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Mississippi and Tennessee cotton harvest: A bit behind but off to a good start

dfp-adismukes-cotton-and-spiderweb.JPG Alaina Dismukes
As of the last week of September, most cotton producers in Mississippi and Tennessee were in the beginning stages of harvesting cotton with few acres picked.
Mississippi State University cotton specialist, Brian Pieralisi, and the University of Tennessee Extension cotton specialist, Tyson Raper, discuss the 2020 cotton harvest and how to finish out the harvest season strong amid changing weather.

While a late planting season and recent rainy weather pushed back the cotton harvest, according to Mississippi State University and the University of Tennessee Extension cotton specialists, producers are hard at work to finish out the harvest.

Thanks to dry weather, cotton producers hope to finish out the harvest season by the end of October, given that the weather cooperates.

Mississippi cotton harvest

Due to rainy weather in mid-September, the Mississippi cotton harvest was held back for about a week.

"Farmers were starting to harvest cotton when remnants of tropical storm Beta came through, which slowed us down," said Brian Pieralisi, Mississippi State University assistant professor and Extension cotton specialist.

Many farmers were able to start back picking cotton in the last week of September, Pieralisi said.

"From the few reports I've heard from those who have gotten to pick some cotton, the yields have been fairly good in the Delta part of the state," he said. "From everyone I've talked to, they hope their yields will improve as they progress into the bulk of their cotton acreage. I've heard a couple of reports on the east side of the state where there's a bit of yield drag, but it is nothing too concerning. I would say the biggest concern now is defoliation."

As cooler temperatures come into play, defoliation is more difficult and requires a change in strategy.

"In warmer temperatures, thidiazuron and Prep are often used, but for cooler temperatures, it might be better to switch to more of a herbicide-driven defoliant like Folex and Prep, and then coming back with a PPO on the second shot to clean up everything," Pieralisi said.

During the defoliation process, pay attention to the weather.

"If it warms up some by the time you apply the second shot of a defoliant, you may add thidiazuron back into the equation and dial back the Folex (1:28 or 1:32), which will help with regrowth," he said.

"You will have some juvenile leaves to tend to after the first application, so a second shot is necessary under most circumstances."

With most Mississippi cotton farmers at the beginning stages of harvest at the end of September, it is predicted farmers would start picking cotton in the next two weeks and wrap-up harvest around the end of October, possibly spilling over some into November.

"To start, grades might be a bit off from excessive rain, but clear, dry weather should help the later cotton to have better grades," Pieralisi said.

"If you have time and it is still dry after harvesting cotton, consider what preparation work you might accomplish from a fertility and land management standpoint, which will get you ahead for next planting season.

"This is a good time to build up soil fertility. High-yielding, aggressively growing cotton varieties make hefty withdrawals from the soil fertility bank and require deposits to be made to continue to achieve target yields. A dry stretch this fall would be a great time to address some of these issues to get ready for next year."

Tennessee cotton harvest

Many Tennessee cotton farmers were late planting this spring due to the weather, making the cotton crop around 10 to 14 days behind the state's average plant date.

"It was a big concern for us moving into July," said Tyson Raper, University of Tennessee associate professor and Extension cotton and small grains specialist. "We weren't seeing blooms around July 4. However, through the following three or four weeks in July, retention was generally excellent. We set many first position fruit and second position fruit low on the plant."

Unfortunately, not long after, the weather became dry.

"On average, I would say this crop is probably three nodes shorter than it would be normally," he said. "Some acres may see a 250 to 300 pounds yield reduction from their average yield. With that said, some areas caught a few rain showers, and yield potential for those acres appears to be well above average."

Tennessee cotton farmers were able to get some of their earliest planted cotton defoliated.

"We just started seeing cotton pickers in the fields within the last week of September and the beginning of October," Raper said. "Only a handful of acres have been picked.

"We still have a lot of cotton acres around 30% open boll, and unless we accumulate a few more heat units, we will have some issues opening up all of the crop."

Without warmer temperatures, it will be harder to achieve adequate defoliation.

"It can be a challenge to get leaves to shed and not risk sticking them if you don't have warm temperatures, particularly at night," he said. "If we can stay in the mid-50s, we have plenty of options, but in the mid- to low-40s, defoliating can be a challenge. If temperatures don’t improve, it looks like it's going to be a long month."

It is important to remove all green material from the plant before the cotton is picked. If there is any regrowth, there are some products available to address that, even in very cool conditions.

"Our second shot products targeting regrowth or juvenile growth continue to work well when temperatures begin to fall," Raper said. "Unfortunately, we’ve needed that second shot on most acres to remove juvenile growth.

"Also, keep in mind, there is much to do at once between the corn and soybean harvest as well as defoliating and picking cotton. The weather complicates everything, but we need to do as best we can to open enough acres to keep the picker moving, but don't open everything up at once.

"Make sure to properly time the defoliant in front of the picker. That way, we are not seeing three, four, or five weeks transpire between the first application and the picker."

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