Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Balancing Calendar And Conditions

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight

As of mid-April, early planted cotton in the Texas Rio Grande Valley was squaring. There have been some isolated reports of early pressure from thrips and aphids. Early season scouting for these pests and understanding economic thresholds for each one is essential to developing and executing timely management practices. Postemergence herbicide applications should be in full swing in this region.

Early season weed control is essential. Cotton requires eight weeks of weed-free growth to maximize yields. From a weed competition standpoint, scouting fields and making timely herbicide applications on the front end of the crop can have major implications on yield and harvestability at the end of the season. Start clean and stay clean.

Including preemergence soil residual herbicides in an overall weed management program can be beneficial achieving a clean start. Adding soil residual herbicides to a weed management program can also potentially delay and minimize herbicide resistance by reducing pressure on postemergence products.

In mid-April, Coastal Bend growers were wrapping up planting. Growth stages ranged from seed in the ground to three-leaf cotton. This region has been extremely dry over the winter and early spring. As of mid-April, Corpus Christi had only received 2.2 inches of rainfall since Jan. 1. Recent rainfall of more than 1 inch has helped improve emergence and stands in the area.

The Rolling Plains is currently gearing up for planting. I expect to see some early cotton planted the first week of May in this region. Unlike other parts of the state, the Rolling Plains has very good subsoil moisture due to spring rains, much unlike the 2019 season.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

Field activity has picked up in the past several weeks as farmers get fields ready for planting. With decent rainfall over the winter, most of the West Texas region is in good shape. Warmer weather has prevailed the first half of April, but a strong cold front mid-month dropped temperatures to the mid-20s across much of the region. Some snow accumulation generally north of Lubbock occurred, which was a reminder that winter was not quite ready to let go.

Despite uncertainties related to the coronavirus pandemic, planting intentions seem solid. By the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, we’ll likely have some seed in the ground. It is always important to reflect on a good weed management plan.

According to Dr. Peter Dotray, professor, research & Extension weed specialist in Lubbock, a critical first step in best management practices for successful season-long weed management begins prior to planting. You can plant into weed-free fields by using dinitroaniline herbicides, burndown and short residual herbicides preplant, and tillage. The success of dinitroaniline herbicides is based on using the full rate for a given soil type and thorough incorporation.

In west Texas, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to successfully control weeds when planting into weedy fields. Starting clean followed by at-plant soil residual herbicides provide the conditions cotton needs for effective early season establishment. Cotton is susceptible to uncontrolled early season weed competition.

Effective early season weed control followed by timely early postemergence applications will lead the way for successful season-long weed management.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

As recently as February, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the 2020 Oklahoma cotton season. Prices were OK, could be better but had certainly been worse, and the weather was shaping up to give us a phenomenal start. Now, as I write this in mid-April, approximately three weeks from the likely start of widespread cotton planting in the state, that optimism has shifted to uncertainty. It will be interesting to see how the acreage responds to the market and weather we’ve had this spring.

One thing is for certain. Planting weed-free cotton in 2020, having a scouting and insect management plan, and using fertilizer adequately and efficiently will be key, just like any other year. Burndown applications to eliminate emerged weeds prior to or at planting, coupled with a residual product, is still the typical recommendation.

Monitoring weed issues early in the season and being timely with applications will allow young cotton plants the best chance for rapid establishment. Cotton can avoid competing for resources and herbicide options can be used in the most effective window when weeds are small.

Scouting for thrips is another key early season task. Even with a seed treatment, much of Oklahoma can’t afford any maturity delays. Timely scouting and overspray decisions are critical to early season success. Lastly, on many of our acres, it is not uncommon for most, if not 100%, of fertility to be supplied at planting or close to it. Be mindful of weather conditions that may affect both root development and nutrient movement within the soil profile.

We suspect many of the fertility issues observed over the past two seasons are caused by nutrients being inaccessible to the roots. This may be due to stunted root development and/or nutrients leaching out of the rooting zone. Split applications of nitrogen and potassium may mitigate some of the issues, with the second application occurring around the squaring period and first week of bloom at the latest.

