of the plant, and our latest planted acres are still running between 7 to 4 NAWF. There are several lessons to be learned from our experiences this year, but I’ll focus my comments here on moving this crop into harvest.

As you read this during Sept., we will probably be witnessing a flush of juvenile growth on the earliest planted acres. Hopefully, this will coincide with a relatively rapid opening of mature bolls. Our best shot at removing mature and juvenile leaves from those plants and opening bolls will be a stiff shot of thidiazuron plus ethephon. For that shot to work, we need warm weather and sunshine (night temps above 65F). As temperatures begin to slide, we will be forced to blend in tribufos. As they continue to slide, we will need to move away from thidiazuron altogether, and we will be forced into a two-shot approach.  

I’ll add more detailed information on our blog as we move into September and will make a few comments on defoliating the later crop on the next Specialists Speaking.


Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this Aug. 4, the cotton crop in North Carolina has come a long way from what it was. Hot, dry weather had taken its toll on our crop by late June or early July.  Thankfully, many areas have received — and continue to receive — rain since then. Many fields entered the bloom period way too short and dangerously close to cutout.  

July rains have allowed for renewed terminal growth and fruit set through a suspended cutout — where the terminal grows at about the same rate as white blooms progress upwards from node to node on the main stalk. Most fields are at — or are very near — a true cutout at this point. August historically makes our crop, so we don’t need to miss many rains right now. Currently, the forecast calls for several hot days in a row with little rain, so hopefully, those with irrigation capabilities are supplying supplemental water right now. We have a substantial moth flight right now, which has many growers nervous about potential breakthroughs on three-gene cotton.

August can make our crop, but September and October either preserve or erode it. A warm and relatively sunny and dry September is needed to minimize boll rot and hard lock. Sunny and drier harvest weather is needed to preserve both yield and quality. Defoliation decisions will likely be made sometime during September. At this point, it is reasonable to assume that we might have some residual nitrogen remaining during September, which is a product of dry weather during May and June. It’s also reasonable to assume that we may have an early crop in some areas where the crop remains relatively short with fewer-than-normal fruiting nodes. Therefore, we may be defoliating more fields during September this year compared to normal. A lot can happen between now and defoliation, but if we have any noticeable dry weather in the remainder of August and/or sunny, warm weather with any soil moisture at all during September and October, growers should be prepared to address regrowth by using the appropriate rate of thidiazuron or thidiazuron+Diuron in their defoliation tank mixtures.

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