Alabama Cotton Shorts

October 4, 2019

Situation. Cotton pickers began rolling in Alabama during the second week of September, and thus far, we’ve enjoyed almost uninterrupted sunshine and low humidity. Great picking weather! It’s very dry across the Southeastern U.S., and most of Alabama is incredibly dry. Cotton has fluffed beautifully and much of the crop is harvest ready or nearly so, or already in a module. But rain and cooler weather are coming!
The September USDA yield estimate was unchanged from August. They predict a state-wide average of 942 lb/A. Early reports have been better than expected, certainly better than I anticipated. I’ve heard some irrigated yields beyond 1500 lb/A, a few dry land fields at 1,000 lb/A or better, and parched dry land sites that picked at least 600 lb/A. In a “worst case scenario,” I witnessed plot harvest from a nearby replanted field that received only 8 inches of rain from planting through picking. That small field ranged from 300 to just over 500 lb/A. There are many fields that have been stressed for weeks. I still question the USDA number… but hope they are in the ballpark.
Prevailing HOT, dry weather has complicated defoliation. There is no silver bullet that works perfectly every time -- that removes juvenile and mature foliage, shuts down regrowth, opens every boll, and never sticks leaves. Many have had difficulty completely removing young foliage and have had to retouch some acres or pick with a little green still present. Defoliation doesn’t always have to be perfect to deliver quality cotton to the gin. If retreatment is necessary, I prefer the PPO products such as Aim, ET, and others that provide rapid “browning” of remaining foliage. That said, there are many options to get fields to picker-ready. As temperatures cool, defoliant rates should increase, and you might add a surfactant to improve activity.
If you’re waiting for top bolls, make sure they are sound; that is, they are not riddled by stink bug damage and that they have sufficient size to practically contribute to yield. Rain is coming, so urgency is still warranted in gathering this crop. Don’t risk mid and lower canopy bolls waiting for a few little ones in the top.
In terms of quality, only a few thousand bales have been reported from the Classing offices. As expected, color grades are quite good, but staple, mic, strength, and uniformity are trending slightly lower than normal. (Brown)
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.  The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), an invasive insect from China, was first reported in Pennsylvania in 2009. It has now spread to many states including as far west as California. BMSB has been positively identified in 33 Alabama counties (see map) and is likely present in most other counties. As this stink bug hitchhiked south from Pennsylvania, it stayed primarily in the higher elevations in the Appalachian and Piedmont regions as opposed to the Coastal Plains of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. However, BMSB has now been identified as far south in Alabama as Brewton and Dothan. The BMSB feeds on most fruits, vegetables, and row crops that produce fruit above ground. During September and October, they begin entering buildings, barns, homes, etc., for hibernation. They also survive winters under leaf litter in woody areas and hedgerows. They do not appear to be highly susceptible to cold weather. Therefore, it is likely that this pest will be with us for the foreseeable future.
Now let us focus on a few things that cotton growers need to be aware of about BMSB as a serious cotton pest.
  1. BMSB can damage unopened cotton bolls of all sizes and ages, unlike our native stink bugs that prefer quarter-sized diameter bolls about 10 days old.
  2. BMSB concentrate on field borders, especially the outside 50 or so feet. As a result, small fields, those under 10 acres, will incur heavy damage over a greater percent of the field. Large fields may sustain heavy border damage when:  cotton is adjacent to another crop, such as corn; where cotton is near overwintering sites (hedgerows, barns, outbuildings); or near abandoned or commercial pecan trees or orchards.
  3. All of these highly susceptible situations listed under point number two will likely require BMSB controls on cotton borders every 10-14 days during the boll-producing season.
  4. BMSB can be effectively controlled with the higher labeled rates of all pyrethroid chemistry.
  5. There is no effective way to scout or survey for the active stink bugs themselves, since they are very flighty or drop to the ground with the slightest movement or noise.
  6. BMSB damage can be assessed similarly to other stink bugs that occur in cotton, by crushing soft bolls and examining them for internal damage such as warts on the internal boll wall and/or brown areas near the developing seed.  (Smith)
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Alabama Row Crops Short Course 

December 10, 2019

The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center

Newly released Extension Publication:  — How to Think about Cotton: Plant Growth Regulators ANR-2591
A Web version can be accessed at:
A PDF version can be printed from:


This issue contributors:
Dr. Ron Smith, Extension Entomologist, Professor Emeritus
Dr. Steve M. Brown, Extension Agronomist
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