Early Season Management


Bob Hutmacher
Bob Hutmacher e-mail

California Central Valley farmers have finally been blessed with some decent rain, snowpack and irrigation water supplies for this year. Although we have water, variable cool weather periods mean a limited acreage of cotton seed was in the ground and coming up in late March.

More planting is expected in April as warmer weather heads our way (we hope). Most San Joaquin Valley producers typically want to get Pima cotton planted by April 15-20 to increase their chances of getting a long, full growing season and limiting later season problems associated with extending the crop.
Coming out of a wet winter (and spring too, so far), we expect more weed management issues in a lot of fields. We may have more complicated insect management decisions that come with more weeds, less fallow ground, and more sources of both beneficial insects and pests. This could be the type of year where we see more early season thrips damage and unusual problems, such as damage from false chinch bugs coming from grain fields.
In irrigated cotton production, farmers and pest control advisers have to be vigilant to sort out problems as they develop. Likely issues with lygus will depend on additional rains, weed and range plant drying, and warming temperatures later this spring.

With more available water, producers may be tempted to start irrigations earlier than usual, but resist that temptation. If you have decent moisture for planting and early root development in the upper 18-24 inches of the soil profile, it is usually better to hold off to avoid cooling the soil, which can slow growth. Early irrigations also can increase the risk of losses associated with seedling diseases. The time for extra early water would have been with your pre-plant irrigation. If you missed that opportunity to leach accumulated salts, add more water and make an earlier first in-season irrigation in May or June.

Although cotton is quite salt-tolerant, stressors produced by delayed irrigation and salt accumulation can eventually affect plant growth and yields as well as other rotational crops. If in past years you have relied on mild to moderately saline well water to irrigate crops on the ground where you have cotton this year, it is not too late to collect soil samples to determine the salinity level in the upper root zone.


Mike Milam MO
Mike Milam e-mail

By the time this article appears, Missouri producers will be actively engaged in planting cotton. Planting intentions indicate we should have about a 2 percent increase in acreage. Keep in mind that these are just “intentions.” This early estimate is based on prices for other commodities. We have had damage to wheat from the late freeze, which may affect double crop beans. Planting intentions typically are based on getting the cotton planted. If we have severe weather problems, we may lose some of this acreage. Currently, we are experiencing warm days and cool nights. Temperatures should be warmer when most of the acreage is planted.
Gov. Eric Greitens signed into law bipartisan legislation increasing the penalties for illegal use of herbicides. The Missouri House passed the bill 143-12 with an emergency clause, which means the law takes effect immediately. The bill authorizes the Missouri Department of Agriculture to issue a $10,000 penalty per violation. Chronic violators can now be fined up to $25,000 per violation. I hope these penalties and the threat of lawsuits will reduce the problem that we faced last season.



Hunter Frame
Hunter Frame e-mail

As we move into May and cotton emerges, having sound thrips and weed management is critical. One new item recently released by North Carolina State University is a thrips pressure forecasting tool, which predicts where treatment/scouting may be necessary. Thrips are the major early season insect pest, and control is critical to keep cotton maturity on track for a timely harvest in Virginia’s climatic conditions.

The second consideration is to keep cotton weed free during the first 40 days of development. This time period is critical to cotton root development. Any competition for nutrients and water will impede root development. The use of residual herbicides is recommended, especially in areas where glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth and ragweed are present.

The safe use of in-season applications of auxin herbicides will also be tested as trait technology and herbicide registrations are finally available. One important aspect to remember is auxin traits are not interchangeable. So dicamba will damage 2,4-D cotton and vice versa. I am confident producers will use these technologies effectively and safely to minimize drift and injury to non-target species.


Bill Robertson AR
Bill Robertson e-mail

The Prospective Plantings report released in March by U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated Arkansas cotton plantings to be 500,000 acres, up from 380,000 planted acres in 2016. It is good to see the rebound of cotton in our state. Many feel this number could have been higher with additional harvest capacity. We will plant to meet or exceed our picker capacity this year.

