This Year’s Crop Overcame Heat, Drought

Mike Milam

According to the Missouri Crop Progress and Condition Report for the week ending Aug. 12, cotton setting bolls and beyond was 81 percent, 10 days behind last year and 12 days behind normal. Cotton opening bolls was nine percent, 12 days ahead of last year and nine days ahead of normal. Cotton condition was 12 percent very poor, 31 percent poor, 42 percent fair, 13 percent good and two percent excellent. Last year at this time we only had one percent open bolls. I expect defoliation to begin within the next few weeks in the non-irrigated fields.

I am seeing some nutrient deficiency problems this season related to the drought. Insect problems, in general, have been less this year. My concern for this year’s crop is supported by the Cotton and Wool Outlook Report of Aug. 13. It shows that our projected yield is 913 pounds per acre. If this is accurate, it will be the lowest yield since boll weevil eradication began.

The Drought Monitor dated Aug. 14 shows that we are still in the exceptional drought phase, and it looks like we are locked in for the remainder of this season. Above normal temperatures and only an equal chance of average, below or normal rainfall is projected through November. Rainfall throughout our growing area at best can be described as spotty.

Resistant Palmer pigweed will continue to remain a challenge for most farmers again this season. With our projected weather conditions, harvest season will be dry and dusty.

David Wright

Producers in the Deep South have had to become accustomed to high-yielding, mid-season cotton varieties after years of using full-season cotton varieties. These varieties fruit up fast and often start opening in late August and early September. Most producers in the Southeast rotate peanuts with cotton and generally harvest peanuts in September and early October and then start on cotton.

However, as we enter into a potential El Niño weather cycle, we may see a wetter harvest season, and producers need to be ready to harvest both cotton and peanuts in September to conserve yield and quality of both crops. Rains and other stress factors have resulted in more leaf diseases on cotton this year, and many fields may naturally defoliate due to these conditions. It may pay to hire extra pickers to get the crop out timely if harvest days are shortened by weather events. We have a chance to make a good crop with recent rains, and producers need to make sure that they are able to harvest what is made.

John Kruse

The 2012 Louisiana cotton crop is approaching the finish line sooner than we are used to observing. Many fields throughout the state are displaying open bolls in the lower canopy, and we had one producer mention that he had already applied his two-step defoliation program and was ready to pick. Overcast conditions and periodic rains have led to some concerns about hardlock or boll rot developing, but we have had very few reports so far.

Over the past month, we had a tremendous outbreak of Alternaria leaf spot. The disease invariably started in areas of the field exhibiting potassium deficiency, but once started it tended to spread rapidly throughout the field. So far, we have not observed bacterial blight like other Mid-South states but are watching for it carefully. Plant bug and stink bug pressure seem to be constant but not fierce this year. We battled spider mites all season, but those reports quieted down after several rainy episodes.

The dominant varieties grown in Louisiana tend to grow pretty aggressively, so producers are ending up with some rather tall plants despite their best efforts with growth regulators. This has been a contributing factor in the concern over late-season hard- lock and boll rot issues showing up. All in all, we are poised to have at least an average, if not above average, harvest year but are always mindful that Mother Nature has the last word in Louisiana.

Randy Norton

We are beginning to put the finishing touches on another cotton season in Arizona. Much of the crop across the state will be receiving a final irrigation in the coming weeks, and we will begin preparing the crop for harvest. As I have traveled across the state looking at field trials that the University of Arizona is conducting, I am optimistic about the 2012 crop. We have had a moderate year in terms of heat stress across much of the state, allowing the crop to develop a substantial boll load.

We could be setting up for another year like we experienced in 2011. As we approach this time of year, we need to be thinking about harvest efficiency and getting the crop out of the field in a timely fashion. Defoliation and boll opening should be done in a way that will most efficiently prepare the crop for harvest. There are a lot of products on the market today that will help accomplish this.

The University of Arizona has conducted trials each year to evaluate the effectiveness of the various harvest preparation materials, and summaries of this work can be found on our crop information site that is listed below. I encourage you to review these documents prior to making a decision for defoliation and harvest preparation.

We have had optimal fall conditions for harvesting the crop for many years in a row now and have largely not experienced adverse conditions during harvest in recent memory. Many of you can remember, however, that during the wet years of the 80s and 90s how difficult harvest season can be when we have a wet fall. Weather and climate prediction models are indicating that 2012/13 may be one of those years.

Conditions are setting up for an early and strong El Niño that could bring increased levels of precipitation during the fall and winter months to southern Arizona. Even though the precipitation is much needed to fill our watersheds and recharge our ground water, these conditions can also make for a difficult harvest. Keep these factors in mind as you make decisions on irrigation termination and prepare for harvest. We want to make this harvest season as efficient and profitable as possible.