Get more information from our fact sheet, “Considerations for Cotton Planting and Early Season Growth,” available at your local Extension office or online at Stay safe and hope your planting goes great!

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The Prospective Plantings report released in March by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated cotton plantings in Arkansas at 590,000 acres, down 5% from the 620,000 acres planted last year. Many believe this number could slip another 5%.

Oftentimes, we feel the need to plant as early as possible. Our data shows we can still optimize yields with planting delays. Our optimum planting window in southeast Arkansas historically ranges from April 20-30.

Locations at and north of Interstate-40 see their optimum window shifting back as late as May 9. Weather varies from year to year, but it’s important to do it right the first time.

When pushing the limits on earlier-than-advised planting, replanting is sometimes necessary. When planting into cold soils, it is imperative to use the highest quality seed. As seed size decreases, seed quality becomes more critical when planting in marginal conditions.

To determine if replanting is necessary, many factors should be considered. First, evaluate the current plant stands that will survive. Establishing the occurrence of skips greater than 3 feet in length, especially when this occurs simultaneously in adjacent rows, is critical. Cotton’s ability to adapt and maintain yield potential at lower plant populations is often underestimated. If the decision to replant is difficult, it is usually best to keep the stand you have.

The period from planting to first square is a critical time for the cotton plant. While water and nutritional requirements for the plant are low, cotton is not a good competitor. Allowing weeds or other pests to overcome presquaring cotton will affect yield potential.

It is easy to sometimes overlook the importance of early season weed control when we have the tools to clean up a weedy mess down the road. Place a high priority on weed management to avoid losing yield potential early in the season that is difficult to regain and can be very costly.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

I hope by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, field conditions have improved and planting is in full swing. The mid-April rains did not help our planting conditions. I expect this will be an extremely busy planting season even though the acreage prediction is down slightly to 372,000 acres for 2020. It’s only a 2% decrease from last year and considerably higher than the 325,000 acres in 2018.

The acreage increase makes it difficult to stay timely with early season management due to the additional area that must be covered in a short time. Keep a close eye on some of the cotton planted in mid-April. Suboptimal conditions it has endured will delay development. It needs no other issues to delay it further.

Due to cotton’s slow, early season growth, I encourage you to consider applying an in-furrow material to help control thrips and reduce the threat of cutworms. This is especially critical if burndown is done at planting instead of three to four weeks before. Thrips have demonstrated some resistance to imidacloprid, so watch the cotton closely at the first true leaf stage to determine if a post application for thrips control is needed.

Regardless of when burndown occurs, apply residual herbicides to prevent early season weed pressure and don’t just rely on the auxin technologies. It is also critical to determine if a replant is needed. Skips less than 3 feet that aren’t excessive should not be yield-limiting. Keeping the earlier planted stand would be preferable to a replant at the end of May.

Remember the rules for dicamba — no applications 60 days after the cotton is planted with a maximum of two applications. Paraquat requires online training now as well.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

As I write this on April 16, cotton margins appear thin. The best way to stay in the black will be to scrutinize every input this year. If you’ve been around cotton for long, you have probably come across “The First 40 Days” educational effort organized by the National Cotton Council and the Cotton Foundation.

“The most critical period in cotton production” is the subtitle of that publication. Although it is tempting, I encourage you to not cut corners during the first 40 days. Dropping a residual herbicide or allowing thrips to damage the crop will likely have lasting effects by decreasing yields or increasing costs in the long run.

I also suggest you take a close look at nitrogen rates. Properly selecting an N rate is an easy way to reduce long-term input costs. Over applying nitrogen can increase the need for plant growth regulators, decrease insecticide coverage, decrease harvest efficiency, and increase the likelihood of disease and the possible need for fungicides.

These are just a few of several decisions outlined in the first 40 days publication. If you find yourself rained out or (better yet) planted up, review a digital copy of the publication. Happy planting!

