Heat, drought drop yields in Virginia

What looked like a small, but high yielding, high quality cotton crop in Virginia appears to have survived season long periods of hot, dry weather fairly well from a yield standpoint, and micronaire numbers may be better than expected.

The drought, punctuated in southern Virginia by 10-15 day stretches with daytime temperatures remaining at or above 100 degrees F. for several hours per day, appears to have taken a heavier toll on the state's peanut crop.

After several years of declining acreage, Virginia peanut growers were optimistic and acreage was up in 2007. What looked like a bumper crop in mid June, now looks like a very ordinary one from both yield and quality perspectives. The same is true for the state's cotton crop.

As of Oct. 1, about 75 percent of the cotton crop was defoliated, with some producers holding out, knowing they will be digging and combining peanuts for several weeks. Virginia Tech Cotton Specialist Joel Faircloth says, although Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends applying defoliants at 60 percent open, if the cotton cannot be picked within 2-3 weeks after defoliation, it is probably better to delay defoliation.

Faircloth adds this is especially true this year considering the levels of regrowth being observed following defoliation where Dropp is not used. The only risks to delaying unopened bolls is freezing and that will not be a problem this year as most fields are 85-100 percent open.

Though less than 25 percent of the Virginia cotton crop was harvested by Oct. 1, initial reports are that cotton yields are better than expected in many cases, but still not near what they were over the past several years. “We are still estimating 650-700 pounds per acre despite inconsistencies with other estimates. Initial reports from crop consultants in North Carolina indicate growers there have been pleasantly surprised by the yield, though drought definitely took a toll.

“Considering the yields observed in corn and peanuts this year, cotton upholds its reputation of withstanding a drought better than most crops,” Faircloth says

Faircloth says micronaire values have been much lower than expected (discounted) in parts of the Mid-South and Southeast Cotton Belt. This is surprising considering drought typically results in high micronaire cotton. It could be that because these areas of the country experienced an early season drought, the bolls were generally set later in the season.

“In Virginia, we still suspect the late season drought has increased the potential for higher micronaire, although we are not too concerned about discounts from high micronaire at this point.

Cotton micronaire is a measure of fiber thickness, which indirectly gives an indication of fineness and maturity. Cotton fibers originate from seed and will first elongate (measured as fiber length aka staple length), followed by cell wall thickening (measured as micronaire). There are numerous external factors influencing micronaire in addition to genetics and it is difficult to predict.

Mid-August rains in many areas of Virginia and upper North Carolina aroused hopes for a late season boost to peanut crops. The drought that followed has diminished these hopes. In Virginia, Faircloth says estimates of peanut yield are down to 2,000 pounds per acre.

Good moisture and planting conditions allowed most growers in the upper end of the Peanut Belt to get their crop planted and up on time. As of late July, peanuts in the upper end of the North Carolina Belt and up into Virginia were beginning to feel the effects of what has turned out to be an extended drought that has been punctuated by rainfall from two tropical storms.

Despite the drought, most peanuts should be dug and picked before the mid-October first frost date in the area. A recent pod blasting clinic in Isle of Wight County in southeastern Virginia indicateD peanuts were on track for timely harvest.

Faircloth says growers should pay special attention to picking at the optimum time to maximize what is left of their crop. In the Sept. 25th Isle of Wight clinic, samples from 40 fields in Virginia were blasted and examined using a peanut profile board, where peanut placement is determined by mesocarp color and determinations are made based on the arrangement of pods for each sample.

These 40 samples represented 14 producers and 1,457 acres. The varieties sampled included Wilson, Perry, NC-V11, Gregory, Champs, Brantley, and Georgia Green.

Faircloth says the average number of days until optimal digging as predicted by the profile board ranged from 0-17 and averaged six days until optimum picking for the peanuts sampled. With the exception of Georgia Green samples (10 and 17 days to 60 percent maturity), Perry peanuts were the only peanuts that appeared to need greater than 10 days to reach maturity.

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