Missouri producers made it through the 2015 season with near record yields, so there is a lot to be thankful for. Although we didn’t have optimum climatic conditions, we were fortunate to have had had an overall favorable growing season. I have often wondered how much higher our yield could be with early planting and favorable conditions during the season. One thing that we learned this year is that even with a later planted crop, we were able to harvest one of our better crops.
Producers are making decisions on varieties and trying to fine-tune their fertilizer and herbicide practices. This time of year is dedicated to meetings by the chemical and seed companies and Extension. The Missouri Cotton Production and Outlook Conference will be held at the Fisher Delta Research Center at Portageville on Tuesday, Feb. 9, with registration starting at 7:30 a.m. The program starts at 8 a.m. and concludes with lunch. There is no charge for the program. The usual topics of weed control, insect control, the cotton outlook and updates on products from industry will be discussed.
After a very wet fall, we are just starting our winter weather season. We anticipate going into planting time with enough moisture to keep the plants growing until we get rain. We also have to do a better job of drift control. Our Missouri Department of Agriculture inspector has a heavier workload than the rest of the state. When we have the other plant traits and chemicals available, it will be even more hectic.
One of the most frequent questions I have been getting is: Where can producers save on inputs when cotton prices are low? Two of the largest input costs to cotton producers are seed cost and soil fertility programs.
You can lower seed cost somewhat as cotton tends to be able to compensate with varying plant populations. However, you need good high-yielding genetics in seed if you are going to grow cotton so there’s only so much you can squeeze there. The second is reducing the amount of fertilizer applied. I consider a soil fertility program as the foundation for any cropping system. That being said, if you reduce your fertility program, you may be able to get by one, maybe two years if your soil phosphorus and potassium levels are built up to high or very high soil test levels.
However, if you have medium or lower soil test levels, you are taking a chance. For nitrogen and sulfur, I recommend fertilizing based on yield goals. The typical rule of thumb for cotton is 50 pounds of nitrogen per bale of expected yield. This is total N (soil N + fertilizer N), so you will have the soil supplying some N, even in sandy textured, low CEC soils. Our data have shown that over three years, cotton yields were maximized in Virginia between 90-120 pounds of APPLIED (fertilizer) N. Cutting fertilizer rates, especially N, may carry a yield penalty in a growing season where weather conditions are optimal.
Since we cannot predict the weather, cutting soil fertility programs is a gamble. Plant nutrition and genetics are your building blocks for yield. Without them, yield will suffer. I recommend never cutting soil fertility costs, as I have seen many instances across crops where producers have been unhappy with the results. Consult with university specialists in all crop management fields about other expenses that may not have the same return on investment to find ways to save when commodity prices are low.
It is encouraging to see renewed interest in cotton. However, planting decisions for this season are not final. Cash margin information developed by our economist for various commodities is all very tight and none have margins for mistakes.
Cutting costs is high on everyone’s list. Regardless of what we plant, we must be smart to get the most out of our inputs. We need to watch costs, yet provide necessary inputs to protect yield potential. The importance of meeting the nutrient requirements of the crop cannot be understated. Pulling soil samples, evaluating fertility levels across time and taking into account nutrient removal are all important considerations in developing your fertility plan based on the recommendations from the soil testing lab.
Variety selection for yield and quality is an important first step in establishing our yield potential. Producers are also encouraged to closely evaluate host plant resistance traits of varieties for specific issues including nematodes, diseases and tolerance to insect pests. Matching nutrient applications or timing to the crop requirements, utilizing all IPM tools to manage pest and using tools for irrigation like Pipe Planner – a computerized hole selection program – can represent real savings in cost, preserve yield potential, and help improve efficiency and conserve natural resources. Contact your local county Extension agent to obtain information or get assistance in improving efficiency and profitability.
Overall, cotton producers had good yields in 2015, which is necessary at current prices. Many growers are concerned about what to do for the coming year as peanut, cotton and corn prices are not attractive to increase acreage. However, university Extension, crop consultants and agribusiness can provide much information to help growers make decisions on what varieties to plant, which fields are best for the various crops, and how to use variable-rate technology to help reduce the risks and costs of growing crops in different fields.
There are always meetings that growers can attend on almost any subject throughout the winter to keep them up to date on the latest technology. All of the new varieties and technology go through testing under many different conditions and locations, making the U.S. farming community the bright spot for agriculture in the world. Continued state and federal support for research and Extension, as well as being blessed, will help maintain U.S. agriculture’s position as the leader in information and the food and fiber supplier for a growing world population.
