cotton weather harvest Alabama split crop

AUBURN UNIVERSITY EXTENSION Agronomist William Birdsong describes the difference between cotton planted early and planted late during the recent Field Crops Field Day at the Wiregrass Extension and Research Center in Headland, Ala.

Is it time to shut down southeast Alabama's cotton crop?

Cotton produers in southeast Alabama have two distinct crops this year — one planted early and one planted late. Excessive rainfall has created a challenging situation for growers in the region. Management strategies in the next few days will go a long way in determining final yields.

Cotton producers in southeast Alabama are in many cases looking at a split crop this year, and how they manage it in the next few days could determine final yields, says William Birdsong, Extension agronomist for the region.

“In many cases, we’ve run out of time, but that’s just the kind of season we’ve had,” said Birdsong at the recent Field Crops Field Day at the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center in Headland, Ala.

Some of the region’s cotton crop was planted in early April while the other was planted later, he says.

“We have what was planted in early April, and it’s loaded up and looks pretty good, and the other was planted in dry soil in early June. We had to wait for a rainfall to get it up because it was planted behind small grains,” says Birdsong, who adds that it has been a challenging growing season, and the wettest he has seen in his career.

Older cotton, he says, has a larger root system and has withstood some of the issues that have affected younger cotton.

“We’ve had a lot of moisture and a lot of saturation. Soil is ideally made up of about 50 percent mineral matter, 25 percent oxygen, and 25 percent water. This season, that 25 percent oxygen has been converted to water. For many growers this year, a lack of oxygen will be the limiting factor in their production,” says Birdsong.

Growers need to be keenly aware of the stage of their cotton plants’ development, he says. “With some of the older, early-planted cotton, we’ve got mature bolls, and we’re pretty much at the stage now to where we can hit it with a heavy rate of growth regulator, put on another stink bug treatment, and we’re done. We shouldn’t ignore it, but after we do those things, we’re basically done with that crop.”

In some cases, says Birdsong, the later planted cotton is done too, but it looks much different than the earlier planted crop.

While it has been said that growers in the region can get a harvestable boll out of a Labor Day bloom, this year is different, he cautions.

“We’ve had some of the coolest July and August temperatures on record, and we haven’t accumulated as many growing degree days as in a normal year. This lack of growing degree days has amplified the other problems of late emergence, water-saturated soils, and the plants not growing off as they should have.”

In a normal fall, growers probably could take a bloom out to Sept. 14 or even Sept. 20, and make a harvestable boll, says Birdsong.

“Our historical freeze date is Nov. 20, so if you back up 60 days from there, that’ll put you at about Sept. 20. From the time of bloom until mature boll size is about 25 to 30 days. Then, from mature boll size to mature boll, you’re looking at another 25 to 30 days. From the middle of September until a square is initiated on that plant is about six weeks.

“I’m not saying that tomorrow or the first of next week you need to apply growth regulator to all of this cotton, because strange things can happen with Mother Nature. But going by the law of averages, we’re running out of time on the later planted cotton.”

Birdsong says he’d advise shutting down early planted cotton. “On the late-planted cotton, you might wait another seven to 10 days and then go ahead and shut it down too. Let’s take these young bolls and try to mature out what we can of it, because the law of averages tells us that we won’t make it. In many cases, we’ve run out of time, and that’s just the kind of season we’ve had. We’re looking at about half the yield potential on the late-planted cotton as on the early planted crop. It has been a very different season, with a split crop.”

Growers need to keep in mind that it’s the end of August, he says. “It may feel like the end of July, and it may look like the end of July, but we’re not there. Some of the old-timers are saying it’ll be an early freeze or an early frost — I don’t know for sure if it is, but I hope it’s not.”

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