Alabama Cotton Shorts

November 13, 2020

November 13, 2020

Situation. The initial (August) USDA estimate for Alabama predicted an average yield of 981 lb/A. September and October brought downward adjustments to 976 and 960 lb/A, respectively, while this week’s November report lowered the estimate further to 890 lb/A. My guess is that the average will decline closer to 850 lb/A. FSA cotton sign-up (see below) is tallied at almost 445,000 acres. As of November 1, 2020, ginnings were 135,650 bales compared to 334,750 and 230,950 for the prior two years on the same date.
There’s a saying, “Good crops keep getting better and better,” as harvest and ginnng proceeds, meaning that in a really good year, yield numbers rise as the season progresses. The opposite is true for “bad crops.” In many places the 2020 crop was quite good but has declined considerably, largely because of Laura, Sally, Delta, and Eta, as well as extended periods of overcast, drizzly weather during what is normally our driest period. Hard lock, boll rot, wind, and rain have taken a big toll on our crop.
Quality-wise, the crop actually looks better than it should, but one glaring point is the extraneous matter call of seed coat fragments. The season total for bales classed with seed coat fragments exceeds 7 percent and will likely go higher. This reflects the severe weathering on an open crop with relatively mild temperatures. It suggests a lot of seed sprouting and a general decline of seed integrity and quality.  (Brown)
Alabama Acreage, FSA Data. Below are tabulations from FSA offices across the state. They include data on irrigated and non-irrigated acres, and since they involve necessary sign-up for farm programs, they probably represent the best big picture look at Alabama cotton. These regional categories are a little arbitrary – the state has incredibly different production pockets based on soil type, rainifall patterns, etc. The data show concentrations of acreage and indicate that only about 10 percent of the state’s acreage is irrigated.  (Brown)
AU OVTs, Preliminary Data. Results from the small-plot official variety trials (OVTs) conducted on the Auburn University Research and Extension Centers can be accessed at the Auburn University Variety Testing Website. Henry Jordan, Variety Testing Manager, has done an excellent job of expediting the gathering and reporting of data, even if still in preliminary form. These small plot trials are an excellent way to evaluate and compare agronomic potential of the many cotton varieties available from the various companies.  (Brown)
Planting a small plot replicated trial similar to OVTs at one of the AU research units.
AU On-Farm Trials, Preliminary Data. Below are tables of preliminary results from a few of the AU On-Farm Trials. These large, farmer-scale plots (1) narrow the selection of potential variety “stars” to a smaller, manageable list and (2) assess real-world performance of presumably the best offerings from each of the seed companies. While some plots near the southern Gulf Coast have been lost, several more trials from the north and south should be reported in future data sets.  (Sandlin and Brown)
Preparations for weighing a large scale on-farm trial near Tallassee, AL.
Extension Entomologists Dr. Scott Graham (left) and Dr. Ron Smith (3rd from left) with West Alabama Producer Lance Whitehead  and Steve Brown, Extension Cotton Agronomist (right).
By the Numbers: 2020 Alabama Cotton Insects.
  1. Acres Planted: 444,948
  2. Fields Planted: 22,000
  3. Average Field Size:
  4. Average Field Size by County:
    • Smallest: Randolph – 7.1 acres
    • Largest: Lowndes – 46.0 acres
  5. Estimated Percent Yield Loss Statewide to:
    • Weather: 29.3% (drought, excessive rainfall, wind, etc.)
    • Insects: 3.33%
      • Bollworms: 0%
      • Plant Bugs: 0.4% (#1 in North AL)
      • Stink Bugs: 1.5% (#1 in Central and South AL)
      • Thrips: 1.0%
      • All Others: 0.4%
  6. Estimated Total Number of Insect Management Decisions Made: 374,000
  7. Insecticide Applications per Acre: 3.96
  8. Cotton Insect Research Trials and Projects: 18
  9. Syngenta Pest Patrol Hotline (1-800) Updates: 13
  10. Insect Related Tweets: 107 (@ScottGraham72 @Ron_Smith23)
  11. Insect Scouting Videos Posted: 7
  12. News Releases (Ag Fax,, etc.): 26
  13. On-Farm in-Season Visits: 34
  14. Counties Visited During Season: 23
  15. Insect Educational Blogs: 10
  16. Alabama Crops Report Newsletters: 18
  17. Alabama Cotton Shorts Newsletters: 12
 (Smith and Graham)
New Dicamba Registrations. On October 27, EPA issued new labels for dicamba products Engenia, Xtendimax, and Tavium for use over-the-top in dicamba-tolerant crops. These new labels expire Dec 20, 2025. Major changes in the new labels include:
  1. Longer downwind buffer of 240 ft for open boom sprayers.
  2. Tank mixing drift reducing agents (DRA) and volatility reducing agents (VRA) are required when spraying over the top of tolerant crops.
  3. Federal cut off dates for applications in cotton and soybean (cotton July 30; soybean June 30 or R1, whichever occurs first).
  4. Reduced downwind buffer with hooded/shielded sprayers (110 ft between last treated row to the closest downwind field edge).
  5. Mandatory training every other year for all applicators, and these products remain as restricted use pesticides. Other requirements remain similar to the old labels.
