Thursday, May 30, 2024

Cotton-Growing Game Plan

Growing a cotton crop, much like preparing for a big game in sports, requires having a well thought out game plan to achieve a successful outcome. As the King said in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the best way to get started is to “begin at the beginning.”

The vast majority of cotton farmers began by purchasing their cottonseed, and the logical next step is to get it into the ground. In the cover story on page 8, University of Georgia cotton experts — Wes Porter and Simer Virk — offer tips to optimize planter efficiency. They point out that “Planter malfunctions in the field or mistakes at planting are common and can become costly, especially with the high seed prices. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the planters are dialed in for peak performance in the field.”

Their first piece of advice is to thoroughly go over different planter components to check if any parts need replacement or adjustment to get it field ready. “Once out in the field, it is important that the operator gets out of the tractor during the first few passes and checks seed depth and spacing across all rows behind the planter,” they said. “This is also the best time to check if the planter is set up and functioning properly for the given field conditions such as soil moisture, residue, etc.”

Virk also contributes a 12-point checklist to ensure you get the most out of your planter. Some of the components he covers include the drive system, double disc openers, row cleaners, downforce and more.

As the blueprint for efficient planting takes shape, another strategy to work out in advance is pest control. Some good advice on this front comes from the Specialists Speaking section on page 17.

Guy Collins, North Carolina cotton specialist, said, “Beyond stand establishment, early season weeds and insect pests are likely the next in line in terms of where our attention will be given. Using the NCSU Thrips Infestation Predictor (https://products.climate.ncsu.edu/ag/cottontip/) can certainly help growers understand when to plant to minimize thrips problems, when during the planting window they will get the most benefit from ThryvOn or which fields may need more attention and management for thrips.”

In the weed control arena, Texas cotton specialist Ben McKnight said, “As a weed scientist by training, I am a big advocate for an aggressive weed management approach on the front end of the season. Residual herbicides can provide a foundation for effective weed control throughout the critical weed-free period early in the growing season, thereby reducing potential yield loss from early season weed competition.”

As all the moving parts fall into place, and you tuck your well thought out cotton-growing game plan in your back pocket, remember that execution is a team effort, not a solitary endeavor. Or as Eric Bell, the 2023 Cotton Consultant of the Year, would say: “It takes a village.”

Here’s hoping everyone’s 2024 cotton season is a big winner!

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