Cotton harvest aid recommendations depend on yield potential, economics

Farmers who’ve nursed cotton through this summer’s heat and moisture stresses should base harvest aid decisions on the usual factors – crop condition and yield potential – but they also must consider if defoliation will be economically feasible.

Shane Osborne, Oklahoma State University, says dryland cotton may not justify harvest aid application.

“Is it going to make enough cotton to justify the expense?” he asks. “Generally speaking, one good-sized boll per inch on 40-inch rows equals 1 bale per acre.

“We recommend farmers take several samples across each field when estimating yields.”

He says 10 feet of row per sample is adequate.

“Higher yielding dryland cotton, more than 500 pounds, often warrants both a boll opener and a defoliant followed by a desiccant seven to 10 days later,” Osborne says.

Recommendations for cotton with lower yield potential vary.

“Depending on the maturity of the crop, lower-yielding dryland harvest aid programs may consist of a desiccant only, a boll opener a few weeks before a freeze, or just waiting for freeze,” he says.

Farmers with irrigated cotton that has had limited water may need to adjust harvest aid programs. Osborne says farmers should base decisions on the amount of rainfall received in mid-August and September.

“Irrigated cotton that has prematurely cut out due to drought and has experienced a heavy fruit shed will try to re-grow after any significant late August or September rainfall,” he says. “Unfortunately, the result is primarily vegetative growth. Any additional fruit formed during this period is typically too immature to contribute to yield.”

He says suppressing re-growth or desiccating existing re-growth may be necessary with boll opening and defoliation.

“On circle-irrigated cotton that has had adequate water and good fruit retention, harvest aid programs should be business as usual,” Osborne says. “This typically involves a boll opener plus defoliant, possibly followed by a desiccant where cotton will be stripper-harvested.

“Often the sequential desiccant application can be eliminated when cotton is picker-harvested," he added.

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