Delta cotton harvest underway

Delta cotton harvest underway

The 2010 Delta cotton crop is moving quickly toward the finish line, according to state Extension specialists. If the weather holds up, this could be one of the earliest cotton harvests the region has seen in a while. This is one of a series of reports by Farm Press editors about the outlook for cotton and other row crops as the harvest approaches or is completed.

In early September, cotton picking was under way in the southern Delta, and cotton elsewhere was quickly moving toward the finish line, according to state Extension specialists. If the weather holds up, this could be one of the earliest cotton harvests the region has seen in a while.


Louisiana cotton producers were 8 percent to 12 percent into harvest of their 2010 cotton crop by the end of August, according to state Extension cotton specialist John Kruse.

“The one thing that may set us apart from others is that we’ve had to work with two crops all season. We had an early-planted crop and a late-planted crop. So we have some green fields out there that have a ways to go. We’re completely out of corn right now and those remaining stands of cotton are getting more and more insect pressure.”

One problem with the late-planted crop was that dry early conditions caused producers to back off growth regulator applications. “Then we got into these patterns of afternoon showers, and it’s been difficult keeping up. We have some crop that matured hip high and other areas where you can be in the field and not see the man next to you.”

Kruse says early indications are for an average yield in the state. “Considering the last two years, if growers can get out of the field what they have in the field right now, they’re going to be happy.”

Rains have impacted the early harvest and affected quality somewhat, Kruse said. If the weather holds out, “the early crop will be picked and out of here early, maybe over the next three to four weeks. The late-planted crop will probably continue into October.”

Kruse says the late-planted crop “has built heat units really fast. I think it did some catching up.”


As of Sept. 1, cotton production in Mississippi “was quickly headed toward the finish line,” said Mississippi Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds. “I just hope the rain stays away. I’ve heard there is a lot of warm water in the Gulf, and there is some concern about hurricane activity. It will do a lot more harm than good.”

Some producers in Mississippi started defoliating cotton about two weeks ago, according to Dodds, who says most of the crop is three weeks ahead of normal. “Over the next two weeks, we’re probably going to get into a lot more defoliating. There are some pickers running, but I haven’t heard any yields yet.”

Dodds says the crop “is not quite the crop we had last year prior to harvest, but I think we have an above average crop.”

Extremely hot weather during June, July and August not only pushed maturity but also irrigation costs, according to Dodds. “We’re probably looking at about the same number of sprays for plant bugs that we averaged last year. Angus Catchot (Mississippi Extension entomologist) told me that producers have likely made a record number of spider mite applications. Overall production costs are probably a little above average.”


Cotton harvest “is moving along quickly,” said Tom Barber, Extension cotton specialist for Arkansas. “We’ve put a lot of defoliant out, and last week (the week of Aug. 22), we started picking non-irrigated acres and irrigated acres in the south part of the state. It’s going faster than I’ve ever seen. We could easily be done by the first of October, if the weather cooperates.”

The state’s cotton crop accumulated heat units at an astounding pace this summer, noted Barber. “We are way ahead of schedule. We had accumulated more heat units by sometime in July than we did all of last year.”

High micronaire can be a problem when weather is hot and dry, and Barber urges producers to watch closely for the problem, especially for two popular cotton varieties in the state, DP 0912 B2RF and ST 5458 B2RF. “We always want to cut some fruit in the top, but when we get to 40 percent to 50 percent open, think about defoliating. If we leave them out in the field to 70 percent or more, the chances of high mike in those two varieties are very high.”

Barber says the state’s cotton crop is probably an above-average yielding crop, but it’s come at a cost due to heavy irrigation, plant bug and spider mite sprays and oversprays for bollworm. “We need a good yield and a good price.”

Southeast Missouri/West Tennessee

Defoliation is under way in the northernmost region of the Delta, according to Mike Milam, cotton agronomy specialist for Dunklin and Pemiscot counties in the Missouri Bootheel.

The crop is at least two weeks ahead of pace, Milam says. “We normally need 2,150 to 2,300 DD-60s by Sept. 21. We reached that level 10 days ago (mid-August). It’s cooled off a little bit, but I have never seen this much cotton defoliated this time of the year.”

Yields in irrigated cotton could approach or exceed 3 bales per acre for some growers, but dryland cotton “is suffering.” USDA is projecting an average yield of 983 pounds for the region.

Production costs, especially for weed control, are definitely higher, according to Milam. “They’re fighting Palmer amaranth like crazy with hoe crews. We also had some center pivots that were turned on in May and weren’t turned off until last week.”

West Tennessee

Chris Main, Extension cotton specialist for Tennessee, says the state’s crop is rapidly moving toward defoliation. “In fact, there’s probably some cotton that should have been defoliated, but producers are hesitant to pull the trigger when the calendar is still in August.”

The Tennessee cotton crop was set in about 21 days this season, noted Main. “We had really good retention early on in early July to mid-July. Once temperatures got into the 100s, we lost a lot of the top crop. By the time it cooled back down, we had enough big bolls to hold it back. So we’re going to have a real early crop this year.”

Main said the crop is at least two weeks ahead of normal and perhaps as much as a month ahead of last year. “Last year, we didn’t defoliate or pick a lot of cotton until the second week of October.”

The Tennessee crop is probably going to cost a little more than the average crop mostly due to resistant weeds, Main says. “If producers weren’t fighting glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed, they were at least planning on fighting them. We put more money in the herbicide category this year. The number of plant bug sprays has been a little above average, and we’ve been overspraying a lot of our WideStrike cotton for bollworms. We’re about 62 percent WideStrike cotton varieties this year.” 

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