Sunday, June 23, 2024

Preparing The Crop For Harvest


Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this July 28, the North Carolina crop is highly variable but in a lot better shape than it was just over a month ago. July has brought timely rains to most parts of the state and quite a bit of heat that we were begging for in June. I would argue that the mid 90s are a little more than we need right now as it rapidly depletes our soil moisture, but overall, growth is good in most areas. Dry pockets are evident but tend to be in the minority of our acres at this time.  

The months of August and September will be very telling. In most years we tend to believe that June and July weather sets the crop up, but our crop is made in August. That will be even more true this year due to the compressed bloom period we have this year. Most fields began blooming between July 15–30, resulting in some fields being two to four weeks behind schedule. 

Recent research regarding last effective bloom dates suggests that blooms made by the end of August have a decent and reasonable chance of developing into harvestable bolls; however, in years with warmer September and October weather, blooms made as late as Sept. 13 have a decent chance of developing into harvestable bolls. So conservatively speaking, the later portion of our crop may only have a four-week bloom period. In those cases, we really need August weather to cooperate, and we need to stay on top of insects — perhaps into September this year.

This crop continues to be late at this point in time. August and September could expand or contract that. A dry August could rapidly accelerate maturity, but that would not be ideal in terms of yield. We need timely rains in August and perhaps a week or two into September, then a sunny and drier late September, preferably warm. The same for October. We’re not asking for much.  

If this crop remains to be a little later than normal as we enter the Fall, it will be important to watch temperatures at or around defoliation time. If defoliation happens to fall more into cooler weather this year, we may need to select products with enhanced activity in those temperatures. Time will tell.

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

As I write this in early August, our crop — overall — looks good to very good. Several area-wide rainfall events have moved through Tennessee and more are in the forecast. By the time we reach the first of September, I expect most of our acres will have bloomed out of the top; NAWF counts are often running around five with (generally) high retention rates. I doubt we will defoliate many acres in September, given our crop is just a little behind where we would normally be this time of year. For those earliest acres that will be defoliated under warm conditions, thidiazuron is my product of choice. The 3.2-ounce rate of thidiazuron plus ethephon at 16 ounces to 24 ounces is a great first shot when temperatures are warm. 

Mid-September provides a great opportunity to assess your fertility practices. If you’ve properly applied N and K and retention levels are good, I would expect the lowest leaves to begin to show N deficiency symptoms with only slight K deficiency symptoms appearing in the upper canopy. If you note a deep, dark green canopy moving into the last stages of boll fill or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, strong N or K deficiencies present within the canopy, adjustments to your fertility program are likely warranted. Note these observations and use them to adjust rates as you move into next year.

MISSOURI | Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson, Missouri

Cotton is rapidly approaching cutout in Missouri in the earlier planting dates, meaning we are approaching the finish line for the 2023 season. Conditions throughout June were dry and forced producers to begin watering earlier than usual. In July, we began to catch much-needed rainfall in certain areas across the Bootheel while some areas continued to miss these events. 

As we begin to reach cutout, it is time to start evaluating insecticide termination. Tarnished plant bug pressure has been an issue over the past several weeks, and it is important to point out insecticide termination for tarnished plant bugs has been recommended when plants reach cutout (Node above white flower = 5) plus 350 heat units. 

While we are approaching the finish line and much of the crop looks to be above average with a good yield potential, warm temperatures and sunny conditions will be needed to mature the crop. As I am writing this, August has not started the way we needed, with some areas in the region receiving six to 10 inches of rainfall in a short period with several days of cloudy conditions and lower-than-normal temperatures. This could reduce fruit retention and slow boll maturation if the conditions remain through the month of August.

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As I write this Aug. 4, cotton harvesting is in full swing in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and by the time you are reading this in September, harvesting should be completed ahead of the Sept. 1 stalk destruction deadline. Soon to follow in the month of August will be the Coastal Bend and Upper Gulf Coast regions. Mid- to late-season drought conditions across much of the state have and will continue to push our harvesting timeframe a little earlier when compared to previous years in many locations throughout the central and southern parts of Texas. 

As growers begin to formulate a plan for the upcoming harvest, one of the biggest considerations is what their harvest-aid programs will look like. This can be especially challenging in very hot and dry environmental conditions like we are experiencing the later half of 2023. A drought-stressed cotton leaf has a thicker waxy cuticle, which can reduce uptake and absorption of certain harvest-aid products, compared to a lusher, non-stressed leaf. 