More information on these topics and others related to Arizona cotton production systems may be found at the University of Arizona Agricultural Crops Information Site at

Charles Burmester

The cotton crop prospects for Alabama have improved considerably since the severe drought and high temperatures experienced in late June and early July this year. Rainfall in many areas has been normal to above-normal since early to mid-July. Cotton has responded by rapidly adding vegetative and fruiting branches.

Even severely stunted June cotton is now closing the row middles in most fields, and many fields received a late-season growth regulator application.

Some open cotton has been reported, but overall this crop will be late maturing. The lush late season growth can also present some problems such as boll rot and foliar leaf diseases. A recent tour of northern Alabama did indicate some of these problems in fields. Alabama has the potential for a good cotton crop this season, but we will not know for sure until it opens, and we get it picked.

Gaylon Morgan

As of Aug. 18, cotton harvest had begun more than a month ago in the Rio Grande Valley. Yield reports for both dryland and irrigated were of good yields, and quality has been good except about 15 percent reporting high micronaire. Unfortunately, much of the cotton in the Coastal Bend was not harvested due to very low yield potential, and one-fourth bale yields or less were common.

The mid-July rains were a mixed blessing in the Upper Gulf Coast with rain increasing the yield potential, but they presented some late-season growth challenges because defoliation began the second week of August and continues. The upland cotton fields in the Blacklands are beginning to be harvested, while the bottomlands will follow quickly behind.

Yield expectations in the Blacklands range from 600 to 800 pounds, but an average of more than 750 pounds is expected. The entire Rolling Plains is struggling to make a crop, but the very scattered rain showers make the region a mixed bag with some fields looking decent and the majority of the others are scorched.

Recent rains will help some of the latest planted cotton and the irrigated cotton that is still hanging on. However, it is probably too little and too late for the majority of the dryland cotton acres in the Rolling Plains.

Darrin Dodds

Harvest season is upon us in the Mid-South. Harvest signifies the end of the cropping season for this year and the beginning of the cropping season for next year. While the harvest is usually accompanied by jovial attitudes, there is also a large degree of apprehension until harvest activities are completed and pickers are once again under the shed. Cotton production is unique compared to other crops in that we are growing a perennial plant as an annual. One of the ways this is accomplished is through harvest-aid applications.

Early harvest-aid applications will be underway by the time this issue of Cotton Farming magazine reaches your hands. Harvest-aid application is one of the final, yet most important steps for successful cotton production. Successful defoliation and boll opening can help facilitate timely harvest, optimum yields, and protect fiber quality. However, poor and/or ill-timed defoliation can result in yield and fiber quality losses.

Taking the time to examine your crop thoroughly to determine when harvest-aid applications should be made and what products should be utilized will pay dividends in the end. Although budgets become tight at the end of the year, do not lose money by trying to save money on harvest-aid application. Let your experience guide you as to when to begin applying harvest aids, as well as with product and rate selection.

Tom Barber

Picking has begun on the 2012 Arkansas cotton crop. This is one of the earliest cotton crops in Arkansas history. The bulk of this crop was planted in early April due to mild spring weather. Fruit retention is high due to early season optimal temperature and environmental conditions. Insect pressure was mild early this year and was later high in late season especially with plant bugs and spider mites.

There was an average of four plant bug applications per field across the state. Due to the extreme drought and high temperatures, many acres suffered from moisture stress especially in non-irrigated acres. Variability in cotton yields will be high even in irrigated conditions due to water infiltration, soil compaction, nematode populations and other root disorders.

Focus on pinpointing these areas during harvest so nematode samples and deep tillage can be done following harvest. Currently, about 60 percent of the Arkansas cotton crop is above average, 30 percent is fair and 10 percent is poor due to non-irrigated acreage. Overall, I believe Arkansas will end up with an above average cotton yield in 2012.

Keith Edmisten

Most areas of the state had a good deal of rain in July and August this year. The rain has helped us set a good boll load and reduced the amount of residual nitrogen we often have in drier years. A crop with a good boll load is easier to defoliate than a crop with a poor boll load, so hopefully we will see some really nice defoliation this year. Juvenile growth and regrowth potential should be lower than normal due to the reduced residual nitrogen and because the crop is about a week later than normal.

The reduced juvenile growth should help our leaf grades as we are less likely to see desiccation occurring during defoliation.

Because of the rainfall this summer, most fields do not have a fruiting gap, and thankfully we will not be trying to chase a top crop like many did for the past two years. Nodes above cracked boll should work well for timing of defoliation. Defoliating at nodes above cracked boll of four will almost never reduce yields in North Carolina.

