Georgia farmers who delay picking their cotton could lose moneyby sacrificing the crop’s quality, say University of Georgia cottonexperts.Many of the state’s farmers grow both cotton and peanuts, whichmature at about the same time. They harvest peanuts throughoutSeptember and October and pick cotton from mid-September intoDecember.Handling both harvests at the same time can strain farmers’resources. The peanut harvest coincides with the time they applychemicals to remove the cotton plants’ foliage and stop growth.”Right now, most farmers don’t have the luxury of handlingthe majority of peanut and cotton harvest at the same time,”said Don Shurley, an economist with the UGA College of Agricultureand Environmental Sciences. “Most farmers leave the cottonto get in the peanuts.”Getting Bad GradesShurley and Craig Bednarz, a CAES assistant professor of cottonphysiology, began a study three years ago to find out how muchgrowers lose by postponing cotton defoliation and harvest.The cotton plant opens its bolls, the part that produces thelint, for about six weeks. Soon after, Bednarz said, the qualityand potential yields decline. The bolls don’t all open at once.Some will be open and subject to decline, while others continueto develop.When quality declines, cotton mills lower the price they paythe farmer. In some cases, they even refuse to buy some of thecotton. The mills want high-quality cotton that can more easilybe processed into yarn.Last year, deductions due to poor quality cost state growers$40 million, Shurley said. The 1999 crop was worth about $440million, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service.Timing Versus Quality”The main reason we’re doing this research is that thefiber properties in the state aren’t as good as some mid-Southcotton,” Bednarz said. “Harvest timing has somethingto do with this.””We got peanuts to pick, and we got cotton to pick,”said Roy Roberts, an Ocilla, Ga., farmer. Because of limited manpowerand time, Roberts will usually opt to pick his peanuts first anddelay his cotton harvest.But Roberts, who also manages a gin, has seen cotton qualitydecline over the years. He worries about the state’s positionas a leading producer.”I’d like to see us do a better job on staggering outthe peanut and cotton planting, going back to having a good reputationfor producing a good quality crop,” he said. He pointed tothe need for a timely harvest and a uniform crop.Bednarz said the research could help farmers find a more profitablebalance between cotton and peanuts for harvest resources, suchas labor, equipment and chemical applications.Best TimingAt the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, Ga., Bednarzscheduled harvest at 13 stages of crop maturity.He began harvest-aid applications when 10 percent of the bollswere open and continued every week for 13 weeks. Each plot wasmechanically harvested following defoliation.By adjusting income to compensate for losses to grade deductions,the 1999 economic analysis shows the per-acre dollar value increasedfrom week 1 to week 6. It peaked at $684 per acre.Research in 1998 showed the best time to defoliate cotton waswhen the crop had 60 percent open bolls. In 1999, the profit peakedat about 70 percent open bolls.Bednarz said the research results are still early. The weatherchanges and affects cotton differently from year to year, he said.So multiple-season data will be needed before they can set a stableguideline for farmers.