Thursday, June 13, 2024

2024 Planting Progress

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

Dry weather — prolonged dry weather — scares me. I recall a summer that the “spigot” shut off, and I thought it would never rain again. It finally did so… when I was at a Friday night football game in mid-September; then it rained at least every third or fourth day until the following planting season.

For growers in the Lower Southeast, soil moisture typically affects stand establishment more so than temperature. Both weather factors delayed planting this year, though I still contend that if we have available soil moisture after April 15-20, we need to get into the field. The few April-planted acres — USDA reported less than 10% of our crop was seeded before April 30 — seemed to fare well despite a rainy cold front that passed through April 20-21. Predictions for May, though highly varied, generally call for below-normal rainfall. That, coupled with prevailing windy conditions, pose challenges for early cotton stands.

Crop yields in 2023 in Alabama ranged from terrible to spectacular. Some in northern areas made their “best crop ever.” Even those that harvested a bountiful crop greeted this season with muted prospects because of the squeeze of input costs and labor concerns. All entered 2024 thinking, “we need a good crop, a really good crop.” The April price drop was another blow to hopes and expectations.

As we proceed with May plantings, we are increasingly concerned about drought. By this reading in early June, we’ll have a better picture of where we stand, for the near term and the bigger picture of the 2024 crop.

ARIZONA | Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

The 2024 cotton growing has seen an interesting start. Abnormal precipitation events in late March and early April and cooler-than-average temperatures resulted in a delay in much of the planting across the various cotton-growing regions of Arizona. However, mid-April experienced a turn in weather patterns to drier and much warmer trends resulting in optimum conditions for planting and crop establishment.

Beginning around April 15, the planters started moving quickly across the state with a significant amount of the crop being planted in the last two weeks of April and early May. It is projected that Arizona will grow just slightly over 100,000 acres in 2024 with approximately 80,000 being Upland cotton and the remaining 20,000 being extra-long staple (ELS) cotton.

Early season cotton development from emergence to initiation of fruiting is important in setting up the vegetative structure of the crop to sustain future development of fruiting forms. Monitoring and managing early season insect pests, maintaining adequate soil moisture to reduce potential stress on young cotton plants and ensuring availability to adequate fertility levels in the soil are among the many important management decisions that will help establish a strong and healthy vegetative structure early in the season.

Decisions related to the management of pests, moisture and fertility status in the crop become even more critical as the plant transitions from a vegetative to a reproductive state. It has been, and in some cases still is a common practice to impose early season water stress to help induce crop fruiting and flowering and to also control excessive vegetative growth. With today’s newer, more determinant varieties, withholding water to induce flowering and control vegetative growth has the potential to impose sufficient stress causing the plant to rapidly progress toward cut-out and induce abortion of small pinhead squares. This can result in a negative impact on yield and fiber quality. Properly managing soil-plant moisture status is critical to obtaining optimum yield and fiber quality. Information related to these and other crop management topics can be found at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension website (

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

As I am writing this May 3, cotton planters are rolling in Georgia. While it seems we are slightly ahead of schedule today relative to previous years, we all know things can change in a hurry. Of course, by the time you are reading this, I hope we will be almost done!!

As most folks are hopefully done or close to done planting at this point, the next thing on many growers’ minds will be managing this crop with plant growth regulators. As we start looking at this, some of the most widely publicized data and strategies for PGR use come from my colleagues in the Mid-South. When I talk about PGR use in Georgia compared to the Mid-South, I generally include a map showing that Georgia, in fact, is not in the Mid-South.

Theres a couple of things we have going for us in Georgia that make PGR strategies different from other places in the Cotton Belt. The first is that in the Mid-South, tarnished plant bugs are a more consistent and intense pest than they are for us in Georgia, and in taller cotton, it is harder to gain control of these insects, thus the need to keep it short. But the other thing that benefits Georgia growers is the length of our season.

