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Weather’s Influence On 2020 Harvest

Bob Hutmacher

Bob Hutmacher
California

With limited irrigation water in many areas and some difficult early and midseason problems with lygus in parts of the San Joaquin Valley, we have a wide range of yields across fields this year. Under limited water situations and generally warm, dry weather this fall, many growers are seeing good to very good performance of harvest aid chemicals. Preparations for harvest have been easier than in many years.

We also have observed more fields that experienced what again appears to be potassium deficiency late season particularly in the northern cotton area of the SJV. In many cases, the foliar breakdown that accompanies this problem makes defoliation easier. On the downside, it can reduce filling out the top crop of later-developing bolls.

Unfortunately, several of the Pima cotton fields that were able to receive higher amounts of irrigation water also experienced some early to midseason pest-related fruit losses or high temperature-related fruit losses in August. These larger plants will likely require more harvest aid chemicals and time to properly desiccate and defoliate.

As of mid-October, harvests are underway in parts of the SJV, with growers experiencing moderately decent yields in some early harvested fields. Going forward, growers will be working through yield results and evaluating variety performance in advance of making their 2021 field selection strategies and planting plans. Hopefully, many growers will find places for cotton in the mix.

With that in mind, approaches to consider include:

• Putting cotton into some of your weaker ground or areas with salinity issues, where cotton yield and profit potential might be more moderate. In these places, cotton might perform better than other crop choices, such as vegetables or forage/silage crops.

• Planting cotton mostly in your stronger ground where you have a history of attaining high yields and better profit potential, but with more inputs. While we may have great winter rain in the valley and snow in the mountains, it is likely there will continue to be competition and rising costs for irrigation water. Crops like cotton that can take some “stress” or use poorer quality water may have a place in your crop rotations.

Of course, an improved price for our consistently high-quality SJV cotton is what is really needed in addition to your good management efforts. rbhutmacher@ucdavis.edu

Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Arizona

The 2020 cotton season will no doubt be remembered as one of the longest, hottest and driest in recent years. The 2019 season, which was nearly the opposite in terms of temperature, provides an interesting comparison of two extremes.

Spring 2020 provided favorable weather for planting, and the crop generally got off to a good start. Early season fruit set began strong and, for the most part, held in all regions of the state. In early July, the heat began to intensify with several days of level two (L2) heat stress in the low desert.

At the University of Arizona Maricopa Agricultural Center from July 1 through Sept. 15, the crop experienced level one (L1) heat stress where canopy temperatures exceeded 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit more than 80% of the time.

We know that L1 heat stress does not typically result in significant impacts on crop development and fruit retention. However, during that same period (early July through mid-September), nearly 50% of those days experienced L2 heat stress where crop canopy temperatures exceeded 86 F.

During this time when we were closely monitoring flower development and fruit retention, we observed significant losses in fruit load particularly during late July and early August. This coincides with peak bloom with a mid- to late-April planting date.

Not every cotton variety possesses the same level of heat tolerance, so it will be interesting to evaluate the performance of different varieties in trials we have across the state this year.

Some early yield results from the western part of the state have been encouraging. Very early Central Arizona yield results at the time of this writing have proven to be significantly better than 2019. As we move further into the harvest season, we will be able to determine the effects of the long, hot, dry summer.

The results of our statewide variety testing will be available and a topic of discussion in Extension meetings across Arizona in early 2021. rnorton@cals.arizona.edu

ben mcknight

Ben McKnight
Texas A&M

Cotton from South Texas continues to class very good, and growers have wrapped up harvest in the Coastal Bend and the Upper Gulf Coast. Early planted cotton in the Upper Gulf Coast yielded very well. Several growers harvested 1,400 to 1,600 pounds per acre. Later-planted cotton in this region yielded less with reports of 1,200 pounds.

As of Oct. 14, harvest was mostly complete in the Blacklands. Fiber quality took a big hit in areas of the central and northern Blacklands after receiving untimely rainfall prior to and during harvest. Some fields harvested prior to the rain reported good quality. Average yield reports for this region are in the 1,000- to 1,200-pound range. Harvest is still underway in Northeast Texas, and yields have been reported in the 1.5- to 2-bale range.

Dr. Emi Kimura, Extension agronomist in Vernon, says that defoliation of the irrigated cotton acres in the Rolling Plains is in full swing, although some growers are still waiting to catch the last few heat units of the season. Typically, growers in this region will begin harvesting their dryland acres around mid-November. Kimura indicated that more heat units in September would have helped finish the cotton crop in the Rolling Plains.