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

By the time you read this article, planting likely will be underway in North Carolina. As I write this April 6, the COVID-19 issue has taken a toll on current prices and will probably influence cotton acreage and other crops for the 2020 season. Hopefully, prices will recover as the season progresses.

During planting season, pay close attention to the prevailing and expected weather, as it affects planting condition ratings. Look for the North Carolina State University Cotton Planting Conditions Calculator ( on the NCSU Cotton Portal Website ( under “Calculators and Decision Aids.”

This user-friendly tool was launched a year ago and provides a real-time decision aid to producers. Select a location on the map and click “submit.” At any given time, the calculator will compute a five-day DD-60 forecast for the current day and the following two days. The calculator will also provide a color-coded rating for planting conditions on each of the three days’ five-day forecast. Along with the ratings, several warnings could be triggered, depending on the situation.

The calculator uses forecasting data from the National Weather Service. Producers are advised to check the calculator each morning and evening for any drastic changes in the weather forecast that may affect the calculator’s ratings for cotton planting.

Along with weather, pay close attention to seed quality. Growers should first and foremost check the NCDA Cotton Seed Quality Database ( once they receive the lot numbers for seed they will plant in 2020. When growers call us with germination or emergence problems or questions, the first item we’ll need to assist them are the results for their lot numbers from this database.

Using the database results along with the Planting Conditions Calculator will help address most issues we regularly encounter. The NCDA Cotton Seed Quality Database is publicly available for North Carolina cotton producers on the NCSU Cotton Portal website ( under “Calculators and Decision Aids.”

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Cotton fertility questions arise each year with deficiencies showing up at various stages. Growers use fertility programs that have worked for years, and then issues show up in various fields due to factors, such as drought, nematodes, etc.

Many of our growers use starter fertilizer (20-30 pounds nitrogen) at planting with a small amount of phosphorus and potassium. Cotton grows off slower than most row crops in the Southeast. Our research on sandy soils has shown the need to apply the next N application from squaring to early bloom. Nitrogen applications after the third week of bloom have not resulted in yield increases even though nitrates in the plant start declining.

High N applications after the third week of bloom trigger additional vegetative growth and may decrease lint yield. Irrigated fields where N is applied through the system may have N application rates that are too high applied too late and decrease yields.

Data from many studies has shown that an N application of 150 pounds per acre or higher will have a lower yield than 90-120 pounds per acre even on sandy soils. The highest yields are achieved after winter grazing with levels of 60 pounds per acre N due to recycled nutrients from manure. Winter grazing can increase yields in the following cotton crop by 150-400 pounds per acre of lint over cover crops not grazed.

This is a viable option for increasing yields with less cost.
Fencing and water wells for livestock can often be installed with help from Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding. This approach is a growing trend for Florida cotton growers.

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

Many years ago, my elderly nextdoor neighbor’s house caught fire. My family was not home, but a passerby stopped to help and called 911. Thankfully, Mrs. Fletcher wasn’t hurt, and the fire trucks arrived pronto, salvaging much of her old, wood clapboard-sided, heart pine home. Had there been a delay of 20 minutes or more, her house would surely have burned to the ground… and the fire might have engulfed our house as well. Timing is everything.

The same effort, the same water applied to a scorching fire — but DELAYED — would have yielded disappointing results.

The same is true with early post weed control. Timing is critical. Glufosinate is a good but finicky tool, even in combinations. A little stress, reduced humidity, low light, etc. can negatively alter its performance, especially if weeds are a little larger than the label prescribes. You’ve heard it countless times: The difference in controlling 1- to 3-inch Palmer amaranth is often drastically better than in 4- to 6-inch weeds. Same effort, same product(s) but vastly different results.

We need glufosinate alone and in tankmixes early, and we need them to work. Following pre- and at-plant residual herbicides, early post treatments are an all-important cog in the fight against pigweeds and other troublesome broadleaf weeds. They work poorly if applied too late. Tardiness disappoints.

