Alabama Cotton: Extension More Optimistic Than USDA on Final Yields

    Photo: Alabama Cooperative Extension

    The first crops yield report from USDA was released August 12. The Federal agency predicted Alabama cotton to average 851 lb/A from a harvested area of 420,000 acres. While there are areas decimated by dry weather and some by excessively wet conditions, we are more optimistic than the USDA estimate, thinking our final yields may be 950 lb/A or better.

    In places the crop is quite good, but in the words of a producer I spoke with last week, “We have a strong crop, but given what has happened in recent years, we’re a little gun shy. We need – I hate to say it – the rain to stop or at least slow down.”

    Certainly, much of the late-April, early-May planted crop would benefit from drying trends in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, boll rot is already appearing in some fields. We continue to think this crop will be EARLY. Older cotton is maturing rapidly.

    What Can We Do with a Split Crop?

    Dealing with a significant fruiting gap is always a challenge. Do we take what bolls are already there, or do we wait on a late-developing, late maturing top crop?

    Based on long-observations and weather norms, most growers should expect to harvest a boll from a bloom that appears by the first week or so of September. Let’s assume that date is September 10. As we move to the north, we might trim a week or so from that, and in the southern most areas, maybe add a couple of days.

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    Obviously, these thoughts are based on averages, and we’ve seen extremes in which the crop might be stopped prematurely by an early frost or even the physical effects (thrashing) of a hurricane; conversely, we’ve had years in which a killing frost might not occur in lower counties until Christmas.

    Split crop decisions involve considerations of present versus potential boll numbers, canopy conditions, calendar date, and weather trends. A couple of examples illustrate how to think through such situations.

    A number of years ago, on a Labor Day weekend dove hunt, I saw a field that had recovered from a long drought. There were 2 to 3 open bolls per plant obscured by a lush, dark green canopy with plenty of young fruit. A couple of key thoughts directed the grower to leave the crop in the field and hope for the best. The existing crop, because of its late uptake of N and aggressive growth, would have been very difficult to defoliate.

    Secondly, and more importantly, even if leaf drop was accomplished, the bolls present were probably below an economic threshold for covering picker costs. In other words, he didn’t have much to pick anyway. In this situation, he had little to lose in carrying the crop until late in the year. He did leave the field, had a long fall and harvested a respectable (given the situation) 650 lb/A.

    The existing boll load is pretty good, maybe enough to make (wild guess) 800-plus lb/A. He doesn’t have to make a quick decision, so he has the opportunity to see how much, if any, of the top crop might mature in a reasonable time to harvest with the bulk of the lower crop.

    My inclination in this field is to not wait too long for the last fruit and to terminate the crop as maturity of the lower three fourths of the canopy dictates. However, the grower has begun to observe boll rot in the bottom nodes, and that could make the decision a little more difficult.

    One thing to spend $ on if the crop is being carried late is STINK BUG control. Don’t give up late maturing bolls to stink bugs. Yes, stink bugs have been more sporadic than expected this year, but late, last fields can be quite attractive to bugs, and they can damage a lot of bolls in a hurry.

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