Wrapping Up The Season

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As the 2023 growing season begins to wind down for several growers across Texas, it is now apparent that many similarities in the challenges that growers faced last year in the 2022 growing season were once again experienced this year.

For many parts of the state, rainfall received early in the growing season brought promise of better conditions, but around mid- to late-May, Mother Nature brought us another very hot and very dry summer. In the South, East and Central portions of the state, the majority of dryland fields have been yielding slightly below average to well below average in some cases. In contrast, many irrigated fields with timely and abundant irrigation capabilities have produced some fantastic yields.

As we transition into fall, it’s never too early to begin putting a game plan together for next year’s cotton crop. Fall and winter weed control continues to become increasingly important, especially when combatting herbicide-resistant weed populations. Many of the species with herbicide resistance across the state, including Palmer amaranth and tall waterhemp, can emerge and enter the reproductive life cycle very quickly. Keeping these weed pests from producing additional seed over the fall and winter prior to a killing freeze is a big step in the right direction for starting clean next year. Additionally, soil testing over the fall and winter months can assist in determining the plant nutrient needs going into the next growing season.

One of the biggest decisions to begin considering in the next few months is which varieties to plant in 2024. Evaluating variety testing results can take much of the guesswork out of determining which varieties are performing consistently with yields and fiber quality in your area. In December, the Texas A&M RACE trial results will be published online at varietytesting.tamu.edu, and I encourage all growers to take a look at this year’s results to gather more information on commercial cotton variety performance in their area. bmcknight@tamu.edu


Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this Sept. 27, the North Carolina crop is highly variable, as is normal.  As mentioned in my previous article in the September issue, I stated that August and September would be very telling. That has certainly been the case this year. Due to the late maturity of our crop (during July and early August), we were more reliant than normal on cooperative weather during August, specifically on timely rains.

For most of our cotton production area, August brought extreme heat and dry weather. One or two rains and milder temperatures would’ve likely had a much different outcome, but we can’t control the weather. August’s heat and dry weather rapidly accelerated maturity — to the point that most areas were too early rather than too late. Unfortunately, most cotton ceased blooming altogether with time left on the table to mature more blooms into bolls. 

A few of the southernmost counties and a large portion of the Blacklands received some timely rains in August, and yields will reflect that. For the remaining majority of our acreage, yields will vary depending on soil type even within the same field, rainfall amounts and/or irrigation capabilities. Yields will likely range from 500 pounds to 700 pounds on the lower end and 900 pounds to 1,100 pounds on the upper end, with exceptions outside of that range. Most of what we have is a bottom crop, with little to no top crop in dryland areas impacted by drought. Thankfully, neither the remnants of Idalia, nor Ophelia, took much of our bottom crop from us. 

At this point, defoliation has been underway for a couple of weeks for the earliest acres and will likely be widespread during the first week of October. We are anxiously awaiting sunny conditions to return so that we can hopefully dodge any additional losses due to hardlocking or another tropical event. With cooperative October weather, I would expect most of this crop to be harvested by early to mid-November as maturity is no longer a concern, with the exception of the areas that received rain in August and thus have better yield potential. guy_collins@ncsu.edu

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

It is my favorite time of year but also a hard time of year. We go, go, go all year long to grow a crop, and now it’s time to hurry up and get it out! I was talking to a grower and asked which time of year was more stressful, planting or harvest? They told me harvest by far. This is a busy and stressful time of year, so please be safe and careful out there.

As I write this Oct. 6, some cotton has been harvested and a few gins have started running in Georgia. I haven’t heard any yields from growers quite yet, but we have picked some plots in Tifton. So far, our cotton is picking better than I anticipated. I hope that is the case for everyone! I imagine a lot of this has to do with the fact that our August was not extremely conducive for boll rot/hardlock. So, this year we made a bottom crop and actually may get to harvest it!

As of the day I am writing this, fiber quality looks good. A little extraneous matter, but some of that is likely hold over from last season.

Feels like we are a little behind on harvest this time, but it’s still early. I’ve heard multiple people say the cotton isn’t opening up quite as fast as they’d like, which is slowing down defoliation a little bit.

As of the first week of October, we have a long way to the finish line in Georgia, even though this Specialists Speaking topic is “Wrapping Up The Season.” As things begin to wind down, be on the lookout for county production meeting schedules and such. We are looking forward to getting out on the road again this spring and seeing everyone.