Producers should cut least mature bolls and look for seed maturity in addition to utilizing nodes above cracked boll. It is quite possible that some of the crop will be ready to defoliate before nodes above cracked boll reaches four where a compact crop has been set.

Mark Kelley

Although it has been said many times this season, the cotton crop in the Texas High Plains continues to be a “mixed bag.” Most irrigated acres are in fair-to-good condition across the region with some pockets of excellent irrigated cotton showing tremendous yield potential. I was in a drip irrigated cotton field earlier today that was sitting at six to seven nodes above white flower (NAWF) and has been blooming for three-to-four weeks.

Further investigation revealed outstanding first position fruit retention with 95 percent or better. Furthermore, several second and third position fruit was observed. However, most of the irrigated fields that I have seen are at or near physiological cutout (NAWF=5). As far as dryland acres are concerned, the last two weeks of high temperatures and little to no rainfall have taken their toll on the cotton crop. Most dryland fields entered bloom at cutout or reached hard cutout very quickly and are blooming out the top.

As with the irrigated acres, there are some bright spots where timely and significant rainfall events have provided decent moisture for dryland production. Just south of Floydada, I observed a dryland field that was in excellent condition for this year. It was at six NAWF and had been blooming for approximately two weeks with a good boll set. This “mixed bag” of crop conditions for both irrigated and dryland is mostly a result of the sporadic rainfall events that have occurred across the region. Total rainfall amounts reported by the Texas Tech West Texas Mesonet stations for June through Aug. 8 range from 7.32 inches at the Abernathy station to 0.76 inches at the Lamesa station.

Again, with the spotty showers that have occurred this year, amounts may vary greatly within a short distance from these stations. Isolated observations of up to four inches or better from a single rainfall event have been reported. At the time of this writing, heat unit accumulations for Lubbock ( from May 1 to Aug. 8 are at 1,927, which is 324 heat units (or 20 percent) above the long-term average of 1,603 for this period.

Guy Collins

Rains continued throughout most of the bloom period, especially for early planted cotton in many places throughout southwest Georgia, resulting in very good boll set and development for much of the crop. Excessive growth has been observed in some fields, as rains sustained aggressive vegetative growth or prevented producers from entering fields to make timely PGR applications.

As I write this on Aug. 16, yield potential across the board is noticeably higher than in recent years due to excellent boll retention and development for both the early planted crop that is beginning to open and later planted cotton that is still blooming at this point in time. The first yield estimate by USDA NASS is 925 pounds per acre, which is notably higher than in 2011, and hopefully we will meet this estimate.

However, the last week of July and the first couple of weeks of August have been rather cloudy, wet and slightly cooler, putting the early planted crop at significant risk for boll rot and hardlock issues now that some bolls are opening. Stinkbugs and target spot have also been an issue in some areas.

Defoliation of the early planted crop will begin in late August or early September. Harvest-aid decisions are often difficult due to the strong influence of crop condition and the prevailing environment on the performance of any mixture of products. There are a plethora of products and tankmixes available for producers, which further complicates these decisions.

Selecting products based on current field-by-field needs (leaf removal, regrowth prevention or juvenile growth removal and boll opening or some combination thereof) and timely harvest will usually allow for optimal performance versus a one-size-fits-all approach for all cotton acres within one’s operation. The results from the 2010 and 2011 UGA Cotton Defoliant Evaluation Program (found at is a good resource for these decisions, as well as consulting your local county agent.

Randy Boman

After a good-to-excellent start in May and June, drought took its toll on the 2012 Oklahoma cotton crop. Results from IPM Extension assistant Jerry Goodson’s monitoring of 25 program fields indicate that, as of this writing, all have encountered “hard cutout.” Many irrigated fields had a bloom period of about four weeks. After first bloom, dryland fields crashed rapidly toward hard cutout.

In southwestern Oklahoma, cotton heat units for June were 23 percent above normal, July was 13 percent above normal, and the first three weeks of August were about 16 percent above normal. Although rainfall was fair-to-good in June, the spigot was turned off, and by the end of July, crop stress was evident in most dryland fields and irrigators struggled to keep up with crop demand.

Because of high winds and temperatures, crop evapotranspiration many days this year approached what was observed last year. This indicates that for many locations, yields will be disappointing. Where irrigation water was adequate in terms of quantity and quality, we can expect some good-to-excellent yields. The crop is headed toward an early finish. Although the summer crop situation was somewhat better in 2012, the lingering effects of the 2011 drought still persist in our area.


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