Cotton planters have been active in Arkansas through much of April. We’ve also received reports of some March-planted cotton. Generally, our earlier planted cotton performs best within reason. Establishing a healthy stand of cotton is the first step toward a successful season.

When pushing the limits on earlier-than-advised planting, replanting is sometimes necessary. Since the optimum soil temperature for cotton germination is near 85 degrees Fahrenheit, it is understandable that soil temperatures less than 60 degrees F can lead to failure. Cold weather slows cotton growth, increasing its vulnerability to fungal pathogens, which grow well at 65 degrees F. 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.

Consider many factors when determining if replanting is necessary. First, evaluate the current plant stand that will survive. This may not be evident for a few days after a storm if assessing hail damage. Nonetheless, it is crucial to calculate population, uniformity and health of the existing stand. Establishing the occurrence of skips greater than three feet long is critical, especially when this occurs simultaneously in adjacent rows. Calendar date is also important. A thin stand is more acceptable near the end of the planting window. 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 what you have.


David Wright FL
David Wright e-mail

With planting upon us, farmers continuously tweak planting rates and other at-plant treatments. For most growers, two to three seeds per foot of row is viable for top yields. Seed treatments can vary so use those that have been effective for your area.

Thrips are one of the major concerns we deal with, and many of our growers use only a seed treatment in most years. We often have cool weather that slows cotton growth at some point, but this is normal while the root system continues to grow rapidly. It is important to have fast, early growth for weed control and for crop earliness at harvest.

Some of our producers use a starter fertilizer of no more than 20-30 pounds of nitrogen with sulfur and micronutrients. This encourages early and later growth since the fertilizer is either applied in a 2 inch by 2 inch fashion or as a surface dribble near the row. This concentrates fertilizer near the row where there is less chance for weed use and more help for cotton to outgrow thrips damage.


Keith Edmisten e-mail
Keith Edmisten

It is often easy not to pay attention to details in anything we do, including cotton production. A couple details I think are important this time of year are seeding rates and proper nozzle selection. It is tempting to get rolling with planting and not adjust seeding rates. Planting rates should be adjusted with the varying weather and soil conditions we encounter in May in North Carolina.

Refining seeding rates based on cool germination test results is also advisable. Warmer planting conditions and higher cool germination results allow us to use the lower end of the seeding rates. However, we should keep in mind if we are still planting in late May or early June when we typically have optimum planting conditions, we cannot afford not to have a population of at least 40,000 plants per acre. Cotton planted this late will likely not have time to compensate for skips with bolls on outer positions and vegetative branches.

Farmers using phenoxy herbicides with XtendFlex or Enlist varieties must use approved nozzles. The approved nozzles must also be operated at approved pressures. Make sure you check the latest updates for approved surfactant, additives and herbicide mixtures. Although it may be tempting to leave those nozzles in the sprayer for the remainder of the season, they should be changed for insecticide and defoliant applications for better canopy penetration.


Dan Fromme LA
Dan Fromme e-mail

Currently, cotton acres are expected to increase when compared to last year in Louisiana. As we proceed to plant, cotton producers have experienced abundant rainfall and wet soil conditions during March.
The trend in reduced seeding rates continues and reflects using more precise planters and the desire to manage high-value seed costs by reducing the number of seeds per acre. An efficient and well-timed planting operation can result in a $10 to $25 seed cost savings and technology fees. Plant 2.75 to 3.25 uniformly spaced seeds (drilled or hill-drop) with good seed-to-soil contact, warm soil temperatures and adequate soil moisture. Use the high side of these recommended rates when planting early into cooler soils.

The minimum plant population in the final stand should be about two plants per foot or about 30,000 plants per acre. Planting less than 2.5 seeds per foot can significantly delay maturity.

Once planting is completed and cotton seedlings have emerged from the ground, producers should concentrate on managing the cotton plant from the first- through fifth-leaf stage. Reaching the fifth true leaf stage as quickly as possible and unscathed from thrips is important in producing good cotton yields at the end of the season. In Louisiana, yields can be reduced by 200-300 pounds of lint per acre from severe thrips damage. Seed treatments for controlling early season insect pests through the fifth true leaf stage play a viable part in getting off to fast start.

