While production agriculture is firmly rooted in science, various practices within a production system can often be thought of as an art. The timing of cotton harvest is one of those things that may fall under this realm. That does not mean, however, that aspects of the harvest process cannot be improved upon; it really is a matter of attention to details.
Don Register, a Waterloo, Ga., producer, says he thinks farmers often wait too long to defoliate.
“It’s been proven that if we’ll go ahead when those bolls show maturity, which you can take your pocket knife and tell, that’s the time to defoliate,” he says. “We have a tendency to try to make every little bit, and you will lose some when you do that.”
Producers can use several different methods for determining maturity or a combination of methods.
“I take my pocketknife to one of those bolls near the top,” Register says. “If I can’t cut through it, you can
defoliate, and it will open up. Those you can slice right through won’t.”
Counting nodes above cracked boll is another method, as is the recommendation of defoliating at 60 percent open bolls. However, producers are cautioned not to make an estimate of the field, but to get out into the field and make an actual count.
“You have to go into the field to know exactly what you’ve got,” says Jack Royal, a Georgia crop consultant with 32 years experience. “We go into the fields and start cutting bolls and looking at the material until the last boll is harvested.”
Better Early Than Late
Glen Harris, University of Georgia Extension agronomist, references research from Craig Bednarz that showed it is better to defoliate earlier than to be too late.
“He even started defoliating a crop once when it only had 20 percent open bolls,” Harris says. “He didn’t do any worse yield-wise than if he had waited to 60 percent. When he waited until 80 percent open, the weather affected the crop and resulted in more loss.”
Once the timing is determined, Royal says farmers work hard to get in as much of the crop as possible.
“We don’t mind spending the money for the boll openers and defoliants,” he says. “There is no recourse if you skimp on defoliants. I’ve always found if you do that, you are only hurting yourself in the end.”
A good rule of thumb is to defoliate only what you can realistically pick in a 12- to 15-day period. Don’t defoliate when the forecast calls for below-normal temperatures, but do defoliate prior to the first hard frost.
Aim For Clean Crop
Another reason to get into the field is to scout for items, such as plastic bags, that could be picked up by the machinery and contaminate the cotton. Cotton picked clean and at the proper moisture content doesn’t need as much processing at the gin, and less processing means a better quality product.
While it used to be determined that producers needed to get their peanuts up before starting cotton, this is no longer the case.
“Now,” Harris says, “producers will start with the cotton. Then, when peanuts are ready, get them out of the field and return to the cotton when the peanuts are finished.”
Royal says the use of six-row pickers allows them to get through with peanuts faster.
“With the technology, we can gather peanuts more quickly. We may pick some cotton at the same time.”
This year, most everyone expects harvest in the Southeast to run into late November.
“Overall, it’s going to be a late, dragged out year,” Royal says. “But, we do what we can do and work around the weather.”
And that’s about all anyone in this business can do.
Contact Amanda Huber at (352) 486-7006 or firstname.lastname@example.org.