One of the things that applicators can do to improve the activity of harvest aids on drought-stressed cotton is to increase spray volumes and use appropriate spray nozzles to enhance coverage. A minimum spray volume of 10 gallons per acre should be the baseline spray volume from a ground rig and increasing to 12 or even 15 gallons per acre can further increase coverage, often resulting in enhanced product activity. Selecting spray nozzles that will deliver uniform coverage and penetration of spray droplets through the crop canopy to lower parts of the plant will often enhance product activity.

Additionally, including an adjuvant may increase the activity of harvest-aid products on drought-stressed cotton, especially the herbicidal products. All cotton harvest-aid products are accompanied with a product label detailing recommended application methods, product rates, tank-mix partners, compatible adjuvants, along with other important information to consider before making an application. Similar to the chemical pest control products we use each growing season, it is essential to familiarize ourselves with the product labels in an effort to maximize each and every harvest-aid product application. 

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

Cotton is a unique crop in that you can attempt to gauge its performance and yield potential in many ways. Ultimately, it is what makes it to the gin that counts in terms of yield. The easiest way to dissect the growing season is to segment it into three 40-day blocks. Currently, we are entering the last 40 days.  I would say the first and last 40 days are the most crucial in terms of establishing and finishing out the crop, respectively.

Yield potential for Mississippi crops in 2023 is promising. Most of our acres were planted on time with timely rains through June and most of July. Despite some hail and deer damage during June, this crop has high fruit retention and is racing past cutout. Late July and early August was hot and dry, likely affecting some dryland acres, but overall, this year’s crop looks better than last year.

As I write this Aug. 4, we still have some time before we are considering defoliation. However, a couple of timely rains will really benefit this crop. Also, success of this crop will ultimately be determined by a dry or a wet harvest season. Some models predict an active Atlantic hurricane season. Hopefully, the last 40 days will be hot and dry, making for a successful defoliation and dry harvest!

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

By Steve M. Brown

“Hurry up, Nell!” I heard my Daddy say that to my Momma countless times. He was a Get ‘Er Done kind of guy and often approached his “30-minute projects” with an intensity and impatience that bypassed preparation and (reading the) instructions.

I inherited at least some of that disposition. My wife thinks I frequently value completion of a task far more than the quality of my efforts. If I have a scheduled project, I usually wake up eager and raring to go. Urgency toward the finish obscures pleasure in the job; in other words, my sense of enjoyment typically comes only at the end of the work, not in the doing of it. Such an attitude is not given to a sense of pace, especially for activities that are akin to a marathon rather than a sprint… not a good approach for the cotton farmer at harvest.

Harvest is indeed a marathon, demanding preparation, pace, perseverance and persistence. It cannot be accomplished in a day but requires hours upon hours and day after day of careful, attentive work, with a vigilance for safety, every day, every hour. 

Harvest is coming. Get ready. The race is long. Enjoy the work each and every day — well, maybe except the days with extended breakdowns. Be safe.

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

As we approach the finish line on this crop, I hope we are presented with warm, dry weather and all of our cotton winds up at the gin. 

As I have discussed at different meetings and field days this summer, and as many have expressed to me, our crop is behind. What matters now is if we can accumulate enough heat units now through October to finish it. Our yield potential that I have seen is really good, but we really need a warm fall. Based on our degree days accumulated this summer — if cotton was planted May 1 to 15 — we are a good 10 days behind. Additionally, plant bug damage from earlier in the season and deer damage could potentially set us further behind. Likely the most critical thing you can do now is be sure you are getting out in your fields and checking prior to defoliation so we can pull the trigger at the right time. 

You can learn a lot about how your season went this time of year. As mentioned in previous renditions of Specialists Speaking, the plant bugs were horrendous in Georgia this year. Although we can’t say that growers got eaten up by plant bugs “postmortem,” if there isn’t any fruit on your crop below node 12, I would be suspicious. You will be able to see what I’m talking about from the picker seat. Take note of what worked for you this year and what didn’t, and let’s start getting a game plan together for next season.

Lastly, as you are defoliating your cotton crop, let’s remember to keep ALL pesticides on target, including cotton defoliants. I am in constant contact with our UGA county agents this time of year regarding the weather and impacts on defoliation. As always, your local UGA county Extension agent and specialists are here to help! Reach out if you have any questions. 

Related Articles

Connect With Cotton Farming

Quick Links

E-News Sign-up