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Cotton may require two passes with sprayer to take the leaves off in 2014

Mid-South cotton farmers will be looking to harvest every boll they can now that New York cotton futures have settled into the mid-60-cent range after nearly two years of significantly higher prices for their crops.

But growers need to be realistic about which bolls they can actually count on going into the basket or module-builder when harvest is complete, says Tyson Raper, Extension cotton and small grains specialist with the University of Tennessee.

“Let’s be practical – we’re not going to harvest everything that’s out there this year,” Raper told growers and industry representatives attending the 2014 Cotton Tour at the West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson. “We need to set a reasonable goal, and we need to pursue it. Don’t wait on phantom bolls.”

Dr. Raper advised growers to try to time defoliation treatments when the weather is warm and dry, if possible, rather than waiting into October when temperatures and moisture conditions are likely to be less favorable.

No matter which method they use – nodes above cracked boll, percent open – to time defoliation treatments, growers and consultants need to be in the field slicing bolls to determine the relative maturity of their crop, he said.

Given the lateness of this year’s crop, he would definitely be considering a two-shot or two-pass approach for defoliating this year’s crop. “We probably aren’t going to get satisfactory results with a quick, one-shot treatment,” he said in a video interview with Farm Press editors following the tour.

Split application

“I’d rather split that application,” he noted. “I think we’re definitely going to have to start watching temperature and set a reasonable goal on that uppermost harvestable boll. If we haven’t made the decision to defoliate in the first week in October in West Tennessee, it’s definitely going to be time to pull the trigger.”

Raper said he would “love to see a warm October,” but acknowledged the odds of that happening are low.

“We think we should go ahead and defoliate in optimum conditions, get those leaves off, get the bolls open and hopefully avoid any discounts that we might find if we didn’t get those defoliation treatments in a timely manner.”

This was the first Cotton Tour for Raper, who joined the University of Tennessee as Extension cotton specialist back in June after receiving his master of science degree at Mississippi State University and his Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas.

During his comments to growers, Raper pointed out what some of his professors referred to as his “toys,” moisture and nitrogen sensing equipment that could help growers pinpoint applications of water and nutrients to the crop.

Most of Raper’s graduate research focused on the remote detection of nitrogen and potassium fertility and site-drought characterization/irrigation scheduling using canopy temperature and soil moisture measurements.

Lower prices

Attendance was down slightly from last year’s Cotton Tour when the prospects for higher cotton and lower corn prices seemed to indicate cotton might make a comeback in the Mid-South states. Cotton acres rose last spring, but timely rainfall in Texas improved the crop prospects there and prices began to decline.

Raper said he believes cotton definitely has a place in U.S. agriculture and will for the future,” he noted. “I know we’re down on price for the moment, but I think we’ll see some of that play out over the next couple of years. I hope acreage will move up a little and hold steady next year. I look forward to seeing some of the estimates for next year.

“When we compare cotton prices with some of our other crops, I think cotton is fairly competitive.” For more about Raper, visit


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