Yes, it’s easy to preach timeliness from the confines of an office chair. It’s another thing to accomplish it on the farm, where battles arise with equipment, labor, weather, wind and a million other things to do. In a year with depressed cotton prices, squeezing the most out of each input is the surest way to any hope of profit. Timeliness pays.

Mississippi brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi

Cotton planting challenges are anticipated every year. We typically expect low market prices, wet springs and herbicide-resistant weeds, but 2020 threw us a curve ball with COVID-19. The global pandemic is influencing all aspects of the supply chain and labor force, which creates a volatile, unpredictable season. Fortunately, most planting activities honor social distancing guidelines, which shouldn’t impede planting progress.

Warm, wet conditions have compromised early burndown, resulting in weed breakthroughs. At planting, a paraquat and fluometuron tankmix is a good option on planter-ready rows. If a do-all is necessary, apply paraquat prior to tillage and consider spraying fluometuron and glyphosate behind the planter to assist with grass control.

Read the fluometuron label to ensure you are applying the appropriate rate for your soil type. To stay clean, start clean. This maximizes the usefulness of available herbicide technologies.

young cotton plants
Cotton yields are optimized at about plants per acre — photo by Vicky Boyd

Thrips are the primary early season insect threat in Mississippi. Currently, most seed treatments include imidacloprid that targets thrips. We have reduced the number of foliar thrips applications by applying acephate in furrow or combined in seed treatment with imidacloprid. Apply acephate in furrow at 0.75 to 1 pound per acre for the best thrips control.

Pay attention to cool germination scores from your seed box or bags and store your seeds in a cool, dry place. Most phosphorus is applied in furrow at planting or as close to planting as possible to ensure proper root development. I look forward to getting this crop planted and wish you the best of luck!

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

Depending on soil temperatures and soil moisture conditions, Louisiana cotton is generally planted from mid-April to mid-May. Once stands have been established, nitrogen applications are made for the upcoming season. Recommended nitrogen rates are 60-90 pounds per acre for coarse-textured soils and 90-120 pounds per acre for high-clay soils. The lower recommended rates should be used on fields following soybeans, corn, legume cover crops or fields with a history of excessive stalk growth.

Do not apply more nitrogen than what the cotton plant will require, since excessively high nitrogen rates can produce very tall, rank cotton. Increased vegetative growth will hinder reproductive growth and, ultimately, yield. To limit excessive growth, producers will have to rely heavily on mepiquat chloride applications to control plant height, which can potentially make the cotton plant harder to defoliate at the end of season.

Also, best management practices suggest making split applications of nitrogen, especially on sandy soils with a high leaching potential or soils with a high saturation potential, due to denitrification losses. For split nitrogen applications, one-third to one-half should be applied at planting with the remainder being applied by early bloom at the latest. For more information about cotton fertility recommendations, visit and click on crops>cotton>varieties>2020 varieties and production suggestions.

Also, producers should concentrate on early season thrips control. Severe thrips damage can reduce yields by 200-300 pounds of lint per acre. In Louisiana, thrips species are usually a mixture of tobacco and western flower thrips. Tobacco thrips adults are black, while western adults are amber to yellow in color.

Immature thrips are smaller versions of adults that lack wings. Immature thrips from both species appear yellow to orange.

Thrips species can dictate how well an insecticide seed treatment holds up.

Depending on species present and environmental conditions, seed treatments may not last long enough to protect the plants until they are safe from thrips damage. Under these conditions, foliar sprays are needed even though a seed treatment was used at planting. Thrips are an economic pest in cotton from the one- to four-true-leaf stage. In years when cotton plants are growing slowly due to cool temperatures and thrips pressure is heavy, foliar sprays may be necessary at the five-true-leaf stage.

Once the plants are past susceptibility to thrips damage, they become an important natural control agent to help keep mite populations in check. Avoid automatic or convenience applications if economic thresholds have not been reached. Such practices can create pest problems, particularly from spider mites.

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