Cotton Links


Cotton-Wheat Combo:
A Race Against Time


An increase in wheat acres across cotton country means some farmers could be double-cropping cotton with wheat for the first time.

While it may be new to some Mid-South producers, farmers in Georgia have planted cotton behind small grain crops with success for at least two decades. Initially tried as a dryland practice, producers quickly found that irrigation was important for making a wheat/cotton double-crop work, according to Chuck Ellis, Dooley County Extension agent.

“The normal practice around here is to harvest the wheat, strip-till the cotton and irrigate to get the plants up and growing quickly because time is of the essence when trying to produce a good cotton crop planted behind grain,” says Ellis. “The objective is to set and mature fruit as quickly as possible.”

Ellis recommends adding enough phosphorous and potassium to the wheat fertility application so that the nutrients are already in the field for the cotton crop before it is planted. He advises going with the lower end of recommended nitrogen rates for cotton to avoid promoting too much vegetative growth, and to address any nitrogen needs that may come up later on with a foliar application.

Also, prior to harvesting the grain, make sure the straw chopper and spreader are in good working condition to gain an even distribution of straw.

Fewer Seeds Planted

Ellis says the desired plant population should be two-and-a-half to three seeds per foot – slightly less than what is recommended in non-double-crop situations. He says many cotton varieties, when planted close together, will tend to grow for a long period before putting on fruit. In a double-crop situation, the objective is to get the cotton up and fruiting as quickly as possible.

“Ideally, in southwest Georgia, we’d want our cotton in the ground by June 10 to give us 150 days or so to make a crop,” Ellis says.

Although cotton planted behind wheat has a shorter growing season than earlier-planted cotton, fuller-maturing cotton varieties have worked well in southwestern Georgia double-crop situations.

“In areas of the Mid-South where there is a lot of wheat planted this year, growers may have to rely on an earlier-maturing variety, but here in southwestern Georgia they have found that they can push DP 555 BG/RR to make a good crop even with the shorter growing period,” he says.

Value Of Residual Herbicides

Ellis recommends making a pre-emergent residual herbicide application ahead of planting the cotton. During the squaring and fruiting stage, scouting for plant bugs and stink bugs is important because there is little growing time to make up for fruit loss caused by insects. He endorses watching the weather forecast prior to harvest to know when to apply a boll opener for maximum effectiveness.

“It’s been our experience that ethephon needs at least five to seven days to open bolls, so there is importance in making that application at seven to 10 days prior to the first freeze,” he says.

Robert Bruce, who farms near Dixie, Ga., says he’s had success with making the first PGR application on his cotton planted behind wheat at the fifth-leaf stage in conjunction with his over-the-top Roundup agricultural herbicide spray. His practice has been four ounces followed two weeks later by another application if he thinks the cotton needs more. When the crop begins squaring at the top, he applies another 16 ounces to set a top crop.

“The top crop is where my yield comes from,” says Bruce. “We’ve used this strategy with much success. We’ve found that we can accomplish this and grow DP 555 BG/RR behind wheat with great results. In both 2005 and 2006, we did not plant our cotton behind wheat until June 27 and still made outstanding yields.”

The Brighton Agency, which represents Delta & Pine Land, provided information for this article.


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