Early Season Management


Bill Robertson AR
Bill Robertson e-mail

Establishing a healthy stand of cotton is the first step toward a successful season. Cotton does not tolerate difficulties encountered during its first weeks of growth very well. Variety selection and seed quality have a lasting effect on the crop’s early season vigor and on overall plant health, which is critical in establishing high yield potentials.

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.

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. This may not be evident for a few days after a storm if evaluating hail damage. Nonetheless, it is crucial to evaluate the population, uniformity and health of the existing stand. Establishing the occurrence of skips greater than 3 feet in length, especially when this occurs simultaneously in adjacent rows, is critical. The calendar date is also important. A thin stand is much more acceptable near the end of the planting window. The ability of cotton to adapt and maintain yield potential at lower plant populations is often underestimated. If the decision to replant is difficult, then there are probably enough plants to keep the stand.


Randy Norton AZ
Randy Norton e-mail

Nearly all the cotton is in across the deserts of Arizona with the exception of some late-planted cotton and the cotton planted following small grains. It appears that cotton acreage across Arizona will be up significantly from 2015.

Cotton in the southwestern region of the state is nearing first bloom and the remainder of the state is nearing first square. Decisions regarding irrigation timing become critical at this point as proper soil/crop moisture management reduces crop stress. Research has indicated that stress resulting from delayed irrigations, particularly early in the season, will cause the abortion of fruiting forms, resulting in decreased yield potential and increased potential for excessive vegetative growth.
Maintaining proper crop water status can be done by scheduling irrigations according to crop water use and water-holding capacity of the soil. Each week, cotton advisories are developed for every region of the state that contain crop water use for each day of the previous week for four representative planting dates. This information can be used in a “checkbook” approach to irrigation scheduling. For example, in the first week of July, a cotton crop planted on April 1 will utilize approximately 2.4 inches of water (data from advisory). This is 0.34 inches per day. Let’s say that the crop is planted on a loam soil that holds approximately 2.5 inches of plant available water (PAW) per foot of soil. If the effective rooting depth is 3 feet, that soil will hold 7.5 inches of PAW. The general rule of thumb is to irrigate when 50 percent of the PAW has been utilized or approximately 3.75 inches. At a water use rate of 0.34 inches per day, we would have an irrigation interval of approximately 11 days.

This technique is effective for scheduling irrigations, but it is critical to know the water-holding capacity of your soil and the crop water use for the time of year and planting date of the crop. Crop water-use data along with additional information on this and other topics can be found online at cals.arizona.edu/crops.


David Wright FL
David Wright e-mail

It has been a tough winter for farmers to figure out what to plant as prices for most commodities are low. It’s been especially difficult in the Southeast where cotton and peanut are the predominate crops. Many farmers have looked for rallies to lock in a price that could be profitable with high yields, but that has not occurred. The bright spot is that there are several new cotton varieties that have produced high yields under stressed conditions. This is the reason for a slight increase in cotton acreage.
Rotations have gotten out of sync in the last couple of years, and farmers need to have cotton or corn in the rotation to prevent reduced yields of peanut in the future. Much of the planting will be in mid- to late April through May, depending on soil conditions and rainfall. However, cotton is often planted before peanut if conditions are right. Farmers seem to adapt during good times and bad, and we are seeing how creative they are with management during these times of low commodity prices.


Dan Fromme LA
Dan Fromme e-mail

Cotton acres at the current time are expected to increase by 25 to 30 percent from last year in Louisiana. As we proceed into planting, cotton farmers have experienced abundant rainfall and wet soil conditions during the months of March and April. As of April 12, approximately 1,500-2,000 acres have been planted. Compared to the last three years, soil temperatures are a lot warmer going into planting.

Once planting is completed and cotton seedlings have emerged from the ground, producers will want to 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. Seed treatments for controlling early season insect pests through the fifth true leaf stage play a viable part in getting off to a fast start.

Depending on environmental conditions, seed treatments may last anywhere from 14-22 days. Oftentimes under cool spring conditions, 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 pest problems, particularly from spider mites.


Darrin Dodds MS
Darrin Dodds e-mail

Weather conditions this spring are shaping up to be very similar to those we have seen over the past three years. As of mid-April, many growers are still waiting to plant/re-plant corn and start planting soybeans. During the past three growing seasons, little to no cotton has been planted in April, and in some cases planting has extended into June due to challenging weather. Generally speaking, the prime planting window in Mississippi ranges from mid- to late April through May 15. Keep in mind that in 2014, a large portion of our crop was planted after May 15, and we still managed to set a new state yield record.

Everyone understands the importance of weed control, particularly control of Palmer amaranth. It was announced over the past few months that four counties in Mississippi (Bolivar, Coahoma, Sunflower and Tunica) are home to PPO-resistant Palmer amaranth. PPO-inhibiting herbicides are commonly used for weed control in soybeans and include products such as fomesafen (active ingredient in Reflex, Dawn, etc. and a component of Prefix, Warrant Ultra, etc.) and lactofen (Cobra, etc.). Fomesafen products are commonly used pre-plant in cotton for residual pigweed control.
Be on the lookout for shortened residual activity from these products and be prepared to take necessary steps to control pigweed if you are in or near one of the previously mentioned Mississippi counties.


