Three Steps to Picking a Profitable Harvest

Tips for Premium Harvest – East
Nodes Above Cracked Boll is a tried-and-true method for scheduling the start of harvest. Bayer Senior Technical Service Representative Keith Rucker recommends scheduling harvest aids when the plant has four nodes above cracked boll.

If growers had to pick one aspect of crop management that dictated their success, most could do it in one word: timeliness. From start to finish, the timeliness of management impacts the opportunity for success. Though some might look across a heavily loaded field and consider relaxing, the truth is timeliness at harvest is essential to the bottom line. Here are three steps growers can take to preserve fiber quality and maximize yield.

Be timely.

There’s an art to deciding when to defoliate.

“Timely and proper defoliation is critical to terminating a cotton crop for maximum yield and quality,” says Bayer Senior Technical Service Representative Keith Rucker. “If you defoliate too early, it can rob you of yield potential from bolls that are not ready to pick. If you are too late, you risk losses from boll-rot and reduced lint quality.

Rucker suggests growers look at three things when deciding when to apply harvest aids.

  • Look first at the percent of bolls that are open in the crop. Just count the total number of bolls on the plant and determine what percentage of them are open on several plants from different parts of the field. The Extension service in each state offers a recommended open boll percentage at which growers should begin harvest. “In Georgia, when percent open boll is 60 to 70 percent,” Rucker says, “it is time to start getting serious about defoliating the crop.”
  • Then look at the unopened bolls to determine whether they are mature. The sharp knife technique works well for this. “If the knife cuts clean through, it is immature,” Rucker says. “But if it ‘strings’ – the lint pulls through with the knife, the boll is considered mature.” The next step is to look inside the seeds in the bolls – cut them open as well and look to see if there are cotyledons inside the seed. Well-developed cotyledons inside the seed indicate a mature boll ready for a harvest aid application.
  • Finally, count the number of nodes between the uppermost boll that is cracked and the first position boll that you expect to harvest – this is called Nodes Above Cracked Boll – usually when there are four nodes above cracked boll, it is safe to apply harvest aids.

The weather forecast is an essential decision aid, Rucker points out. Cotton crops move into harvest just as hurricane season moves into the Cotton Belt.

“You always need to watch the weather,” Rucker says. “If a hurricane is brewing that might come ashore, you need to make a decision on whether to defoliate and harvest early to avoid storm damage.”

Use products efficiently.

Those modules bear not only the weight, but also the quality of your success. The most expensive mistakes a grower can make now are to skimp on harvest aids or ignore the weather.

“Looking at a long-range weather forecast as much as possible is important. We need to watch our temperatures,” says Bayer Agronomist Steve Lee, who works in the north Delta.

“If it’s too hot, we worry about sticking leaves,” Lee says “If it’s too cold, we need to watch our rates to make sure the product is going to perform like it should. We want to get the leaves off the plant so we can keep our grades up.”

Yield expectations and environmental conditions factor into which products and which rates will optimize harvest in a given field.

“Our biggest thing is making sure that we understand the varieties that we’re going after and making sure our mixes are not so hot that we shut down the plant,” says Bayer Senior Technical Service Representative Gary Schwarzlose says.

Particularly with new varieties, Schwarzlose suggests growers lean on the regional expertise available from their Bayer Crop Protection Technical Representatives.

“It’s that knowledge of what’s going on with harvest aids in individual territories that makes a program work,” Schwarzlose says. “We need to apply the right mix at the right time and understand how different varieties react to the same mix.”

That said, the products proven to maximize yield and optimize quality are Finish® 6 Pro, the only hormonal defoliant and boll opener premix, and Ginstar® defoliant.

The advantages of Finish 6 Pro are:

  • Opens bolls faster. Opens bolls fast without the harsh side effect of desiccants and PPO-type defoliants.
  • Preserves quality. Faster opening reduces the amount of time lint is vulnerable to damage from wind and weather, preserving fiber quality and protecting profits.
  • Reduced risk. Faster, more gentle opening reduces the risk of leaf grade and color discounts. Finish 6 Pro cotton defoliant is designed to deliver a clean, consistent drop of foliage with no leaf stick, leading to higher-value cotton and improved profit potential.

Ginstar defoliant is designed to deliver a clean, consistent drop of foliage with no leaf stick, leading to higher-value cotton and improved profit potential. The advantages of Ginstar include:

  • Superior regrowth control. Regrowth is controlled regardless of the conditions, such as the cooler temperatures of the Texas High Plains region and the arid conditions of the West.
  • Cleaner cotton. Removes mature leaves, drops juvenile growth and sheds immature squares, reduces trash and staining, and preserves lint quality.
  • Tankmix options. Use alone or tankmix with Finish 6 Pro harvest aid to pick cotton faster.

Harvest when the bolls open.

Another aspect of being timely is to schedule defoliation according to your picker capacity. The post-application step is a fast move; you don’t want to leave those open bolls hanging around in the field.

“Trying to manage the crop with your picker capacity is always important,” Lee says. “You want to open it up according to your picker capacity so you don’t leave it exposed to the environment too long.”

We don’t weigh our cotton until it’s ginned. We don’t get paid for quality until it’s classed. But we certainly enhance our opportunity for a profitable harvest by staying focused on timeliness until the last acre is picked.


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