Pratt County farmers are watching the calendar closely, knowing it takes 45 days to get from bloom to boll.
Cotton fields across Pratt County are in various stages of putting out the blossoms but time is running out for the growing season. The blooming process, called cut out, leads to the plants producing the actual cotton.
Area cotton farmers have been applying a growth regulator to the cotton to get the plant to stop producing blossoms and start producing the fruit or cotton.
“We’re trying to speed the plant up,” said cotton producer Stuart Briggeman.
Plants have to finish the process to become cotton. It takes about 45 days after the plant blooms to produce a mature cotton boll. Anything after that will probably not reach maturity in time.
“After September 1st or 5th, any new blossoms will typically not mature before it freezes,” Briggeman said.
The average freeze date for Pratt County is Oct. 12 so blossoms have to form in the first few days of September to have that 45 days before the freeze hits.
“We’re hoping we get that far before it freezes,” Briggeman said.
Running out of time was a problem for the 2019 cotton crop from the beginning. Ideally, cotton planting starts from May 5 to May 10 and everything needs to be in the ground by June 1. Anything planted after that runs the risk of running out of time to mature. Plants may not get enough heat units to mature and they run the risk of a freeze before maturity.
There was an excessive amount of rain this spring during the time cotton should have been planted. There was so much rain, many cotton fields did not get planted and there was about a 40 percent cutback in the number of acres planted, Briggeman said.
Briggeman said he got started planting May 15 and that included irrigated fields. There was so much rain that three circles of corn were lost and he couldn’t start planting until May 30. But Briggeman pushed his planting date to June 12.
Besides risking heat units and freeze damage, cotton growers risk losing the chance to get multi peril insurance for their crops that stops on May 31. After that, insurance coverage drops 10 percent every day until June 10 when multi peril insurance is no longer available. Farmers can still get hail insurance but no multi peril that covers everything, Briggeman said.
There is also preventive planting insurance available and farmers can recover some money for not being able to plant.
In spite of all the rain, the cotton that did get planted looks good.
“I’m very, very satisfied with it. The cotton in the area looks good. I think were in pretty good shape with what’s out there,” Briggeman said. “It all depends on what the next 30 days looks like. We need warm weather and not frost.”
To help speed things along, Briggeman is spraying fields with a growth regulator to help the plants mature quicker. The regulator slows growth down and helps the plant finish the bolls it already has on.
Later, a boll opener will be used to get the cotton bolls to open up. This has to be done so the bolls will open up before it freezes.
Cotton farmers like to start harvesting cotton from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1 or maybe push it to Nov. 5. If a boll opener is not applied and the plant goes through a hard freeze, it can delay harvest into January while waiting for the boll to open.
A defoliant is also applied to knock the leaves off the plant prior to harvest. It’s supposed to take from a week to 10 days to be ready to harvest after the defoliant but in this area it seems to take two to three weeks for the defoliant to work, Briggeman said.