Depending on environmental conditions, seed treatments may last anywhere from 14-22 days. Oftentimes under cool spring temperatures, reaching the fifth true leaf stage is delayed and seed treatments no longer offer protection. Under these conditions, foliar sprays are needed even though a seed treatment was used at planting. However, make sure economic thresholds are exceeded before applying a foliar application for thrips control. Avoid automatic or convenience applications if economic thresholds have not been reached. Such practices can create other pest problems, particularly from spider mites.


Darrin Dodds MS
Darrin Dodds e-mail

The first part of April was warmer and drier than the past several years. As a result, a few folks started planting about April 10. Seed planted in 2017 will contain more technology than ever before. Much has been said about 2,4-D- and dicamba-tolerant cotton that is now available and can be legally sprayed with these products. Discussions particularly address off-target movement. Most of the concerns you have heard were likely rooted in truth at some point. For nearly all pesticide applications, those made when winds are excessive will result in off-target movement.

Given the sensitivity of many broadleaf species to relatively low levels of 2,4-D and dicamba, a tremendous amount of educational effort has been put forth to minimize the number of drift complaints. In addition, most folks recognize that if not properly stewarded, the life span of these technologies is likely to be short. Also keep in mind that a new mode of action has not been commercialized in decades. If these technologies are only available for a short time and if resistance develops to products we currently have, consider what our options for weed control may be. I may have just found a use for that weed hook in my garage that was my companion while walking many miles of soybean rows as a teenager.


Randy Boman OK
Randy Boman e-mail

Late winter and early spring rains have been quite a blessing in the southwestern corner of the state. The good news is soil moisture and reservoir levels are looking great. The bad news is commodity prices for a lot of crops are not good, especially for wheat. Because of this, we may see the highest cotton acreage planted in the state since 1982. The recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Prospective Plantings report indicated Oklahoma might plant up to 470,000 acres in 2017.

Some producers are pondering grazing out their wheat and then taking the opportunity to plant cotton in fields in need of crop rotation to clean up winter weed problems. After grazing out the wheat, no-till cotton planting into the terminated standing wheat residue is a good option.

Several new XtendFlex (dicamba-tolerant) varieties will be sold in 2017. Producers in some areas may prefer Enlist (2,4-D choline-tolerant) varieties. A large number of producers who planted some of these varieties with new technologies had record yields and sometimes quality on their farms last year.

Newcomers, or those who haven’t raised cotton in several years, should do a thorough job of planning their crop strategies prior to planting. The bottom line: A good and thorough overlapping residual herbicide program should be planned and executed. Start clean, and then stay clean. For glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth sneaking through residual herbicide programs, some of the new dicamba products, such as XtendiMax, FeXipan and Engenia, will be important tools to consider for the XtendFlex varieties. Enlist Duo (glyphosate plus 2,4-D choline formulation) has been labeled for use on Enlist varieties.

Labels for these new herbicide products are complicated. Extremely high management efforts by producers with respect to spray drift are crucial. It is important that producers read and follow the labels for these new products. Liberty herbicide can also be a critical, over-the-top defense, and can be used on XtendFlex, Enlist and other varieties containing the LibertyLink trait.

We hope to get adequate rain and distribution to make all the factors align for excellent weed control as well as crop yield. It’s nearly time to be “off to the races” once again, and it’s up to producers to be good stewards of their herbicides.


Tyson Raper TN
Tyson Raper e-mail

Many of you have already made preplant herbicide decisions by the time you read this column, but for those who haven’t, allow me to bend your ear. Many I’ve visited with have indicated they were considering dicamba at planting. Although I recognize the potential for injury to adjacent plants is generally lower in late April/early May, I would encourage you to delay the use of dicamba for a later date for a few reasons.

