Crop Status Now That Cotton Is Entering the Bloom Period (Collins & Edmisten)

Posted On July 7, 2024— Written By and last updated by
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Not surprisingly, the intense heat and drought throughout most of June has taken a toll on this crop. A lot of the early planted cotton has begun blooming over the last week or so. As a result of the drought, cotton is blooming abnormally short, and this can be dangerous, but there’s no need for throwing in the towel just yet. As of now, the success of this crop is right on the fence, and it still has a decent chance of producing respectable yields. That’s not to say that some yield loss has not occurred. It has. But to what degree? We don’t know just yet, as it is dependent on weather (rains) from here on out. June has been a reminder that we are never more than 4-5 days away from a serious drought at any given time, despite rainfall amounts leading up to that point. In sandy soils, this could be even shorter. In periods of intense heat, with daily highs in the mid to upper 90’s, any soil moisture we have does not last long at all.

First, the bad news. Some yield potential has been lost. Most folks think that cotton doesn’t need water during the prebloom period in hopes that it will develop a more robust root system. That is incorrect. It does need some, but not a lot. Yes, it is true that heavy rains that cause soil saturation during the prebloom period can and will result in a shallow rooted crop, but intense heat and drought during this period can also cause the plant to shut down and yield penalties can occur. Hopefully, those with irrigation heeded the advice in our last newsletter and irrigated appropriately during squaring. You can certainly tell it now. For the dryland crop, or for those that haven’t irrigated during squaring, given the intensity of the June drought, we can essentially guarantee that some yield has been lost. Now that the early planted crop is blooming, we can somewhat see why. For early planted cotton, especially given the heat unit accumulation we’ve had, is right on time in terms of bloom date. But it could end up being an extremely early crop with lower yield potential, depending on what happens weather-wise from this point forward. As mentioned earlier, it is blooming way too short in many places, as illustrated below.

In these photos, cotton is less than 10 inches tall and is blooming with only a few nodes remaining above it. Also, there are large squares in the terminal which is another indicator that the plant has undergone severe stress. As such, IF drought stress is not immediately alleviated, a crop like this will cutout in about a week. Therefore, we are now in a position where frequent rainfall is a must, in hopes of keeping this crop in a “suspended” or “hovering” cutout that allows for the terminal to resume growth at a rate that out-paces the progression of the white bloom moving upward. Remember that first position fruit bloom in a sequence going up the plant (new bloom every 3 days) and then outward on each node (every 6 days for further positions of the same node). This can be done, and we’ve seen it happen before, but we are now very reliant on continued rainfall, and frequent rainfall throughout July and August to achieve this. The amount of rainfall necessary to keep the terminal growing, and for more fruiting positions to develop, will increase as the boll load increases. This puts us in a vunerable position where another dry spell, even one that is short-lived, that occurs later in July and August will likely send the crop into a “true” cutout, from which it will be much more difficult to recover.

As it stands right now, the irrigated crop (where irrigated properly during squaring) and/or later planted cotton that has yet to start blooming, stand the best chance overall of achieving the highest yields. For the early planted, dryland crop that is now blooming, 1200-1300 lb yields are still achievable but are very reliant on continued rains throughout July and August. Yields in the 800-1000 lb range are certainly realistic. Exceptional yields (3 bales or greater) are far less likely for the early planted, dryland crop, and will likely occur in later planted cotton, or in irrigated cotton, assuming it was irrigated properly up to now as well as throughout the remainder of the summer.

Now for the good news. Early planted cotton that has just started blooming does NOT have a heavy boll load on it yet, therefore it can easily rebound and begin recovering from drought stress IF that stress has been alleviated. Sooner is better than later, if not already. Several areas got some badly needed rain early last week and over the July 5-7th weekend. We are incredibly thankful for that! In other good news, the currently forecasts have a few days of milder temperatures, but some hot weather is also expected. With that, the forecasts also include several days with a high probability of rainfall for the next two weeks. Since early June, we’ve hoped that the weather man was wrong. Now, let’s hope he’s right.

What can we do? What can we avoid? Aside from irrigation, there’s not much we can do. We can, however, avoid several things that could cost us. This could probably go without saying, but there is no need for PGR’s in cotton blooming abnormally short. Cotton that actually justifies a PGR application is very rare at this point in time. There are several misconceptions about PGRs in what they do or how they work. Be assured, PGRs will NOT help cotton that is now blooming and is too short. Likewise, avoid any practices that are likely to stunt cotton or otherwise injure it (leaf burn for example). Lastly, early planted cotton was side-dressed or top-dressed throughout June, therefore any recent rainfall likely resulted in the plant just now utilizing it which will help spur growth and begin recovering. Obviously, little to no leaching has occurred prior to now. There is no need for additional fertilizer, other than what has been top/side dressed, at this point in time, as it will not add to recovery efforts and will likely result in unused residual N later in the year, which could complicate early defoliation. This could change of course, if heavy rains come later, but we aren’t far from the point at which additional fertilizer is not likely to influence yields (beyond mid bloom), so we see no point in that right now.

For irrigated fields, it is critical to mark right when first bloom occurs. Remember that weekly water requirements start increasing during the 2nd week of bloom, and those requirements reach their peak during the 3rd and 4th week of bloom, before gradually subsiding. You don’t want to be a week behind, therefore it is important to mark when first bloom occurs so that weekly rates and irrigation frequency can be adjusted accordingly. Adjust weekly rates for any rainfall we receive.