Yield and price guide decision...: Know economics of defoliation cotton

The persistently hot, dry weather conditions experienced across much of the Mid-South this summer have many prognosticators forecasting, at best, an average-yielding cotton crop. And with cotton prices hovering around 66 cents per pound, many growers may need to hold the line on defoliation expenses this year.

"Before you defoliate your cotton crop, you must first know how much you are willing to spend based on the value of your crop. Unfortunately, because we are only looking at an average crop, I wouldn't be willing to spend much," Ralph Bagwell told growers attending an Aug. 15 cotton fiber quality seminar in Rayville, La.

Bagwell, associate specialist of cotton pest management at the LSU AgCenter's Scott Center in Winnsboro, La., is recommending that cotton growers stay with the tried-and-true defoliation methods they have used previously. "If you have a defoliation recipe that has worked well for you in the past, then it will probably work well for you this year," he says.

In addition to past experience, Bagwell says other variables that need to be factored into a grower's defoliation plan are soil moisture and the weather forecast for the upcoming seven to 10 days.

Because inclement weather is not always predictable, successful defoliation timing is often based on the condition and maturity of your crop combined with your harvest plans. Do you want boll opening or regrowth inhibition? What do you need in the way of a harvest aid to get the job done?

"It's more of an art than a science and there are different methods of timing a defoliation application," Bagwell says. The four timing methods most commonly used include percent open boll, boll slicing, nodes above cracked boll, and nodes above white flower combined with heat units.

"None of these options work every time," Bagwell says. "The more of these you can use, the better your chances of making the right call."

No matter which defoliation timing method you choose, researchers in Mississippi and Louisiana recommend first determining, by walking your fields, that you have at least 50 to 60 percent open bolls. Defoliating before a field has at least 50 percent of harvestable bolls open may result in both a loss of yield and fiber quality.

For the commonly used nodes above cracked boll method, find your uppermost first position boll that is cracked or open. Count it as cracked if you see any white lint. Then, count up four nodes above that and everything from there down is considered relatively safe to defoliate.

Another way to determine when a cotton crop can be safely defoliated is to keep track of the accumulated heat units, also known as DD60s, after the crop has reached the cut-out stage. In Louisiana, Bagwell says, it's time for defoliation when terminal growth on the plant has declined to the point that there are only five nodes above the first position white flower and 1,050 heat units have accumulated.

"Recognize that boll development is driven by temperature. It takes 850 heat units for a boll to reach maturity," Bagwell says. "If you are waiting for some bolls near the top of the plant to mature and the high temperature forecasted for the day is 85 degrees, then it's going to take a long time for that to happen."

If you are in doubt of a field's readiness for defoliation, Bagwell suggests slicing open a few cotton bolls. "Slice the boll you think you'll actually be harvesting," he says. Normally, if the fiber strings out, the seed has a dark brown or black ring around it with no jelly and well defined leaf folds within the seed, then it is safe to defoliate.

If, when you cut through the boll and look at the center of the seed, it's still gelatinous, that boll has five weeks or more before it reaches maturity. If the seed coat is beginning to turn brown, you probably have 10 to 14 days until maturity, he says.

"If you can't actually slice the bolls without putting them on a hard surface, and the seed coat is turning black, then that boll has reached maturity," Bagwell says.

There's more to our High Cotton Award than simply honoring top growers. By identifying the very best producers, we can share their successful methods with others.

And that's where you can help...by nominating someone you know who is qualified for this award.

Farm Press, publishers of Southeast Farm Press, Delta Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press, and Western Farm Press, in cooperation with the Cotton Foundation, is sponsoring the High Cotton award program.

Our 2000 winners were honored at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences earlier this year at San Antonio, Texas.

The objective of the program is to promote technology that has been developed by researchers, Extension, consultants, industry, and growers to help American cotton farmers produce more profitable, higher quality crops - while demonstrating a concern for the environment.

One part of the program is to identify and recognize those growers, and to share their successful methods with others.

That's where you come in. Tell us who you think would qualify for a High Cotton award, based on these important criteria:

The nominee must be a full-time grower, in one of the four cotton belt regions (Southeast, Mid-South, Southwest, Far West) who achieves a profitable return from growing cotton.

The nominee must produce cotton that is of consistently high quality.

The nominee must use environmentally sound production methods.

Here's how you can nominate a grower for the 2001 High Cotton award:

Any cotton grower, agribusiness representative (equipment, fertilizer, feed/seed dealer, distributor, etc.), Extension agent, farm advisor, consultant, university researcher, or others involved in production agriculture or agribusiness, may submit a nomination.

The deadline for submitting nominations is September 11, 2000.

Judging will begin in September and in November, High Cotton finalists will be chosen for each of the four cotton growing regions.

The winner from each region will receive an expense-paid trip for two to the 2001 Beltwide Cotton Conferences at Anaheim, California, where the awards will be presented.

We're counting on you to help us find those very special growers who deserve High Cotton recognition by nominating someone you feel is qualified.

Nomination forms and additional information may be obtained from:

Sandy Perry High Cotton Coordinator Farm Press P.O. Box 1420 Clarksdale, MS 38614 Phone 662/627-0150

Write or phone for a nomination form today!

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