Expert Insight

April 30, 2021 - One Final Look Back at 2020 and Full Steam Ahead

Reviewing general 2020 growing season and weather trends in preparation for 2021 in-season cotton management. Quick update on initial planting.

If you have been following along, welcome back. If a first time listener, welcome in. I have not written since June 24, 2020, for many reasons, but I will avoid the weeds. We all had our own type of frustration in the year 2020. It was a different year on many levels, in many ways, and our cotton growing season was no exception. 

I did want to briefly review our 2020 growing season and weather trends to be more prepared in 2021, in the event we experience similar, to be proactive instead of reactive. In the left side graph above, I plotted the difference from the average daily maximum temperature and difference from the average total rainfall for Tifton, GA, and Statesboro, GA, in 2019 and 2020, respectively. In the right side graph, I charted the historical average max temperature and total rainfall for each respective location. 

Beginning in March 2020, we experienced much warmer temperatures than the norm in Central and East Georgia, opening the door for a limited number of March planted acres. As we moved into April, we started catching consistent weekend rainshowers, predominantly in East Georgia. We turned cool into the middle of April and some April-planted acres were bit in the central to southwestern portion of the state.

By May, East Georgia planting conditions improved and got planted in a hurry. Unlike the hot dry late spring of 2019, we stayed relatively on pace with historical rainfall, but trended towards cooler temperatures.



As planting completed and cotton vegetation began actively generating, we remained relatively mild temperatured, mostly cloudly, and with adequate soil moisture. Our cotton grew happily (too happily) throughout June, loading up with fruit potential but never learning to deal with stress.

We must always remember, especially in the earliest time frames, that cotton is a tropical perennial tree. In optimum conditions, it will grow just as such. Sometimes our crop needs to experience a stress, even if just to remind who is in charge.

As we entered July, we started to see rainshowers decrease, with a steady drought in the Statesboro area for about a month. Within this period, we switched to sunny and warm. Most of our indeterminate cotton shed a lot of existing fruit and went back to regenerating new growth, while our determinates continued to push towards maturity, only at a heightened rate. 


Similar to 2019, as we shifted into August in both the central and east Georgia areas, we began to pick up rainfall while decreasing in maximum daily temperature. By August, varieties that were able to withstand the summer stresses were pushed into cutout, while many indeterminates either began to regrow or began to shade many of our lowest hanging remaining fruit.

The months of August and September could simply be described as just wet. Rains continued into September, but our temperatures decreased, essentailly ceasing the 2020 growing season. We had minimal air flow, temperature, and light to combat the excessive moisture continueing to reside within our crop canopy. Many of our first positions or earliest second positions experienced boll rot and in some cases hard lock. 

The central Georgia crop all but matured during continual rainy weather. However, much of the later planted cotton in east Georgia, especially areas experiencing June drought, started to develop a second crop in the tops of indeterminate varieties. As we pushed into October, rains returned to a more historical norm, but temperatures improved.

As central Georgia fought to retrieve cotton from the field, east Georgia fought their peanut crop. Meanwhile, indeterminate cotton sitting in the field continued to utilize all available moisture and heat to continue to regenerate yield. We continued to find days that provided additional heat units and a few extra pounds. In many cases, we chased the ever present phantom bolls, but some of the heaviest cotton in 2020 wasn't actually harvested until January of 2021. 


While we are already seeing descrepancies in weather patterns in 2021 compared to both 2019 and 2020, there are some similarities in alternate respective areas. As we sit today, portions of the state are soaking wet and can't take another drop, while others are rolling with hopes of weekend showers. With the always evolving challenges we face during planting season, the ability to get our seed in the ground, close the furrow, and have an adequate stand is a very narrow window.

Variety selection is always the most important decision we will make on each farm for the respective year. Once the furrow is closed, our options at maximizing yield potential solely lie on the choosen and planted seed. Choosing larger, more vigorous seed (4,000 - 5,500 seeds/lb.) is one of our surest bets in establishing a nice picket fence stand, but additionally give us the ability to minimize additional inputs, packing potential for rapid early growth with vigorous seedlings. 

Folks consistently planting early understand the obstacles and methods of alleviating poor conditions for emergence. Vigorous, large seeded cotton is value in itself, but more times than not, we are not capitalizing on this opportunity with our seed purchase. But for many of the early planting renegades, PhytoGen Cottonseed is the choice for their toughest acres. 

For more information about cotton production practices in your area, contact your state Extension cotton specialist. As always, your PhytoGen cotton development specialist also is available to discuss agronomic options.

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COTTON DEVELOPMENT SPECIALIST:

SHAWN BUTLER, PH.D.

Shawn Butler is the PhytoGen cotton development specialist for central and eastern Georgia. A native of Jackson, Tennessee, Shawn holds a doctorate in agronomy and crop science and a master’s degree in crop pathology, both from the University of Tennessee, specializing in application technology, precision agriculture and remote sensing. He enjoys helping cotton producers find applied solutions and implementing technology to overcome agronomic challenges. When Shawn isn’t scouting fields and visiting with growers, he enjoys following sports, playing golf, boating, and projects around the yard and home.
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