Cotton growers in North Carolina’s Blacklands got a chance to see and hear the latest in production information from North Carolina State specialists, growers and ag industry representatives at the bi-annual North Carolina Cotton Field Day, held recently and Flatland Farms near Pantego, N.C.

For the past decade or more, the every other year event has been held at North Carolina State’s Upper Coastal Plain Research Center near Rocky Mount, N.C. This year’s event was hosted by long-time cotton grower and current president of the North Carolina Cotton Growers Association, Gary Respess and his family.

Among the hot topics at this year’s event were new options for controlling glyphosate resistant pigweed, management strategies for stink bugs in cotton and an innovative look at cotton pickers by a North Carolina cotton grower.

Veteran North Carolina State weed scientist, Alan York, explained to growers why Palmer amaranth has been dubbed ‘Super Weed’. Among the reasons is the weed’s prolific ability to produce seed. Growing in solitude away from crop competition, York notes Palmer pigweed can grow as tall as a Christmas tree and produce 800,000 seeds. Even in a cultivated field, this particular pigweed can produce 300,000-400,000 seed.

It is a native of the Sonora Desert in the Southwestern U.S. and thrives in hot, dry weather. York notes that optimum photosynthesis for Palmer amaranth is 108 degrees F. When cotton, soybeans and other crops start to droop and lose momentum at 90-plus degrees F, Palmer amaranth is doing just fine, he explains.

York told growers a very aggressive pre-plant and/or pre-emergence program is essential to control glyphosate-resistant Palmer in cotton. In no-till cotton, York likes to start with a residual pre-plant herbicide such as Valor and follow with at least one residual pre-emergence herbicide. The residual pre-plant gives some insurance against lack of rainfall to activate pre-emergence herbicides.

Pre-emergence treatments

In the absence of the pre-plant or in heavily infested fields, York recommends a two- or three-way pre-emergence application. Reflex plus Direx plus Prowl has been one of the more effective treatments.

The next step in the program is Dual Magnum or Warrant put in early post with the first application of glyphosate. That is followed by a residual lay-by application of a material like Direx or similar material. In other words there is probably a place for hoods or directed sprayers.

The objective, York says, is to layer in herbicides so that a new herbicide kicks in prior to the preceding

One of the most popular stops on the field day tour was a talk by North Carolina State entomologist Jack Bachelor, who outlined some ways to manage stink bugs in cotton.

North Carolina State, in cooperation with several other Southeast universities, developed a template that has been printed and available in all participating states that allows a grower to check bolls in the field and apply a few observational variables and make decisions whether to spray for stink bugs.

The continued increase in the use of bacillus thuriengensis-containing seed in the Southeast is likely to mean continued growth in stink bug problems across a number of crops commonly grown in the Southeast, according to Bachelor.

North Carolina cotton grower Danny Clayton perhaps drew the most attention from other cotton growers attending the meeting with his presentation on the comparable cost of cotton pickers.

Clayton compared the cost of a new John Deere picker equipped with an on-board, on-the-go module builder, a Case picker with a similar system, and old and new conventional cotton pickers.

The advantage of the Deere system is its seamless picking, packing and stacking speed. Clayton noted that he has run his Deere system up to 20 hours a day, but contends the optimum size operation for this type cotton harvest system is about 2,000 acres.

The advantage of the Case system is that it uses permanent, rather than disposable tarps, for moduling cotton. It also is significantly lighter in weight than the John Deere system and cost about $20,000 less (approximately $540,000 versus $560,000).

For many Southeastern growers, who don’t have the acreage to justify one of the new cotton harvest systems, a used conventional picker may be the best option. Clayton showed some figures suggesting a big advantage for used pickers versus the new on-board module-building machines, compared to a new conventional cotton picker.

Gaylon Ambrose, Beaufort County Extension ag leader shared with growers in attendance his 20-plus years of experience with cotton production. The biggest advantage, and most consistent advantage for cotton production in eastern North Carolina, Ambrose says is to plant cotton early.

Ambrose told the story of an entomologist who disagreed with his early planting theory, pointing out more susceptibility to early season insect damage and to diseases vectored by these insects. Despite that risk, the veteran North Carolina Extension leader contends the big advantage is still to plant cotton early.

Defoliation questions

While a high percentage of North Carolina cotton has been picked, some late-planted and late-maturing varieties have growers stumped as to when to defoliate.

Cotton specialist Keith Edmisten told growers that conventional methods of determining when to defoliate just won’t work on cotton that has been subjected to record daytime and nighttime temperatures and in some cases prolonged drought.

Edmisten showed growers three cotton stalks from three different fields. The question was whether the popular NACB method ofdetermining crop maturity would work.

In this system the grower counts the nodes above the first cracked boll (NACB). This is done by selecting plants with a first-position cracked boll (cracked enough that lint is visible) and counting the nodes above the cracked boll up to the highest node that has a harvestable boll.

On one plant the NACB method worked just fine. On the other two, the grower would have been wasting time and money and would have risked damaging his cotton by following conventional defoliation strategy.

Other tour stops included: A look at different fungicide seed treatments used in cotton and how important these may become in the future as Temik continues to be phased out. A comparison of organic and inorganic soil fertility inputs. And, a discussion on development of variable rate tillage capabilities in the future.

Ambrose, who was one of the hosts for the meeting, and a driving force behind establishment of the various tests at Flatland Farms, says the change in venue gives cotton growers from the Blacklands area a chance to attend the meeting. He points out that cotton production in the area is relatively new, beginning in the mid-1990s for most growers.

Respess, who farms with his son-in-law Derrick Tetterton and farm superintendent Kenneth Van Staalduinen, has hosted numerous meetings at his farm and has been a long-time leader in North Carolina cotton production. He says, as he heads toward retirement, this will likely be the last such event he will host, but hopefully not the last one he will attend.