Specialists Speaking - April 2008
Planters Ready To Roll
Cotton planting time is just around the corner. Don't rely on a planting date based on the calendar. Planting date should be determined by the soil temperatures, soil moisture and the weather forecast for the next five days. Planting in cool, wet soils is not recommended. We have plenty of time to get the crop planted without rushing to get the seed into the ground.
In Missouri, some of the planting date studies have favored the early May planting dates. In the past, many producers tried to get the seed in the ground as early as possible. This allows the crop to mature and be harvested before the rainy season. As expensive as seed is today, it’s better to have good planting conditions and the prospect of good weather prior to emergence.
One factor that has changed our date of planting studies is the impact of the boll weevil eradication program. By having a consistent top crop, we have noted that late planted cotton has an opportunity to catch up.
So when is a good time to plant? Generally, April 20 through May 20 is an accepted range of planting dates. However, cool wet soils often hinder plant growth and development. Under poor germination conditions, getting a good stand is more of a problem.
However, studies have favored leaving cotton with a less than desirable stand to that of re-planting after May 20. Planting into moisture is more desirable than planting into dry soil and waiting on a rain.
Spring of ‘08 has started out differently than the past several years. There is water in places that have not had water in many years, leaving fields with areas that are too wet to prepare for planting. Many of our producers plant cotton using conservation tillage methods to reduce fuel use and erosion.
Cover crops or winter weeds should be killed five weeks in advance of planting for moisture conservation as well as a reduction in insect pests that could damage young cotton seedlings. Rows can be stripped off using in-row subsoilers or strip-till rigs several weeks ahead of planting to spread the workload and to allow smaller tractors with planters to come in for the planting operation.
One of the keys is to have seedbeds weed-free at planting along with a few weeds in the field that may be hard to control during the season with Roundup like horseweed. Generally, 2,4-D type materials five weeks ahead of planting will kill many of the broad leaf weeds that may be harder to control with glyphosate.
Residual herbicides can be used in the burndown herbicide application to keep weed growth from coming on before planting. If moisture is conserved from a late March killing of the cover crop, cotton can be planted at almost anytime in mid- to late April with good results.
Starter fertilizer is not used as often with cotton as with corn but has proven to be more efficient than broadcast applications and should be considered if high amounts of P or K are required at current prices. Rates can be reduced by 30 percent or more in many cases with similar results to broadcast applications if applied in a band.
Care should be taken with N to keep it one inch away from the row for each 10 pounds per acre of N applied as a starter. Test reduced rates on your own farm by splitting fields with broadcast applications vs. banded starter applications for P and K. Likewise, less N is required if banded near the row at squaring than if broadcast applications are made.
For Georgia cotton farmers, April is the month to finalize plans and finish getting equipment ready and pre-paring the land for planting. Above-normal rainfall was received in the southern part of the state so far this winter and spring.
Most farm ponds are full and believe it or not, some land was too wet to work in March. Farmers using conservation-tillage practices have the advantage of not being delayed and saving some hard-to-come- by input cost in fuel. More wheat that will be taken to grain (vs. just as a winter cover crop) was planted in Georgia this year. Consequently, there will be more late or “June-planted” cotton.
Variety selection and glyphosate-resistant pigweed continue to be “hot topics” as we go into planting season. With the high price of fertilizer and lime, more interest in variable rate application of these inputs is apparent.
Arkansas has been blessed with abundant rainfall to replenish subsoil moisture over the last few weeks. Cotton acreage may be on the rise with cotton prices increasing to more appealing levels.
The initial Arkansas cotton acreage estimate released by the National Cotton Council suggested acreage around 605,000 acres. However, with the increased prices I think we may see acreage increase toward 650,000 to 700,000.
Regardless, cotton planting season is just around the corner. The following is a list of six things to check before you plant your crop: 1) seed quality 2) planter calibration, 3) soil moisture, 4) soil temperature, 5) seed protection and 6) the five-day forecast. The cotton producers in business today know these fundamentals well, but there may still be a few that are overlooked, or not concentrated on enough.
Proper planter calibration is one thing that needs to be looked at a little harder. Consistent seed placement depth is crucial for a timely, uniform cotton emergence or stand. Operating planters at 8-10 mph will in most cases negate the trouble you took setting the planter in the first place. The planters utilized today should not be operated at more than 5-6 mph. The faster the planter speed, the less precision in placement and population.
Seeds should be placed in moisture, but not too deep. Deep-planted cotton in most cases will struggle more to make a stand, and most of the time will have to be replanted. The planter should also be checked or recalibrated if varieties are switched due to differences in seed size.
It is so costly today to replant – especially if the technology fees and seed costs are not covered.
Agriculture is becoming more technologically advanced as time progresses. Precision agriculture is a term that has been widely adopted regarding the use of technology to identify and manage within-field variability of a crop.
The use of precision farming techniques has the potential to reduce inputs and increase the efficiency of the inputs we do use. However, as one professor asked me during the course of my studies: “What if something is precise, but not accurate?”
Essentially, this would be like grouping five rifle shots in a one-inch square; however, that one-inch square is three inches high and left of the bullseye.
The same concept holds true in agriculture. Imagine the ramifications of a precisely inaccurate or an accurately imprecise application.