I have looked at PGR trials we have conducted a number of ways — yield response to plant height in my trials is inconsistent (but I will say I’ve never seen yield increase as plant height decreases in Georgia), but in one set of trials, we took some pretty intense data and one thing was interesting to me. In this specific set of trials, yield increased as season length increased. Indicating that taking advantage of our long season was more associated with yield increases than other measures like plant heights.

PGRs are used for two reasons: reducing plant heights and hastening maturity. So, let’s use them appropriately for our production environments — maintain a plant height conducive to harvest, but let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot by unnecessarily shortening our season by being overly aggressive with PGRs.

As always, if you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to reach out. Your local University of Georgia county Extension agents and specialists are here to help!

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

It is hot and dry here in Mississippi, and planting is in full swing.  As April slipped away, along with turkey season, an opportunity for farmers to plant during the optimal window is upon us (May 1-10). I mentioned hot and dry, but I am referring to a window of opportunity to get seeds into the ground.  Often times, we are cool and wet during the first week of May. But not this year. Our cotton growers were able to plant during the last week of April in some locations.

Our soil temperatures have been hanging around 60 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 10 days giving our growers a chance to plant at least eight of them. Soil moisture has been extremely adequate and lingering around, which has produced emerged seedlings in as little as 3.5 to four days. I think that is a bit unusual for this time of year in Mississippi, but I’ll take it!

It’s hard to say the exact progress as I write this because things are happening fast. Currently, with the equipment that is used to plant cotton, we could easily get more than 50% of our acres planted in less than two weeks (maybe 10 days). The extended forecast is looking good for the next two weeks. The amount of rain we get over the weekend (May 4-5) will dictate how much of the state is planted. We are forecasted to seed 500,000 acres of cotton in 2024. At this point, things are looking good, and we are “sending it” hoping for some big yields this year!

Good luck!

MISSOURI | Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson, Missouri

Cotton planting in Missouri started earlier in 2024 than I have seen in the recent past. May 5 through May 15 is when the majority of the cotton is usually planted. This year, producers started around April 22, with instances of minimal acres planted around April 6, which is the earliest-planted cotton that I have heard about.

At this point, planted acres seem to be approximately 60% to 65% planted. We are expecting more acres here than in past years, likely 350,000 acres to 355,000 acres. If you split the Bootheel in half from south to north, I would likely say the southern part is 70% to 80% planted. The northern end of the Bootheel has had greater rainfall, which slowed planting progress. I would say they are approximately 40% to 50% planted. There are several producers who elected to wait until May to begin planting; therefore, some have recently just started planting.

We just received rainfall across the Bootheel on May 2, and parts of the southern region were needing a rain to activate preemergent herbicides. Overall, we are a little ahead of where we have been in the past in Southeast Missouri.

NORTH CAROLINA |Keith Edmisten

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten,
North Carolina

We have had pretty good temperatures as I write this in early May with maybe 5% to 10% of cotton acreage planted. Many growers have been concentrating their efforts on peanuts so far. As we finish up peanut planting in the next few days, our cotton planting should take off.

The outlook for cotton planting looks good as far as temperatures are concerned. Unfortunately, we are getting very dry in some areas. Generally, we are better off to plant shallow and wait for a rain to bring the cotton up rather than plant too deep trying to chase moisture. We are concerned that cotton planted deep might find enough moisture to germinate and then die due to drying conditions. Also, cotton planted deep may struggle to emerge if we get rains that cause soil crusting. Fortunately, the current outlook looks a lot better for precipitation in North Carolina.

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

As I write this on the fourth of May, we have just had a string of storms slowly close the door on arguably the best late April/early May planting window of the past 10 years. Pockets of our production area have seen large percentages of our planned cotton acres planted, while in other areas many were focused on wrapping up full-season soybean and corn planting.

I currently believe we have more than 30% of our planned cotton acres planted, and now that most have their corn and soybean plantings completed, I believe we may be able to move through the remainder of our acres quickly should we be given another series of dry days soon.

