Virginia Cotton: The ‘Art’ of Defoliation, Plus a Few Rules

Prior to harvest, cotton must be defoliated to improve picker performance, cotton quality, module storage, and yield.  The timing of this strategy is as much of an art as it is a science, although we will typically discus the science part more.

Some of the arbitrary components of defoliation that promote creativity from growers is related to uncertainties of short term and long-term weather, variable soil types, limited resources like equipment or people, and other competing chores on the farm. Hey, I know there is also hunting season and the kid’s activities that are also in the equation.

For this reason, some operations that have a long way to go or other priorities during the late fall will push cotton on the front side to get going.  For me, I want it all so I like to wait on the top of the plant and the bottoms of the fields, but delays can backfire if the weather turns south.

And of course, there’s peanuts. The science tells us that the bird in the hand comes about a week earlier than the one in the bush and we probably ought to get going quickly when the rules are met:

  1. 4 NACB (the bolls above the cracked boll are within 4 nodes of the top.  If you are 6 NACB, you have less than a week to go and are probably over 95% of the yield potential in fields with good fruit retention at the bottom.
  2. 67% open for fields with bolls on 10 fruiting branches.  If bolls are on fewer branches, the field could be ready at 50% open
  3. Top bolls are difficult to cut with sharp knife, and seed coats are tan with no jelly inside seed.

 


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