Achieve Good Emergence And A Healthy Stand

Getting a good stand of cotton at the beginning of the season can maximize returns of the crop, according to specialists across the Cotton Belt.

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As I write this March 6, approximately 78% of Texas is still in either drought or abnormally dry conditions. Conditions in the Coastal Bend and Lower Rio Grande Valley are listed as being in moderate drought, along with some areas in the Blackland Prairie. The Rolling Plains, West-Central Texas and the High Plains growing regions are listed anywhere from moderate drought to extreme drought in some areas. Additional rainfall would greatly help recharge soil moisture and get the crop off to a good start on many of our cotton acres across the state ahead of planting.

Warm and cool germination values, along with overall cotton seed quality, are very important considerations as we get closer to planting. I encourage growers to wait until soil temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of four inches before even considering planting, and always consider what the five-day weather forecast looks like. 

There is a strong correlation between soil temperatures and the time until seedling emergence, and waiting on favorable temperatures can ensure young cotton gets out of the ground in a timely manner and off to a good start. I also encourage producers to plant their best seed first, as indicated by warm and cool germination percentage, and hold off until conditions are more ideal before planting seed with lower warm or cool germination values.

Additionally, seed treatments and in-furrow applications can bring quite a bit of value to early season pest management programs. As cotton begins to emerge, it enters one of the most vulnerable times throughout the entire life cycle for damage from pests. Protecting young cotton plants on the front end of the season can go a long way toward protecting yield and fiber quality at the other end of the growing season. 

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

Before I get going on getting a good stand of cotton, I do want to thank all our UGA county Extension agents and growers for organizing and attending our winter production meetings for 2023. It was great hitting the road, seeing everyone and visiting with agents, growers and industry about our state’s most widely cultivated row crop.

As I write this March 6, it is over 80 degrees outside and has been for the last few days. Many growers are getting the itch to jump out and plant something, but I hope they planted corn instead of cotton this early. However, by the time this is published, it will be time to be getting in the field and possibly planting a little cotton. 

One thing I’ve talked with a few growers about this year is planting into good conditions. Most of my other colleagues at this time will likely say something about waiting until soil temperatures are above 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning and possibly getting your seed’s cool germ tested. While these things are important, and do have a few folks planting really early in Georgia, it seems like we don’t really get going until late April/early May. One thing I have noticed might be more vital for us is planting into good moisture. 

Last season on the station, we began planting cotton April 17, mainly to take advantage of good soil moisture in a dryland field. It did not rain in Tifton again until June 15, so if we had not taken advantage of that mid-April rainfall, we wouldn’t have been planted until June 15 or so. Luckily, we were sitting on go so we could take advantage of the good moisture. Although that was a dryland situation, we need to plant into good moisture in our irrigated fields as well, even if that means watering the field prior to planting. Planting into good moisture can reduce injury from preemergence herbicides and give us a little more confidence that we will get an acceptable stand on the first try. Of course, there are a lot of factors that can affect getting a stand, but planting into good moisture leaves us with one less thing to worry about.

As always, your local UGA county Extension agent and specialists are here to help! Reach out if you have any questions. 

MISSOURI | Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson, Missouri

The first step to a successful start to the season is establishing a healthy cotton stand. Planting early can increase yield potential and promote earliness in terms of plant maturity. Generally, when conditions are conducive to optimum growth, cotton can grow rapidly, reducing losses to insect pests such as thrips. However, conditions were marginal in 2022, and that created several stand issues from soil-borne diseases and heavy thrips pressure. In Missouri, we rarely see optimum growth conditions for cotton in April or early May. 

Starting off with a weed-free seed bed will allow for greater sunlight to increase soil temperatures and reduce moisture and plant competition. Therefore, pre-plant burndown applications are essential to promoting a healthy stand. In fields with cover crops, termination of the cover is needed three to six weeks prior to planting to reduce biomass and moisture use by the cover crop. Good seed-to-soil contact is important for promoting a healthy cotton stand.

