Texas Blacklands: Cotton Defoliation Full Steam Ahead, Corn Harvest Wrapping Up

    Defoliation of cotton with highboy ground rig. ©Debra L Ferguson

    Corn harvest operations are wrapping up for most producers across the area, with yield reports all over the board. Eastern portions of the area that were gracious enough to catch some timely rains had better yields than fields on the western side of the county. In fact I-35 seems to be the dividing line from decent corn to poor corn with corn yields depleting quickly the further west you move of Interstate.

    Area cotton has progressed rapidly over the last two months thanks to the high temperatures and drought stress and harvest preparations started this week. Cotton defoliation will be full steam ahead starting next week, but thanks to an extended forecast with no favorable chances for rainfall there is no need to rush to get the cotton defoliated.

    Thankfully, the drought stressed plants paired with the warm and dry weather pattern will likely make cotton defoliation easier than last year.

    Reaching cotton defoliation timing is a big milestone for any growing season, but this one is a little more welcoming as it is a sign that this rough growing season is finally winding down, but thanks to the negative effects of the drought and hot weather potential yields are not bringing much excitement with getting the crop ready for cotton harvest.

    Timing cotton defoliation is important to maximize both yield and fiber quality during a normal year, but since most of the fruit on the plants were set in a short window defoliation timing is not as difficult as if we had favorable growing conditions leading to an extended bloom period.

    Additionally, defoliation timing also weighs in the potential adverse weather like rain and heavy dew that can deplete cotton fiber quality, but the current weather forecast does not look like we will have issues this year with rain or heavy dew reducing fiber quality and causing sprouting in the burr.

    Harvest aid programs this year will vary between fields based on the predicted yields for the field, and the amount of money left in the budget. Some discussions have already began on how to get this cotton crop ready for harvest and some producers are looking at trying to get away with a single application.

    If fields are going to be harvested with pickers, or are not likely to produce over 250 lbs lint/acre I could see where this makes since. However, for fields that are expected to make over 250 lbs lint/acre I highly recommend using a two shot harvest aid program where you try to defoliate as much of the canopy as possible prior to killing the crop, because of the potential loss in profit by an increase in leaf grade.

    The base loan value for the 2022 cotton crop is based on the fiber quality being a 41 color, 34 staple, and having a leaf grade of 4, and it $0.52 per pound. If we keep the same color grade and staple length, but increase the leaf grade to a 7 which is highly likely if you try and one shot cotton that is going to be stripped the loan value drops by over $0.05/lbs.

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    Hypothetically, if a fields yields 300 lbs lint/acre the $0.05/lbs reduction equates to roughly $15/acre. There are two shot harvest aid programs that will cost $15 or less.

    Cotton defoliation can be tricky at times especially if the crop is healthy and still actively growing which is not the case for the crop this year. Thankfully, this year our area cotton crop is already shutting down and starting to defoliate naturally, and with our hot and dry weather pattern cotton defoliation should not be too complicated this year.

    Likely the hardest harvest aid decision to be made this year is selecting a harvest aid program that is most economical for the fields potential yield.

    We did apply a few cotton defoliation treatment to cotton last week on 26 July outside of Abbott. At 8 days after application most of the treatments are working really well, especially program like 1 oz Ginstar plus 2 oz of TDZ(thiadiazoron) with 10 oz Finish 6 and a Non-Ionic Surfactant at 1 pint/100 gallons, and 2 oz Ginstar plus 10 oz Finish 6 with a Non-Ionic Surfactant at 1 pint/100 gallons.

    I personally like the application of 2 oz of Ginstar plus 10 oz Finish 6 with a NIS at 1 pint/100 gallons. Historically, surfactants were not commonly added to the tank during cotton defoliation, but over the last couple of years I have seen that including a NIS to the defoliation mixture helps with breaking the surface tension of the cotton leaf and helping the defoliation chemical getting into the plant.

    Surfactants like Crop Oil Concentrates and Methylated Seed Oils should not be included as these oil based products can burn the leaves and reduce the efficacy of the defoliation chemicals. Non-Ionic surfactants can also burn leaves and reduce the ability of the defoliation application to defoliate the crop, and to avoid the potential leaf burn I recommend using a NIS at half the normal rate which would be 12.5% v/v which is a rate of 1 pint/100 gallons.

    This rate will be able to reduce the surface tension of the cotton leaves and allow the chemicals to be absorbed into the leaves. Another issue that needs to be addressed at application timing is spray coverage and application volume.

    It is recommended to use tips that provide small droplet and apply at rates that will allow for adequate coverage of the canopy even down to the lower canopy. Applications should be made at rates of at least 10 gallons per acre, with 12-15 gallons being recommended to increase coverage.

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