First, the most common reason I’ve heard to explain the use of dicamba at planting is to replace the use of other pre-emerge residuals behind the planter. We typically receive frequent rainfalls during our planting window. Unfortunately, it only takes a very light rain to eliminate the inconsistent residual control provided by dicamba. As such, I strongly discourage you from attempting to use dicamba as a replacement for other more rain-tolerant pre-emerge materials.

Second, consider stewardship. You likely used dicamba in your burndown and will use in-season as well. You are probably considering using dicamba to control weeds that have emerged or were missed by the burndown application. In order to mix modes of action, I encourage you to use another product, such as paraquat, at planting. This will reduce the resistance selection pressure placed on dicamba and help protect the value of the trait.


Galon Morgan TX
Gaylon Morgan e-mail

A very warm spring has everything progressing quickly across Texas. The Rio Grande Valley is no exception as cotton approaches the bloom stage and is looking good. Fleahopper pressure is about average, along with some whiteflies and spider mites, but aphid pressure is high again this year across much of the RGV.

Cotton establishment has been better in the Coastal Bend and Upper Gulf Coast compared to past years. We have no reports of major pests in these regions, yet. Some early fields were planted in late March in the Blacklands, and adequate stands were obtained; however, cooler weather and rainfall delayed planting to the more traditional mid-April timeframe. Although an additional rain will be needed for adequate planting moisture, the Rolling Plains received some widespread rains in late March and early April that improved the soil moisture situation.

The conversation at educational meetings and other gatherings continues to revolve around XtendFlex and Enlist cotton technology. In much of South and East Texas, a mixture of all the herbicide-tolerant traits have been planted with no major issues reported to date. There has been some adoption of Flag the Technology, but more needs to occur.
I am hearing that a mixture of herbicide-tolerant traits will be planted in the Southern Rolling Plains, while the Central and Northern Rolling Plains will be dominated by XtendFlex varieties. In all these regions, it appears the adoption of XtendFlex and Enlist varieties is being driven by high-yielding germplasm and a defensive play against off-target movement into farmers’ fields.
There are also some pockets of dryland producers planning to increase their non-herbicide-tolerant cotton acreage, due to input costs concerns.


Seth Byrd TX
Seth Byrd e-mail

Much-needed rain fell across many areas of the High Plains during the first week of April. We hope to receive additional moisture over the rest of the month and into early May as preparations for the 2017 season ramp up.

Seeding rates have been a hot topic of discussion as we witnessed a wide range of rates in 2016. Interest in reducing seeding rates, particularly in the southern area of the region, is likely an effort to offset rising seed costs of varieties with the new auxin herbicide traits. Although we observed good results from lower-than-normal seeding rates in 2016, it is important to remember we had favorable early season conditions and overall success last year.
Decreasing seeding rates will reduce the per-acre input costs. However, if cool or dry conditions or pest pressure exists in May and June, we must strike a balance to make sure enough seed are in the ground to establish an acceptable stand with less-than-optimal germination and/or emergence.

Variety placement also can be used to address unfavorable conditions at planting. We recommended planting varieties with good early season vigor in conditions or areas that may challenge emergence or stand establishment. Environmental conditions, such as a dry, crusted soil surface or cool temperatures, are the most common threats to early season growth. These can be intensified by low seeding rates or varieties with poor vigor.

Rapid emergence and vegetative growth can also stave off early season pests such as thrips. Although thrips pressure is hit and miss in West Texas, it can be damaging when present. Seed treatments and over sprays of an insecticide can aid in minimizing thrips damage. But the best way to avoid early season challenges is with a rapidly growing seedling, one that gets to the four- to five-leaf stage as quickly as possible. Placing the correct variety in the right field and planting under optimum conditions is likely the most important guideline to follow from an agronomic perspective. However, with a projection of about 4 million acres of cotton to be planted this year on the High Plains, getting everything in the ground in optimal conditions will be a tall order. Taking into account the conditions and variety characteristics, along with prioritizing locations, can help in deciding what to plant, and when and where to plant it.

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