Southwest Cotton: Rain Helps Late Crop but Delays Harvest for Many

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

Heavy rain the past two weeks is the latest blow to much southwest cotton at a time when bolls are open and ready for harvest aid applications.

Both Lubbock and Amarillo areas received 5 inches or more of rain. The downpours came as Texas A&M AgriLife Extension projected South Plains cotton production as fair, while the Texas Panhandle was rated poor at best. Those meager forecasts resulted from the disastrous cold and wet spring planting conditions.

South Plains fields recovered some, thanks to high heat units most of August and September. However, late summer dry weather was too much for dryland fields that had struggled from the beginning.

The recent rain may help late cotton, but will further delay more mature fields, says Blayne Reed, AgriLife IPM agent, Hale, Swisher and Floyd counties. Cloudbursts slowed cotton harvest plans in those counties.
“About 70 to 80% of the bolls are open,” Reed says. “The rain hasn’t done us any favors. It’s too late.

“With about 90 days of little rain and warm temperatures, nearly all of the cotton had matured. Close to 98% of it is ready for harvest aid applications. When the clouds break, many aerial applications will go out. But many plants are seeing late-season leaf growth. Defoliating will be a challenge.”

Reed says the area’s typical irrigated yields approach 3 bales per acre. “After the slow start, it will be closer to 2 bales,” he notes. “With the extended late dry spell, some dryland may not be worth stripping.”

Around Lubbock and southward, many dryland fields were virtually ready for stripping before the rain, says Murilo Maeda, AgriLife cotton specialist. “The dryland was open, and the rain hit at the wrong time,” he says. “We need open sunny days so we can get in and strip.”


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He says rain probably didn’t slow harvest for irrigated fields because it’s late and some growers are waiting on a possible market rebound from low prices.

In central Texas, harvest is wrapping up in the Blacklands. Mark Nemec, a Waco area crop consultant, says the area escaped recent rains. “We should finish harvest the next few days,” he says. “Yields are below average, in the 1- to 1.5-bale range. A few fields will hit 1.5 bales.”

In far West Texas, harvest has advanced, mostly in dryland fields already defoliated. AgriLife reports yields are “below average to very low.” The region’s irrigated cotton harvest should start in mid-to-late October.

Most of Oklahoma’s cotton escaped recent rains, notes Seth Byrd, Oklahoma State University Extension Cotton Specialist. “Harvest just started in west-central Oklahoma,” he says. “Bolls are mature and open, but green, lush leaves are slow in aging. There’s a challenge in getting a good leaf drop.”

He says Oklahoma Panhandle irrigated fields look promising, and will likely see their first freeze by October 20. “Irrigated cotton also looks good in southwestern Oklahoma, but the dryland is marginal.”

In south-central Kansas, rain stalled harvest aide applications after a warm September. “Cotton saw exceptional heat units that were far above the September average,” says Rex Friesen, Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Co-op in Winfield.

“But many fields still need more heat.

“When it clears off, many harvest aids will go out. If growers haven’t sprayed by October 15, they should proceed with applications. The area is usually out of heat units by then.”
He expects lower yields. “Southern Kansas usually sees 1,000-pound yields,” he says, “but yield are closer to 1-bale per acre this year.”


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