Saturday, May 18, 2024

Early Season Management

Bob Hutmacher
Bob Hutmacher

Changing weather patterns have again shaken up the 2018 planting season in the San Joaquin Valley. The good news is we finally got some rain and snowpack in the late winter and very early spring, along with promise of at least a little more irrigation water.

The uncertain news includes delays in getting some fields planted due to cool, wet spells. This could again set us up for worse-than-normal pest pressure during squaring and early bloom. We will just have to see how May and June shape up.

We did have some earlier (mid- to late-March) plantings during the earlier warm weather that struggled in some areas. This was followed by a gap of a week or two with few plantings during wet and sometimes cool weather. At the time of writing this in mid-April, it appears that warming weather will encourage relatively rapid planting of the rest of cotton acreage.

Most management discussions the rest of the year will likely have to differentiate between recommendations for these different planting periods. What earlier looked like an ultra-dry winter and very uncertain irrigation water supply situation resulted in a range of strategies for pre-plant and early season irrigation applications. These will affect irrigation scheduling and strategies from here on out.

With the late rains and since cotton is no longer the dominant crop in many areas, it is important to review what the situations are in neighboring crops as your cotton progresses into square development in advance of flowering. If you want to successfully set early fruit on the cotton and go for high to very high yields, start monitoring the plants early (maybe by the seventh to eighth leaf). Assess whether growth is progressing adequately, the presence of beneficial insect populations, and developing pest pressures.

A mixed batch of surrounding crops — including safflower, a wide range of vegetables, and continued tree and vine plantings — that often include weedy middles and more roadside/field edge weeds due to late rains. They can significantly affect the numbers of beneficials and pests as well as the timing when they show up in your developing cotton fields. Twice or at least once-a-week field evaluations starting at or before very early squaring can help give advance notice of developing problems warranting your attention.

Mike Milam, Missouri
Mike Milam,

Cotton producers are eagerly awaiting this planting season. Winter and early spring weather has been erratic to say the least. As of now, we have plenty of moisture with more expected during the next several weeks.

This season, producers will be limited on applying synthetic auxins. With the June 1 deadline, they will need to use a wide range of materials to keep resistant weeds under control. The use of pre-plant, overlapping residuals and post-plant chemicals will be necessary to keep the fields clean. With the growth rate for Palmer, a few days can make the difference between success and failure.

Farmers will need rainfall or center pivots to activate herbicides. They also should keep a close eye on their fields. Unfortunately, every year we have some weather-related problems that keep producers from getting in the field in a timely manner. Wind speed and temperature inversions can play havoc on weed control. Using crews to remove the survivors will be important again this season.

Monitoring crop development with plant mapping can be important for making decisions about fertilizers, irrigation and growth regulators. It will be interesting to see the final acreage numbers that could increase beyond what is expected.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

By the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, planting will likely have started across the Southwest region, and I will have officially begun my role as the Extension Cotton Specialist for Oklahoma. I had an amazing experience in Texas and want to thank the producers, industry representatives, my former colleagues and Plains Cotton Growers for providing this opportunity during my almost 2.5 years in Lubbock.

With the growth in cotton over the past three years, it’s an exciting time to be a part of cotton in Oklahoma. This position provides a tremendous opportunity to work with some of the best producers and researchers in the country in a rapidly expanding cotton state.

The extent of planting that has occurred within the state by early May will depend on the moisture and temperature situation as well as location. Dry conditions have been prevalent across the majority of the Oklahoma cotton territory throughout the spring and early winter. Although getting planted on time is one of the best ways to minimize risk in a short-season environment — particularly in the northwestern areas and into the Panhandle — planting into conditions that favor vigorous early season growth is also key.

Planting into adequate moisture and targeting planting in front of an eight- to 10-day period of favorable temperatures are common recommendations. Early season weed and insect pest control will also aid in ensuring rapid stand establishment and vigorous growth. There is a lot of optimism coming off two very good years for Oklahoma cotton, and we’re all hoping for a successful and safe start to the 2018 season.

Galon Morgan, Texas
Galon Morgan,

The Lower Rio Grande Valley acreage will be about 200,000 acres this season. The earliest and latest planted cotton was squaring and cotyledon- to four-leaf stage the second week of April, respectively. Thrips were problematic early, transitioned into cotton aphids, and now fleahoppers are building.

Coastal Bend farmers completed their planting by mid-April, and soil moisture is still holding fairly well in the region with no major pest or agronomic issues to date. Cooler-than-normal temperatures and some heavy rainfall have caused stand establishment issues in the Upper Coastal Bend and Southern Blacklands. Growers in these regions have to make management decisions on replanting.

Before deciding to replant cotton, remember that it has a tremendous ability to compensate for reduced stands. Assuming the stands are uniform and seedlings are healthy, cotton plant populations above 20,000 plants/acre should have zero to minimal yield or fiber quality losses on dryland or irrigated fields in South Texas. Additionally, if the cost and risk associated with replanting are calculated, the lower plant populations are the most feasible option in most situations. However, at lower plant populations the individual plants tend to grow much larger. They will likely need additional plant growth regulators to keep height and diameter in check to allow for efficient harvesting.

It is worth reiterating the importance of starting the season weed-free and minimizing early season weed control in cotton.

Also, effective pre-emergence and post-emergence soil residual herbicide applications are critical in providing flexibility for the weed control systems and minimizing the chances of herbicide resistance developing. See for the latest Weed Control Guide for Texas.

Most of the Rolling Plains region is still in need of substantial rainfall between now and planting time — mid-May to early June — to have adequate moisture for stand establishment. In the Northern Rolling Plains, growers are hoping to plant earlier and are looking at earlier maturing varieties due to the low micronaire problems that occurred in 2017.