Optimum conditions for planting include a mid-morning, 68-degree Fahrenheit soil temperature at the desired planting depth for three consecutive days and a favorable five-day forecast. Environmental conditions that provide cotton DD60’s that are 25 or greater are considered an optimum five-day outlook. Lastly, monitoring seeding depth is important as you move from field to field. This is an aspect that can be easily overlooked but can come at a huge cost.

LOUISIANA | Matt Foster

matt foster
Matt Foster,

With cotton planting knocking at our door, now is a good time to start preparing for thrips management. Thrips are a major, early season pest of seedling cotton in Louisiana and throughout the cotton belt. Tobacco thrips are the most common species on cotton in Louisiana. Research has shown that severe thrips infestations can reduce yield by 200 to 300 pounds of lint per acre. 

Cotton is most susceptible to thrips injury between emergence and the fourth true-leaf stage due to the slow development of the terminal bud. Cotton seedlings injured from thrips may exhibit tattered/crinkled leaves that curl upward and fail to properly expand. Injury from sandblasting and preemergence herbicides can oftentimes mimic thrips injury. 

“Thrips are a major, early season pest of seedling cotton in Louisiana and throughout the cotton belt,” Matt Foster said. “Research has shown that severe thrips infestations can reduce yield by 200 to 300 pounds of lint per acre.”

Management options include insecticide seed treatments, in-furrow applications, foliar sprays and the recently commercialized ThryvOn technology. Currently, acephate and neonicotinoids are the only two seed treatment options. The two most common neonicotinoids are imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, and they are offered alone or in combination with nematicides. LSU AgCenter entomologists do not recommend the use of thiamethoxam alone to manage thrips in cotton due to development of resistance by tobacco thrips. 

At-planting, in-furrow insecticide options include imidacloprid, acephate or AgLogic (aldicarb). Foliar rescue sprays may be necessary under certain conditions, but they should not be the only tool used to manage thrips. The decision to use a foliar insecticide for thrips control should be based on scouting. The presence of immature thrips indicates the insecticide seed treatment has broken down and reproduction is occurring. 

Foliar insecticide options include acephate, Bidrin, Radiant, dimethoate or Intrepid Edge. ThryvOn cotton expresses a new biotech trait that provides protection against thrips and tarnished plant bug species. Itprotects young cotton plants from thrips species by deterring adult feeding and egg laying. In LSU AgCenter trials, ThryvOn cotton provided excellent control of thrips without additional insecticide inputs. Implementing a good thrips management plan will help ensure a healthy stand.

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

With warm weather in February, planting season seems like it’s already upon us. Spring is busting out with great enthusiasm, and a respectable number of corn acres are already planted in Mississippi.  However, historically, we are due for another cool/cold snap, and it will likely occur near Easter if there is any normalcy left regarding weather trends.

Typically, larger-seeded varieties have better early season vigor and less emergence issues; however, this is not always the case. First, it is always a good idea to pay attention to the germination percentage for the seed lot that is being planted. For varieties with a history of poor germination or emergence issues, consider requesting the cool germination from the seed company. A good seed treatment with a fungicide and insecticide can help protect seedlings when environmental conditions become challenging either from pests or poor weather conditions.

Anyone who has been around cotton long enough has experienced issues with getting a stand at some point in their career. Often, under relatively favorable conditions, it appears like cotton seedlings want to die until they get a developed root system. Environmental conditions a week or two after planting are critical to the success or failure of a cotton stand. Checking the soil temperature and ensuring it’s over 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning is a good starting point as well as monitoring the extended forecasts to avoid cool nights or abundant rainfall. 

Finally, seed placement at a proper depth, in moisture, and good seed-to-soil contact will increase your chances of success. In cover-cropped systems, soil temperatures could remain cooler a couple days longer compared to bare ground, and seed placement might be a little challenging. Therefore, making sure you have right equipment to achieve proper seed placement in a cover-cropped system is key to good emergence and a healthy stand.  Best regards!