The 32nd Annual Texas Plant Protection Association Conference is going virtual this year and will be held Dec. 8-10. Information for the conference can be found at www.texasplantprotection.com. The 2020 variety trial results for South and East Texas will also be available soon at http://cotton.tamu.edu/. bmcknight@tamu.edu

Murilo Maeda

Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

As I write this mid-October, harvest has indeed started in the Texas High Plains, although at a slow pace. Field activity should start ramping up by the time this issue reaches you. Since our first strong cold front in early September, much of the region has been blessed with open, warm weather, although much like the summer, mostly dry conditions have prevailed.

On the harvest aid side, we all know it is not quite an exact science. The best combinations usually vary some depending on the year and overall field condition. Whether because of a “conditioning” cold treatment or just good environmental conditions overall, most harvest aid programs seem to be working well so far this season.

The middle of October usually marks the transition to some cooler temperatures and rapidly diminishing heat unit accumulation for us. The northern Panhandle is forecasted to see its first freeze by the end of the month, consistent with what we expect. As of this writing, however, it looks like the Lubbock region pointing to the south may not see its first freeze until sometime in November.

As harvest picks up, so does the movement of strippers, module builders, module trucks and heavy machinery in/out of fields and on roads. As you start working those long hours to bring the crop in, please remember to be safe out there. mmaeda@ag.tamu.edu

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma

Seth Byrd,
Oklahoma

Cotton harvest started on some dryland acres in Oklahoma in late September. As of mid-October, harvest activity has picked up, but expectations are that a large proportion of the crop will be harvested during the second half of October and early November.

Weather up to this point has been favorable, with predominately warm and sunny conditions. We’ve had very few days in which harvest was impeded due to humidity. These conditions allowed producers to space out harvest aid applications, keeping harvest schedules in mind to avoid a rush to spray or harvest.

Regrowth has been the primary issue affecting most acres, particularly basal or juvenile regrowth. On average, most of the cotton has been running about two weeks ahead of schedule compared to previous years. This has resulted in more favorable temperatures for regrowth after the first pass of harvest aids was applied. This type of regowth is usually more difficult to control or kill than terminal regrowth, which occurs at the top of the plant.

Basal regrowth occurs on the mainstem at the bottom to middle portions of the plant, making it difficult to achieve adequate coverage of the new vegetation. It is often more concerning for stripper-harvested cotton as the stripper rolls come into close proximity or actually clip the mainstem. While it is difficult to remove the young vegetation in basal regrowth, proper desiccation of these leaves is ideal prior to harvest to prevent lint staining that can result in fiber quality issues.

There is still a lot of optimism surrounding the 2020 cotton crop in Oklahoma. As harvest starts, it appears much of the dryland acres weathered the harsh August conditions better than many expected. The irrigated crop has been impressive all year, although there have been struggles with achieving optimal boll opening in some areas.

Overall, expectations are high for this year’s crop. A month from now, we should know how excited we will be. Hope everybody has a safe and productive harvest. seth.byrd@okstate.edu

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas

Bill Robertson,
Arkansas

This season’s challenges continue to arrive. Cotton harvest as projected by the National Agricultural Statistics Service was 30% complete going into the second week of October.

Harvest progress is a little better than half of what it should be at this time. We have lost almost two weeks of harvest days due to rain and wet conditions so far.

The most current NASS yield projection based on conditions as of Oct. 1 estimated an average 1,200 pounds per harvested acre on 520,000 harvested acres. Most producers are finding that yields are less than expected.

For many, fields that appear to be in the 1,400-pound range end up being more like 1,250 pounds of lint per acre when wrapped into a module. This means it may be a challenge to obtain the current yield estimate.

arkansas cotton harvest

“Pickers were rolling in this field of DP 2012 B3XF near Marianna, Arkansas, trying to get out in front of the rain expected from Hurricane Delta,” says Arkansas cotton specialist Bill Robertson. “There were actually four pickers out there, but I could only capture three in this photo” — Photo by Bill Robertson

The lack of well-developed bolls in the upper portion of the plant that we have seen the past few years are just not there in 2020. Our more average September and October temperatures are the driving factor in our less-than-expected yields.

There are still a great number of challenges we must be prepared to address as this crop season comes to an end. We all look forward to seeing how it wraps up.

Most are well into planning for 2021. Soil samples for fertility as well as nematodes will be pulled in great numbers after harvest and stalk destruction is complete. Get cover crops on your radar if they are not part of your current plan. Look to the University of Arkansas Variety Testing webpage at https://arkansas-variety-testing.uark.edu/ for variety testing results from counties and the Official Variety Trials.

