Fields across Pratt County are turning white as the county cotton crop moves closer to harvest.
The cotton harvest is late this year due, in part, to cooler temperatures in August. Cotton needs heat units to develop normally and this area had lower than normal temperatures in August, said cotton farmer Stuart Briggeman.
Sunshine in September helped move the crop towards harvest. The harvest this year doesn't look like it will be as big as the 2012 crop that produced a crop of 1,500 to 1,700 pounds per acre and that is very unusual.
"The yields were just fantastic. We've never had that consistent high. We had lots of three bales per acre," said Roger Sewell, cotton promoter and sales person for the High Plains Cotton Gin in Cullison, who estimates this year's harvest will start in about two weeks.
The number of cotton acres will be down this year partly because of corn prices at planting time. Cotton production will also be down because temperatures in August were below normal and cotton needs heat to mature properly, said cotton producer Stuart Briggeman who hopes to start harvesting cotton around Nov. 5.
While temperatures in September helped improve the crop, it is still about a week to 10 days behind maturity schedule this year.
Debbie Wolf, High Plains Cotton Gin general manager, estimates they will take in about 1,400 modules this year as opposed to 2,200 they took in last year. They also expect to produce 1,500 bales this year compared to 2,400 last year.
She said the number is down partially because of crop rotation in the area.
Cotton farmers have to be very careful about a freeze on the plants. If the freeze is in the 32 to 33 degree range for just a couple of hours, that is actually beneficial to the crop.
In order for the cotton strippers to harvest the crop, the cotton bolls have to be open. Cotton farmers will spray a field four days before a killing frost to assure the boll will open. A freeze in the 32 to 33-temperature range will do the same thing.
But if the field is hit with a freeze in the 26 to 27 degree range it will cause the bolls to stay shut and the cotton can't be harvested.
Getting the bolls open increase the amount of cotton that can be harvested. Although producers keep a close eye on the temperature, it is very difficult to know what the temperatures will actually be so they take no chance and spray four days before a predicted freeze, Briggeman said.
Cotton farmers can also help the crop get ready for harvest with a spray that defoliates the plants.
Defoliating the plant helps the producer when the cotton is ginned. Any plant material in the cotton will result in a deduction in payment to the producer so it is vital to spray the plant with a defoliant.
Producers also spray for weeds but they are having trouble with Roundup resistant weeds showing up in their crops especially pigweeds and mares tail.
Soybean farmers are having the same problem. Another product, Zidua, will be available through BASF in 2014 but for now the only alternative is for producers to hire people to walk through the fields and hand pull weeds. Pulling or cutting weeds by hand is "roughing" and it is difficult to find enough people to do that so producers are anxious to get the new product on the market.