Let’s continue to be timely with harvest, and be safe out there. As always, if you ever need anything, your local UGA county agent and specialists are here to help! Don’t hesitate to reach out. camphand@uga.edu

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

Mississippi cotton harvest is in full swing as I write this article the first week of October 2023. This crop season has produced a wide range of yield variability across the state. Tracking from north to south, cotton yields decline in a linear trend. Most of this decline can be attributed to increased drought conditions and higher temperatures during the months of July and August. Central Mississippi and most of the Delta are picking respectable yields. One thing that’s going for our growers is the weather, which has been dry enough to give adequate time for a successful harvest.

With cooler temperatures on the horizon, it’s a good idea to have defoliants applied to cotton before we get into the cooler weather. Sunny, warm days have expedited maturity and many of the top bolls can be opened with ethephon.

It’s never too early to start picking varieties for next year. MSU variety trials are currently being harvested and preliminary data will be available soon. With the dry fall we are experiencing, it’s a good time to focus on fertility. Best of luck! bkp4@msstate.edu

MISSOURI | Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson, Missouri

Cotton harvest is underway in Missouri. We were able to get a small percentage of the acres out before a cool front with rainfall moved in. There are still a portion of acres needing a second application of defoliant. With cooler overnight temperatures setting in, we will need to switch from hormonal defoliants to herbicidal defoliants to get the remaining leaves off.

I believe cotton yields are going to be above average in the Bootheel. We would have had impressive yields in 2023, but rainfall and cloudy conditions reduced the top portion of the crop in late July and early August. Cotton yields will likely average 1,100 pounds to 1,200 pounds across the Missouri Bootheel in 2023. Future forecasts look to be optimal for cotton harvest with some small chances for rainfall over the next few weeks. brwilson@missouri.edu

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Tennessee is beginning to move deeper into cotton harvest but, as I write this on the fifth of October, only a few gins are running at the moment. The first to harvest have been relatively happy with our crop but noticed slightly lower yields than they initially estimated. Boll retention has been relatively high for most of our acres, but a few people I’ve visited with lately have asked why yields weren’t greater than realized based on boll counts.

Boll numbers are obviously important to us as agronomists — we spend a considerable amount of time attempting to retain as many fruiting positions as possible — but yield is more simply (and likely more appropriately) considered a function of number of seeds per acre times the weight of fiber per seed. If you consider this, Dr. Hal Lewis’ description of cotton yield, instead of boll count, our realized yield begins to seem more understandable. Although seed counts per lock were relatively high in the Tennessee crop for much of the season, seed count per lock in the bolls set last on our crop have been running lower (four to seven instead of seven to nine).

We will know much, much more about the 2023 crop by the time you read this — and I suspect many will continue to be impressed with what I believe may still be the best crop we’ve ever had in the state. For those who aren’t quite seeing the weights you expected from the number of bolls you retained, you might want to turn your attention to seed count per acre. traper@utk.edu

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

On this last day of September, predicting our final state yield average is akin to picking the SEC football champs for 2023. Unfortunately, we know who it is NOT going to be, but which team will emerge as the best of the best remains a guess. The initial USDA estimate for Alabama was 902 pounds per acre; the September number was reduced to 870 pounds per acre.

Early yield reports are discouraging. Yes, we’ve seen some good cotton, but we are not yet calibrated to link “looks” to pounds. Seed counts per lock are closer to six rather than eight or nine. Considerable cotton looks stressed, stunted and sparsely fruited. While true yields are never a beauty contest, an ugly field usually disappoints. We have too much cotton that fits this description.

First reports range from 300 pounds per acre to 1,300 pounds per acre, but most have fallen between 500 pounds and 800 pounds. Our guess is that our final average will fall between 750 pounds per acre and 800 pounds per acre. Maybe — hopefully — we will be surprised. Given the present dry conditions, color grades, at least, should be quite good.

Heat and dry weather punished our crop as it did much of U.S. Cotton Belt. Southwest Alabama averages 50-plus inches of rain a year, with totals up to 60 inches to 80 inches in recent seasons. Many parts of that region experienced 10 weeks with little to no rainfall after mid-July. Tough conditions! It was unusually hot everywhere.

To date, the forecast for a “wetter-than-normal” fall has not materialized. Much of our state is dry and getting drier each week. I recall the late summer and fall of 1994. I thought it would never rain again, but when it did, we rarely had five consecutive days without precipitation until the following May… and we picked cotton into March.

Prevailing dry conditions should result in us picking most everything we set on the plant, as opposed to losing bolls to rot and hardlock. If so, gin numbers could be better than I have suggested. Hope so. cottonbrown@auburn.edu

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