The Arkansas Crop Management Conference and county production meetings we normally have in January and February will be conducted virtually in 2021 to accommodate all attendees amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Remember, your county Extension agent still is just a phone call, text or email away. Contact your county Extension agent for details on meetings and other questions you may have. brobertson@uaex.edu

Tyson Raper, Tennessee

Tyson Raper,
Tennessee

As I write this Oct. 19, most farmers are just now really beginning to “roll.” As we expected, yields are off compared to the past couple of years; it appears the dry spell that hit us at the end of the effective flowering window took a toll. Still, I suspect the state may average just shy of 1,000 pounds per acre.

Rain moved across the area yesterday, Oct. 18. But the wind has been blowing this morning, and I suspect pickers may be moving again by later this afternoon. We still have a considerable acreage of late cotton with a good number of bolls in the top yet to open. Our current forecast is warmer than the first few weeks of October. Hopefully, these temperatures and a little sunshine will allow the upper bolls to open before the picker arrives.

We have begun discussions with our agents concerning the 2020-21 meeting season and have no hard plans at the moment. Some counties will likely hold in-person gatherings while others may hold virtual events. We will update our blog with meeting times and locations as soon as things solidify. traper@utk.edu

Mississippi brian pieralisi

Brian Pieralisi
Mississippi

Harvest season has presented several challenges for Mississippi cotton producers. Tropical rains have been a source of both worry and grief as growers forge ahead to the end of harvest. Hurricane Delta inflicted the most damage to the cotton crop with impacts varying across the state.

Areas along the Mississippi River received the greatest amount of rainfall and wind, with rainfall amounts reaching more than 6 inches in some places. Most of the cotton growers west of Highway 61 received 4-plus inches and can expect yield reductions of about 200 pounds. I have spoken to a few farmers in central Mississippi who fared a little better, receiving less than 3 inches of rain with very little wind, and expected yield losses less than or equal to 100 pounds.

Progress is highly variable across the state, with some farmers wrapping harvest up Oct. 12-16 and others with quite a lot of cotton remaining in the fields. Regardless, we need a long stretch of dry, sunny weather to bring this harvest season to a close. Sunny weather with a dry breeze will benefit harvest efficiency and grades.

Prior to Hurricane Delta, exceptional grades were reported; consequently, a slight reduction in weight and grade should be expected as harvest resumes.

Mississippi cotton yields have been near average or slightly above average for most of the state. Some areas in the Delta reported exceptional yields prior to Hurricane Delta. The eastern portion of the state reported slightly below-average yield, most likely influenced by excessive rainfall early in the growing season, which was anticipated by many of these cotton producers.

Central Mississippi produced great cotton on their best ground and moderate cotton on its mediocre soils. One grower informed me that his yields were driven primarily by soil type and not irrigation.

Major rain storms and cool temperatures have definitely complicated the 2020 cotton harvest for Mississippi farmers.

However, all of the growers I have spoken to remain optimistic and look forward to a dry period through the month of October to finish picking their crop. bkp4@msstate.edu

STEVE BROWN, alabama

Steve Brown
Alabama

Unwanted visitors. We hate to see them come. We’re glad to see them go. Laura, Sally and Delta have been terrible, uninvited guests. While Laura touched the northern most part of Alabama with limited rainfall and wind, Sally affected at least half the state. She was by far the worst offender.

In contrast to what often occurs in the wake of a hurricane or tropical storm — bright, blue skies and breezy, almost picture-perfect conditions — Sally was reluctant to leave. For 10-plus days following the storm’s entrance through the Gulf Coast, significant portions of Alabama cotton experienced overcast weather and intermittent showers. When conditions improved and we returned to the fields, then came the rains of Delta.

There have been a few bright spots in Alabama this fall, but not many. For the most part, we’ve seen miserable harvest conditions in months that are normally our driest. Rainfall has delayed defoliation and picking. We have a lot of ugly fields. Maybe sustained sunshine will bring surprising improvements to what was once a pretty good crop.
When 2020 becomes hindsight, most of us will be glad. cottonbrown@auburn.edu

David Wright, Florida

David Wright,
Florida

The beginning of harvest season started with Hurricane Sally. Heavy rains caused harvest delays for many acres of cotton and peanuts. Growers are two to three weeks behind schedule with quality and yield of both crops declining. Other continuing storms are pushing harvest later, threatening a potentially good quality and yielding crop.

Many cotton fields were just opening when the first storm hit with hard lock showing up as well as sprouted seed. High soil moisture from following storm systems has made harvest difficult. Many fields are past peak timing for best yield and quality. Good weather is needed for several weeks as days become shorter and cooler.

As crop harvest is finishing, many growers will plant cover crops for grazing or high residue covers. Plant cover crops as early as possible to maximize crop biomass or forage for grazing. Growers are resilient and have dealt with weather issues every year.

They develop backup plans that make their system work even with adverse weather. This will be a year that all will remember for many reasons. wright@ufl.edu