The technology that we have at our disposal allows us to manage our crops with unprecedented precision, but we must strive to manage our crops with precision and accuracy. Technology that is available today is a tool for becoming more efficient and maximizing inputs. However, technology does not take the thought out of our farming operations.
We all know that nitrogen is the primary nutrient for cotton production, and it’s also the most expensive. Recently, it has become very expensive. I’ve received more calls than ever over the past month from producers who are planning on splitting their nitrogen applications this season, and that’s a good thing from an efficiency standpoint.
It protects against leaching and denitrification losses. Early vegetative growth requires a small amount of nitrogen, usually less than 25 percent of the total seasonal requirement. The peak demand for nitrogen is during the reproductive period, beginning at first bloom, which is about 60 days from planting.
A good rule of thumb is to apply about one-half of the nitrogen preplant and sidedress the remainder between squaring and first bloom. Considering the cost of nitrogen, it’s good management to take a 12-inch soil sample and split your applications. You very likely will save some money.
I am still amazed how quickly Alabama cotton farmers adapt their farming operations to changing conditions. Cotton acres in Alabama will be down significantly in 2008 with many estimating only about 300,000 acres planted.
The state has experienced two drought years, and prices for other commodities are high. It is much easier to pencil out a profit growing corn, wheat or soybeans than it is for cotton. Is this the end for cotton in Alabama? Not likely, based on what I have seen in north Alabama.
It was not that long ago that seven cotton seeds per foot was the normal cotton seeding rate on the silty clay soils in Alabama. By using more precise planters and delaying planting dates slightly, cotton farmers on these soils now plant only half as many seeds and are planting mainly in a no-till situation.
There is no doubt higher cottonseed prices were a driving force in making these changes. We are now faced with much higher fuel and chemical costs in 2008. Again, I see farmers looking for ways to become more efficient. Farmers who started out using light bars on their spraying equipment to reduce spray skips and over-lapping are now looking for other ways to use this new precision agriculture.
I am not sure where this will go, but the Alabama cotton farmer will adapt.
Even though March has been quite dry in California’s San Joaquin Valley, some decent rains and snowfall mid-winter improved prospects for water supplies for irrigation. This has raised hopes for borderline or better irrigation water supplies going into ‘08.
Hopefully, cotton producers will take this as a good sign and move forward with cotton plantings. Reductions in cotton acreage and increases in plantings of a wide range of crops, including small grains, corn, safflower, some vegetables, and tree and vine plantings with and without cover between trees or vines, mean that your cotton plantings may have “neighbors” (other crops) a little different from what most of us have been used to in past times.
With all these other crops to learn about and work with, there may be a tendency to concentrate on and give extra attention to those crops, some of which might be new to the area.
As a crop with critical growth stages and needs for timely water, pest and growth management, however, it will be important not to shortchange cotton in terms of attention to squaring and bloom-time fruit retention and pest or growth management issues.
As we all recognize, these factors have significant potential to limit yields and impact maturity, harvest readiness or fiber quality. With more of a mix of neighboring crops, crop and pest monitoring/management and timing of appearance of certain pests may be different and require some new thinking to see if neighboring crops have changed any of their pest management requirements.
Roundup Ready Flex cotton varieties and glyphosate-resistant weeds will likely change the way some producers approach weed control this coming year. There will be more use of pre-emerge and pre-plant incorporated materials to help deal with glyphosate-resistant weeds or to reduce the likelihood of developing resistant populations. Alternate chemistry is an important part of both controlling resistant weeds and reducing the likelihood of development of weed resistance.
Alternate chemistry is considered to be more beneficial in resistance management when it is used early in the weed control period. This will likely mean that over-the-top Roundup applications may not be needed as early as they were in the total post systems that many producers have used for the past few years.
Often that early over-the-top Roundup application on cotyledon to one-leaf cotton was perfect timing for foliar thrips applications. If new weed control strategies that include pre herbicides delay the over-the-top application until later, producers will need to determine if separate foliar applications need to be made for thrips control. This is especially likely on early cotton that grows off slowly and where seed treatments are used for thrips control.
Cotton acreage across Arizona will likely be down again in 2008. National Cotton Council planting intention estimates have upland acreage at 127,000 with Pima acreage near 2,000 acres. This would represent a 25 percent and 20 percent reduction from 2007 for upland and Pima respectively.
We have seen a shift from cotton acreage to small grains and to other forage crops such as corn silage and alfalfa. This increase in crop diversification has the potential to complicate pest control for the 2008 season. Even though the 2007 season was an extremely light insect year, it is important not to become complacent when it comes to monitoring fields for insect pressures and taking appropriate actions when necessary to protect that most important early season fruit set.
Guidelines for effectively managing lygus and other cotton pest populations have been developed and tested extensively for Arizona cotton production systems. This information is available through publications found on the CROPS Web site listed at the end of this report. Information regarding this topic has been and will be presented in educational meetings held across the state in 2008.
Another topic to discuss is that of weed control. As you know, several cases of resistance to glyphosate herbicide have been documented across the Cotton Belt. Just as resistance management was employed to help preserve the insect tolerance traits (such as Bt), we also need to be thinking about resistance management in weed control systems. Using pre-plant incorporated herbicides will help reduce weed populations and thereby reduce selection pressure for resistant weeds.
We benefit today from great technology that has revolutionized the way we grow cotton. It is critical that we exercise wise stewardship of these technologies to ensure their effectiveness.