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2014 cotton crop about to come to an abrupt end in Arkansas?

To look at the cotton crop, you might think it was still July or August in parts of Arkansas, according to Bill Robertson, Extension cotton agronomist for the state.

“We still have a lot of horsepower in this crop. You drive by, and there are a lot of really green fields out. But we’re quickly running out of season,” said Robertson, one of the presenters at the Mississippi County Field Day at the Manila, Ark., Airport Tuesday (Sept. 9).

“Our temperatures are going to moderate. We’re going to get some rainfall so we’re still going to have some plants with some vegetative growth horsepower,” he notes. “Because of that, our cracked bolls aren’t going to move up like they normally do. The bolls will be mature.”  

That means growers will need to get out in their fields with a pocket knife to determine when pickable bolls are mature and ready for harvest aid applications,” said Dr. Robertson, who returned to the University of Arkansas Extension Service this year after a nine-year stint as director of the Cotton Physiology Education Program at the National Cotton Council.

Robertson said he normally uses three things as the cotton crop begins to wind down – a measure referred to as nodes above cracked boll or NACB, percent open bolls and a pocket knife.

“My pocket knife is probably the tool I rely on the most,” he said. “The bolls will be mature, but they won’t crack so to time our harvest aid applications we’re going to have to get out there with a knife to get the maturity of the bolls.

“If the boll is extremely mature you can take a knife and cut a cracked boll and see how dark the seed coats are, and you can look at the cotyledons and unfurl them. As you work up the plant and get to the top, if a boll still has jelly, the cotyledons aren’t all fully developed, then you have some time to wait on that. But even closer to the top, if the cotyledons are well-defined, that boll is getting real close.”

Robertson says growers may have to “push” some fields this fall, particularly if the weather begins to turn wetter and colder. Growers can look at nodes above white flower, as Ray Benson, Extension staff chairman for Mississippi County, and Tina Teague, entomologist with Arkansas State University, suggested at the field day, to determine their most mature fields.

“But we’re going to have to get a picker in the field here pretty soon, and to do that we’re probably going to put a defoliation rig in the field, probably on some cotton that may not be more than 30 percent to 40 percent open,” he said. “But the boll maturity is going to be there so we need to get the defoliation rig in the field. After that, defoliation is just staying in front of the picker.”

In 2014, growers have had a cooler than normal spring, a cooler than normal summer, “and I don’t think we can expect to have a longer fall than what we’ve been used to,” says Robertson. “So I have a feeling this year is about to come to an end.”

On top of the cooler conditions for much of the growing season, weather analysts are talking about a more active hurricane season in October and November, a development that might not bode well for cotton producers. For more on the weather outlook, visit

NOTE: Louisiana farmers seeking information cototn defoliation should visit

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