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

As we approach the middle of April, wet field conditions are prevalent throughout the state due to all the rainfall we have received during March and the first two weeks of April. Cotton planting will begin in the next one to two weeks if fields are dry.

Once the cotton stand has been established, nitrogen applications will be made for the upcoming season. Recommended nitrogen rates are 60-90 pounds per acre for course-textured soils and 90-120 pounds per acre for high-clay soils. The lower recommended rates should be used on fields that are following soybeans, corn or legume cover crops or fields with a history of excessive stalk growth.

Do not apply more nitrogen than what is required by the cotton plant, since excessively high nitrogen rates can produce tall, rank cotton. Increased vegetative growth will hinder reproductive growth and ultimately yield. Furthermore, to limit excessive growth, producers will have to rely heavily on mepiquat chloride applications. This will control plant height and decrease the potential for making the plant harder to defoliate at the end of the season.

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, a third to half should be applied at planting with the remainder being applied by early bloom at the latest.

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The Prospective Plantings Report released March 29 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated cotton plantings in Arkansas at 480,000 acres, up 8 percent from the 445,000 acres planted last year. Many people feel this number could exceed 500,000 with favorable planting conditions in May.

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.

When determining if replanting is necessary, many factors should be considered. First, it is important to evaluate the current stand of plants that will survive. Establishing the occurrence of skips greater than 3 feet long — especially when this occurs simultaneously in adjacent rows — is critical.

eliminate early season weedsCotton’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.

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

It is easy to sometime 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 early season weed management to avoid losing yield potential. It is difficult to regain and can be very costly.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

Spring 2018 is shaping up to be similar to that of the past several years. As of this writing, fieldwork has been slowed by rainfall and cool weather. May is when things really start happening with respect to cotton in Mississippi. Traditionally, the bulk of our crop is planted in May. Over the past several years, decisions regarding management of several key pests have also occurred during this time.

All who have grown cotton recently are aware of the issues surrounding thrips control with seed treatments. Nearly all (if not all) seed treatments for thrips will be imidacloprid-based in 2018. Imidacloprid remains at least partially effective on thrips; however, some slippage in thrips control using imidacloprid has been observed. In short, consider over-treating seed or spraying in-furrow with acephate and/or be prepared to make foliar applications if thrips populations exceed thresholds.

Re-plant decisions are always one of the toughest calls to make. We hope every seed will grow into a productive plant. The odds of this are likely slim to none. Keep in mind that cotton can tolerate a wide range of plant populations and still produce a very good crop.

If you do not have an excessive number of skips that exceed two to three feet in your final stand, and you have at least 15,000 to 20,000 healthy plants, keep the stand and proceed as you normally would. Research has shown that cotton can produce very good crops at low populations.

However, as we get deeper into the planting season we may potentially run out of time on the back end. I would keep a crop with a lower population that was planted May 1 compared to having a perfect stand that was planted May 31.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Early season management is critical for Tennessee. The difference among making a profit, breaking even or realizing a loss along the northern edge of the Cotton Belt may amount to as little as a few days. Unfortunately, managing for earliness may be even more important for us this year. As I write this on April 5, the likelihood of having much April-planted cotton in Tennessee seems very slim.

In May, we want a favorable five-day forecast of 65 degrees Fahrenheit soil temperature for planting. Place seed only deep enough to reach adequate moisture and ensure good seed-to-soil contact. After planting, it is important to quickly assess stands to determine if adequate populations and uniformity were achieved. If stands or uniformity are marginal, make the decision to replant quickly.

In addition, properly apply residual herbicides to prevent early season weed pressure, use a recommended seed treatment to eliminate thrips pressure and follow up with a foliar spray as the first true leaf emerges to help move the plant quickly into squaring.

For additional information on managing for earliness, check out or find our Guide to Earliness Management (PB1830) on

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten
North Carolina

I have spent some time recently with our new cotton weed scientist, Dr. Charlie Cahoon. He was hired to primarily fill the duties performed by Dr. York in the past. Cahoon mentioned that the burndown season has been trying thus far due to cool, wet weather. This means we may have fields that missed a burndown altogether or are weedier than normal at cotton planting time.

The need to start the season clean cannot be overstated. For most fields, this means Gramoxone (or other paraquat brands) needs to be in the tank with our residual herbicides. Alternatively, growers planting XtendFlex cotton could use Roundup plus Engenia/XtendiMax/FeXapan (keeping in mind off-target movement). Enlist growers could use Enlist Duo behind the planter, especially where horseweed is troublesome.

Moving into the growing season, we cannot forget the fundamentals of weed control in this new era of weed management. Most importantly, remember that when dealing with herbicide-resistant weeds, rotate effective herbicide modes of action, use overlapping residual herbicides, and ensure no weed seed production.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Farmers spend time deciding which varieties of cotton to plant on different fields each year. Aggressive vegetative varieties should be planted on fields that may not produce excessive growth, or consider using several applications of growth regulators for vegetation control. Since cotton is slow growing for the first month after planting, consider applying either a seed treatment or in-furrow material to control thrips to prevent damage that slows early growth.

Farmers often bed the ground in the fall and plant cover crops before strip-tilling cotton in the spring. Or, they may bed fields in the spring and knock the tops off to plant into moisture where irrigation is not available.

Irrigated fields can be planted without bedding and then watered if soil moisture is limited. It is desirable to get a uniform stand in five to seven days after planting for top yields.

Cotton is an excellent rotation crop for peanuts, and the higher prices favor a slight increase in cotton acreage. As a reminder for growers and researchers using XtendFlex cotton varieties with the intent of using XtendiMax herbicide with VaporGrip, there is mandatory dicamba training for everyone applying the material.

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