By the time you read this in early June, I hope many of you have begun to notice large squares on these earlier planted fields. While overall plant bug pressure last year was relatively light, clouded and tarnished plant bugs seemed to move into our cotton earlier than normal last year. This often occurs during dry periods when field edges appear less enticing than our young cotton crop. I would encourage you to be vigilant early when scouting for these pests; if we can set low fruit on this crop, we could theoretically be looking at picking a large portion of our acres in September.

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As I write this in early May, approximately 18% of the statewide cotton acres have been planted in Texas. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – National Agricultural Statistics Service Texas crop progress report, planting progress is about on pace with the five-year average. Late winter and spring rainfall has greatly helped recharge soil moisture in many of the cotton-growing regions across the state, which is a welcome relief from the conditions growers have experienced the previous two years. Currently, the Upper Gulf Coast, Blackland Prairie, Rolling Plains and portions of the Southern High Plains are not in abnormally dry or drought conditions.

Many fields in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend are squaring, and I’m hearing a few reports of fields just beginning to bloom in these regions. Scouting emphasis has shifted over to cotton fleahopper in these areas, and there have been reports of some fields being above economic threshold, triggering insecticide application. Thrips pressure has been particularly bad in areas of the Upper Gulf Coast early in the season, triggering over-the-top applications for these pests once young cotton grew beyond the two-leaf stage.

Rain has slowed planting progress in the Blackland Prairie, with some areas receiving as much as eight inches of rainfall in one event lately. Fields in this area will require an extended period of drying before growers can plant the remaining crop in the Blacklands. Growers in the Rolling Plains have received good rainfall in the past few weeks and months, and planting of irrigated cotton in this region will most likely ramp up beginning the second or third week of May and then shift over toward planting the dryland acres in late May and early June.

TEXAS | Ken Legé

Ken Lège, Texas

Warm air and soil temperatures in the Texas high plains have given growers a case of “planting fever” as we look to begin planting cotton earlier than normal. We typically anticipate a strong cool front the second week of May, but thus far have not seen that in the forecast. Frequent rainfall on the east side of the region has filled the soil profile for most, making for a very optimistic start. However, soil moisture is still lacking on the west side of the region, especially along the Texas/New Mexico border area, where moderate drought and/or abnormally dry conditions persist.

Every season I attempt to advise growers to mitigate their risk by spreading their planting dates throughout May and early June (depending on their location), but inevitably, if growers get a window of opportunity in early May, they tend to keep planting! This is understandable, especially if planting is going well in that early time period. However, more often than not, a cool front will move in and some portion of that early planted acreage needs replanting.

Speaking of replanting, I tend to be fairly conservative when it comes to replanting decisions because it is so costly. Although most transgenic seed companies have very good replant programs that cover as much as 75% of the seed costs, the remainder of the seed cost is still substantial, and there is the cost of diesel and opportunity costs (i.e., grower could be applying herbicides/insecticides in other fields, etc.) to consider. Additionally, in most cases, a later-planted crop most likely will not yield as high as a more timely planted crop, so growers should also tabulate that risk. Even though there are instances where replanting makes the most sense, it should be rare and should be approached with caution.

There is much interest in how many acres of cotton will be planted in the high plains this year.  Acres have already begun to be planted in the northern plains (north of Amarillo); that area saw many prevented acres in 2023, and we expect to have the typical acreage planted in 2024. In the southern high plains, it is all about moisture, and there are few crop alternatives beyond cotton. As mentioned previously, the east side of the region has very good soil moisture conditions, and cotton acreage should be stable to up there. The west side and much of the sandier areas south of Lubbock do not have as much soil moisture; however, timely planting rains will make all the difference. If the current weather pattern, which has chances of showers every five to seven days, continues throughout May and early June, we could see acreage increase above that forecasted by USDA. If the pattern changes, it could be dramatically lower. Time will tell. 

Related Articles

Connect With Cotton Farming

Quick Links

E-News Sign-up