For many cotton growers across the Upper Southeast 2012 weather has been dramatically different during the growing season than the past two years, and North Carolina State University Cotton Specialist Keith Emdisten says growers need to have plenty of patience when deciding when to defoliate their cotton this year.

In 2010 and 2011, drought plagued cotton production at various times during the growing season and many growers essentially lost the middle bolls, or middle crop of their cotton.

In 2010, some growers defoliated for the top crop, because they didn’t have good middle and lower plant boll set, and that was the right choice under those weather conditions, Edmisten says.

Last year cotton got beat up pretty good by a hurricane and tropical storm and defoliating to save the top crop was not such a clear cut choice. Some people put on defoliants to try and get the cotton to stand up after the storms, and it was just a difficult choice of when to defoliate last year, he adds.

This year most cotton growers have had ample moisture, so there is no missing zone of fruit — there is a bottom, middle and top crop on most cotton in the region. “We have a more compact cotton crop, and that affects the timing of defoliation, Edmisten says.

“If you use the first position cracked boll method to determine when to defoliate in a compact crop, there may be some surprises.

“I had a cotton grower tell me this morning (Sept. 12) that he defoliated his cotton, using the same system he used the past few years, and his cotton was only 30 percent open,” he adds.