During the winter months, many growers are making important variety decisions for the 2016 season. Variety selection is one of the most important decisions producers can make that impacts their bottom line. As illustrated from the on-farm trials in 2015, improper variety selection could cost producers anywhere from $120 to $156 per acre. With that said, North Carolina producers have two robust programs from which to evaluate variety performance: North Carolina State University Official Variety Trials and the North Carolina On-Farm Cotton Variety Evaluation Program, which was launched in 2015. Collectively, these programs provide producers with a means to effectively evaluate variety performance across a very broad range of environments, soil types, regions, etc.
It is very important for producers to evaluate the stability characteristics of varieties using multi-year and multi-location replicated trials across a broad range of factors. Stability (consistent performance across a number of factors like rainfall, soil type, regions, planting dates, etc.) is really the best indicator and predictor for how well a variety can perform from field to field and year to year. The 2015 trials clearly identified some new varieties that can perform well in a number of situations.
We were very excited to unveil the NCSU Cotton Variety Performance Calculator at the North Carolina Commodities Conferences in January. This valuable online tool will enable producers to quickly evaluate variety performance from both replicated on-farm trials and OVT using a number of selection criteria of their choosing. The calculator can be found directly at https://trials.ces.ncsu.edu/cotton/ and is also smartphone friendly. This calculator also is available on the NCSU Cotton Portal website at https://cotton.ces.ncsu.edu/.
The 2016 Louisiana Agricultural Technology and Management Conference will be held Feb. 17-19 at the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, La. This annual event is sponsored by the Louisiana Agricultural Consultants Association. Each year, current production issues relevant to cotton are discussed in detail by the presenters.
On Feb. 17, a half-day session on irrigation topics will feature presentations on timing and termination, new technologies for water management, strategies to improve irrigation efficiency, sustainable irrigation practices and tail water recycling.
On Feb. 18, another half-day session will feature presentations on foliar disease management, Bt resistance and insect management, growing cotton in tough times, nematode update and fiber quality issues. This well-planned and coordinated event is key for professionals involved in the cotton industry throughout the state of Louisiana and the Mid-South.
If you have never attended, make plans to go this year. Information pertaining to conference registration and lodging can be found at http://www.laca1.org.
There is a sense of renewed optimism regarding cotton production in Mississippi. Our growers have delivered three of the top four state average crops on record during the past three growing seasons. In light of that as well as market price and yield expectations for other commodities, many are talking of increasing acreage over last year and/or growing cotton again for the first time in several years.
Those who have not grown cotton in the past couple of years but plan to in 2016 should spend as much time as possible on variety selection. Variety choices are continually changing, and even those who grow cotton every year struggle to some degree with variety selection.
The overriding thought about producing any crop in 2016 is that of making the largest possible crop on the smallest possible inputs. The current commodity price structure will likely present challenges with respect to profitability not seen in the past several years. There are many areas where the temptation to reduce input costs may be overwhelming, including fertilizer and pest management. Keep in mind that these areas are critical for maximizing yield, and that large cuts in inputs in these areas could lead to decreased yield. Although spending must be minimized in order to maximize potential profitability, don’t let spending a nickel prevent you from making a dollar.
Some cotton remains in the Rolling Plains due to continuously wet conditions and the inability to get strippers in the fields. Ginning remains in full swing in the northern Rolling Plains. Fortunately, fiber quality characteristics have remained constant over the past 45 days from the Abilene classing office, with only a small increase in bark.
Visiting with cotton producers across Texas over the past couple of weeks, I am expecting a small increase in cotton acres, due to the prevented planting of wheat last fall in the Rolling Plains and Blacklands and the low alternative crop prices. The entire state is in the best shape in five-plus years for soil moisture, where all the cotton production regions have a full profile of soil moisture. The moisture situation and the El Niño effect expected to continue through early summer is providing some optimism about the 2016 cotton crop.
With current cotton prices, producers are looking to cut input costs and improve production efficiency. Reducing seeding rates is one option being considered by producers to save on expenses. Optimum seeding rate is dependent on several factors, and multiple agronomic management strategies may also need to be adapted to maximize yield. For specifics, contact me at email@example.com, and I will be glad to discuss.
This is my first article as the new Extension cotton agronomist for the Texas High Plains region. I am excited to be working in cotton in this region and to be surrounded by a great group of researchers, county agents and producers. I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to work with Dr. Gaylon Morgan and the tremendous cotton support organizations within the state.
Looking ahead, variety selection is often the first decision a grower will make. Evaluating variety performance, as well as technology packages and various disease ratings, can help determine what variety characteristics are needed compared to past issues and aid in narrowing down the broad range of options.
For information on variety characteristics and other information, county production meetings are a great opportunity to hear from several expert researchers who cover a broad range of topics and current subjects. A schedule of upcoming production meetings can be found at http://lubbock.tamu.edu/programs/crops/cotton/extension-cotton-agronomy/.