I am not too surprised by the new requirements since I have spent a lot of time working on dicamba research which led to some of these label changes. On the one hand, I feel growers’ pain about more restrictions. On the other, new requirements in federal labels are needed to minimize dicamba drift and off-target damage (especially for the Midwest and Midsouth). Otherwise, it could be expected that the Ninth Circuit could ban these labels again very soon. There needs to be a balance between these two sides so we can still use the technology and products in the future.
Two thoughts I want to mention. First, additional downwind buffer requirements are definitely not user friendly for AL and the rest of the Southeast. Our fields are usually small and irregular in shape. The 240 ft downwind buffer can take away a large portion of our fields, and Palmer amaranth will thrive in these unsprayed areas. Secondly, the situation with VRA is still uncertain. In 2019 and 2020, researchers have suggested that more VRAs -- due to their strong efficacy to reduce volatility -- should be included in future applications with manufacturers covering the cost. It is unclear at this point whether manufacturers will provide VRAs as a co-pack or not. I personally prefer that more VRAs be built into product formulations, but that is not always possible due to technical difficulties, storage, and transportation. I am also expecting third-party VRAs being approved like other spray adjuvants, with information provided through the product websites. I will keep growers updated about VRA requirements.
In a nutshell, I am glad we have dicamba back as a weed management tool, and I appreciate EPA’s decision given the tremendous pressure they faced. Mandatory training is still required for all users. Details of AL dicamba training for 2021 will be determined soon. There will be online training options due to the COVID situation, and possibly a few small scale, in-person trainings in a socially distanced fashion. More details will follow in the next month or so.
My program is still working on analyzing data from our 2020 trials. Results of trials that address important weed control issues will be available for cotton growers early next spring. These include glyphosate-dicamba antagonism, cover crop effects, pigweed removal, weed control demonstrations, dicamba volatility reduction, etc. Meanwhile, over 100 populations of pigweed, goosegrass, and sicklepod have been collected for herbicide tolerance and resistance screening from over 20 row crop counties in AL. Please contact me at 334-707-7370 for any questions or concerns.  (Li)
Results from a Seed Handling Trial. Every producer knows that seed represent major management choices and a huge investment. Genetic potential, including yield potential and fiber quality, pest management options, and other factors such as seedling vigor and PGR requirements are determined with variety selection.
Seed are a biological product, subject to damage through numerous means in processing and handling. I’ve always wondered if we damage seed by how we handle bags on the farm; specifically, physically tossing bags about and also exposing seed to high temperatures on the back of a trucks, etc.
We conducted a simple trial this year in which we exposed seed to physical dropping and high temperatures. We used two varieties, DP 1646 B2XF and PHY 480 W3FE, with a bag of each from both 2019 and 2020. We packaged 1.0 lb of seed in Ziplock bags and (1) dropped them 4 times onto a gravel drive from a height of 7 feet, (2) placed them on a truck bed mat and exposed them to bright sunshine and rising temperatures for 6 hours, and (3) maintained an untreated control. Temperatures on the mat and in the bags reached 140oF. We planted the seed in Prattville (Apr 27), Brewton (May 14), and Belle Mina (Jun 2). Results are below.
There were a few, expected varietal differences in plant stands, seedling vigor, and node of 1st square. Surprisingly, our physical treatments (dropping and heat exposure) had little to no impact on growth at all locations and yield at two of three locations. At times we thought heat exposure actually had a positive effect. Yields were depressed and highly variable at Belle Mina because of a mid-season drought and diminished in Brewton because of significant rainfall (over 25 inches) in September and October. In Brewton, DP 1646 B2XF produced greater yield than PHY 480 W3FE, and yields declined because of physical dropping. These results suggest what we know – cotton seed are tough but they still should be handled with care.  (Brown)

This issue contributors:
Dr. Scott Graham, Extension Entomologist
Dr. Steve Li, Extension Weed Scientist
Tyler Sandlin, Extension Agronomist
Dr. Ron Smith, Professor Emeritus, Extension Entomologist
Dr. Steve M. Brown, Extension Agronomist  (Editor) typos and other mistakes are mine 

About the Alabama Cotton Shorts Newsletter
Alabama Cotton Shorts is a newsletter designed to keep cotton producers in the know. From planting dates to crop inputs—there are many factors to consider. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is dedicated to providing science- and research-based information, derived from field experience and observations. A team of Extension specialists are working to provide Alabama farmers with timely information throughout the growing and harvest seasons.

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