NORTH CAROLINA |Keith Edmisten

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten,
North Carolina

Achieving a healthy stand is not always an easy task in North Carolina as environmental conditions can change frequently during our optimum-planting window. We have a tool on our cotton portal called Cotton Planting Conditions Calculator where growers can find what the planting conditions are for their farm on a map. Growers should check this often as these predictions are based on weather forecasts and those can change fairly rapidly.

The Cotton Planting Conditions Calculator is a tool growers can use to find current planting conditions on their farm.

There are very few planting seasons where growers might have to plant in less-than-optimum conditions. There are some things that growers can do to increase the odds that they will get a healthy stand. One is using the best quality seed they have in terms of both warm and cool germ. Growers can check the NCDA cotton seed quality database to check and see if their lots of seed have been tested in the NCDA seed lab. Reducing any stress on the germinating seed is important under less-than-ideal conditions. Such ways to reduce stressful conditions include avoiding planting too deeply, avoiding any in-furrow fertilizers and/or planting before packing rains, especially on soils that tend to crust.

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Tennessee, as a predominately no-till state, has limited our ability to create an ideal seedbed. Over the past several years, our seedlings have had to struggle through prolonged saturated soil conditions and cold snaps. While many of our colleagues to the west and south can take advantage of beds — which provide a uniform, warm seedbed that allows moisture to move away from the young seedling — much of our ground is rolling and erodible; we simply cannot bed some farms without risking substantial soil loss.  

Our best bet for achieving adequate emergence and a healthy stand is to move residue away from the furrow, properly place and cover each seed at the proper depth and constantly watch the forecast. If a Blackberry Winter and significant rainfall is in the forecast, it is usually best to keep the seed in the bag. If residue is near the furrow, slugs tend to be worse and will move down an unclosed furrow to significantly damage a stand. 

I run my row cleaners aggressively enough to move as much residue as possible away from the furrow without moving substantial amounts of soil. This usually allows the row unit to maximize seed-to-soil contact, uniformly place seed and properly close the furrow. Completing those three activities with the planter and keeping a close eye on the forecast usually represents a solid start for Tennessee cotton.

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

I am not a planter expert. But I walk behind a lot of planting equipment and see the results. 

My bias is against thick stands. What looks good in early June seems too thick in mid-August. In the Lower Southeast, two seed per foot may be enough. Farther north, even in north Alabama, seeding rates of at least two and a half to three seed per foot are probably needed. For hill-drop plantings, three seed per hill seems one too many. Last year at a grower meeting in Jackson, Tennessee, I asked, “What’s wrong with three seed per hill?” The quick response from the audience was, “One plant will be a weed.” Yes!

“Achieving effective stands involves knowledge of equipment, its capabilities, adjustment points, quirks and nuances,” said Steve Brown. “It also requires knowledge of seed quality — warm and cool germ numbers — as well as seed count per pound along with expected vigor.” Steve Brown

In the distant past I gained considerable experience with a Monosem planter, a French brand recognized for versatility and accuracy. These planters are not green or red, but blue. With proper plates and vacuum settings, they can plant peanuts or pigweed (planted for weed management studies) and provide a stand almost as precise as a pecan orchard. With time, practice and coaching, I learned how to maximize the capabilities of our planter and, most of the time, obtain consistent stands.

This is not to promote that brand but to encourage producers to give attention to detail on planter setup and operation. Seed are too expensive to waste with over-planting, but obviously and absolutely, essential to successful production. 

Achieving effective stands involves knowledge of equipment, its capabilities, adjustment points, quirks and nuances. It also requires knowledge of seed quality — warm and cool germ numbers — as well as seed count per pound along with expected vigor. Time in the shop and on a few practice passes will be time well spent. Also, in-season adjustments will likely be needed as conditions vary. 

I recognize I am “preaching to the choir.” Growers know all these things. Still, proper attention to the planting operation — matching all the mechanical aspects of equipment to field conditions, seed size, seedling vigor, weather forecasts, etc. ­­— should reap important results in up-front costs and stand establishment. Don’t let the RUSH of planting crowd out the real goal. 

As one of my mentors from long ago stated, “Anybody can plant cotton. Not everybody can get a stand.”

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