Like most veteran cotton growers, Dickens says he going to fight the temptation and wait until he’s sure his cotton is ready for defoliation.

Proper timing of defoliation is key to maintaining fiber quality at the end of the season. Poor defoliation timing can be economically costly. Defoliating too early lowers lint yield and fiber quality, especially micronaire.

Defoliating too late increases the likelihood of boll rot and lint damaged or lost due to weathering. Defoliating too late will also lead to discounts from high micronaire values with certain varieties as well as increase the possibility that defoliant activity may be inhibited by lower temperatures.

In some parts of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, too much rainfall has created major problems and potentially significant yield loss.

Gary Respess, who grows cotton near Pantego, N.C., says his crop has taken a big hit from boll rot this year. “All through the growing season the crop looked great, but as the crop neared maturity we stayed wet for several weeks and we’re really fighting the boll rot problem,” he says.

Yield loss from boll rot and hard-lock in the 20-30 percent range is common in North Carolina’s Blacklands in the eastern part of the state. Hard-locked cotton is going to make defoliation timing an even bigger challenge.

“Hardlock” of cotton is a generic term used to define a condition where even though the lint appears to form normally, it does not “fluff” and thus cannot be picked with a spindle picker.

Hardlocked cotton bolls are a significant problem for growers, but the exact cause isn’t so clear. Stinkbug damage has been documented as one cause, but likely a bigger cause is weather-related damage from a variety of pathogens that cause boll rot in cotton.

Regardless of the cause, the bottom line for cotton growers in the Upper Southeast this year is cotton defoliation is likely to come later than in the past few years.

Patience is a virtue in most things, and it  appears cotton picking will be among those things this year.