Mike Milam MO
Mike Milam e-mail

In Missouri, our optimum planting date is May 5-15 based on a date of planting study. However, in some years, late planting is successful due to the elimination of the boll weevil as a key pest. It is now possible to harvest the top crop, which was impossible prior to 2001. Last year, a large portion of our crop was planted much later than optimum (late May and early June). With the weather conditions that we faced, it was not detrimental to plant so late. In fact, the 1,111 pounds-per-acre average was our second largest ever. I have often wondered what would have happened if most of the crop were planted earlier. I knew we had a good crop, but I didn’t know if we would have a long enough growing season to get it out of the field.

In regard to early planting, some years are more successful than others. I prefer earlier planting because of the weather conditions that we typically face. Early planting will get the crop established and possibly avoid some insect infestations later in the season. In general, there is more moisture earlier in the season and usually more rainfall to activate herbicides. The good news is that we have enough irrigation capacity to deal with the hot, dry conditions that we expect this summer. It looks like the La Niña weather phase will kick in during planting season.


John Idowu
John Idowu

Cotton season has started in New Mexico. Many farmers have already planted, and the weather is warming up quickly. The major interesting thing is the improved irrigation water situation in Dona Ana County, which is the second largest cotton-producing county in New Mexico.
Irrigation water allotment could be up to 18 inches per irrigable acre this season. This has not happened in a long time. For example, the allotment in 2013 was 3.5 acre-inches, in 2014 it was 6 acre-inches and in 2015 it was 11 acre-inches. Although 18 acre-inches is still far from 36 acre-inches, which is the target of the irrigation district, it will still significantly reduce the water pumping cost for cotton farmers. Right now, we have not seen any early season problems in cotton fields and are hoping for a good cotton season.

North Carolina

Keith Edmisten e-mail
Keith Edmisten

Most of us like to keep things simple, and planting cotton is no different. Many farmers like to select a seeding rate and go with it throughout the planting season. There is often a reluctance to change seeding rates during the season due to the cost of seed and possibly the convenience and comfort of using one seeding rate that has generally worked well in the past. Using one seeding rate would work well if we had consistent weather through the planting season, but unfortunately that almost never happens.

Growers should realize that all seed and planting conditions are not equal. Using cool germination figures and planting conditions to adjust seeding rates can result in fewer replanting situations. Consider increasing planting rates when conditions are marginal. If growers know the cool germination for each seed lot, they can also avoid using lower cool germ seed lots in borderline situations. Producers with the planting capacity to plant their crop within a short period of time may be able to avoid planting in marginal conditions. The willingness and ability to change planting rates is more important to the grower who needs three weeks to plant a crop than a grower who can plant a crop in 1 1/2 weeks.


Tyson Raper TN
Tyson Raper e-mail

With a little luck, cotton planting will be in full swing the first week of May. Let’s hope that a portion of your acres will have emerged and quickly be approaching the development of the first true leaf. The period between planting and first square is arguably the most important time in the season. As detailed in “The First 40 Days: The Most Critical Period in Cotton Production,” promoting rapid early growth by mitigating stress is absolutely critical in maximizing the efficiency of the cotton production system.
Although that publication was first published in 2007, those concepts are arguably even more important today.
A few specific items should be considered as you move into May. First, many of my colleagues have begun recommending foliar sprays for thrips before the second true leaf stage if emergence/development of the first true leaves is slow or delayed. This has become extremely important due to a general slip observed in many of the insecticide seed treatments. Furthermore, the spread of PPO-resistant Palmer amaranth in our area means we need to lap the middles as fast as possible to minimize the amount of solar radiation available for emerging weeds. Additionally, make sure you are overlapping residuals to prevent emergence.

It also is important to provide the developing plant with adequate fertility early, although nutrient uptake during this period is relatively low. Subsequently, many Extension Services recommend splitting nitrogen applications to reduce the potential for loss and increase the efficiency of the system. Finally, irrigation is rarely required pre-square and does not typically result in a yield increase. Mitigating stress by following these guidelines will result in a strong start and put you on the path toward a successful season.


Galon Morgan TX
Gaylon Morgan e-mail

The cotton crop in the Rio Grande Valley is off to a positive start this season, with cotton acres approximately doubling the 2015 acres by about 60,000. Earlier planted cotton in the Coastal Bend had to be replanted due to a heavy March rainfall event, but the majority of the cotton that was planted in late March is looking good. Cotton in the Upper Gulf Coast was planted slightly behind normal, but stands generally look favorable, and no widespread replanting is expected. The Southern Blacklands planted most of its crop by the second week of April, and nice stands are expected.

Throughout cotton production regions in South and East Texas, the soil moisture situation is satisfactory, but good soil moisture brings plenty of weed pressure. Although the economics of growing cotton are not great, we will have to be diligent to stay ahead of the weeds throughout the season and follow label requirements during the process. In the Northern Rolling Plains, much of the fall and winter precipitation was missed, and the area is categorized as abnormally dry.

The Southern Rolling Plains has decent soil moisture with depth, but will need some additional planting moisture. The Rolling Plains will begin planting in early to mid-May. Applying pre-plant burndown herbicides to start the year weed-free is a critical step in managing the glyphosate-resistant pigweeds that have progressed across the region for the past couple of years.


Hunter Frame
Hunter Frame e-mail

By now, cotton planters should be running wide open. As cotton begins to emerge, the first management decision producers will face is whether to treat for thrips. With the ever-increasing neonicotinoid resistance in thrips being reported, it is crucial to rotate insecticide modes of action to have a sound resistance management program. Most Virginia producers apply a foliar spray of acephate near the first true leaf stage of development.

Thrips are the most important insect pest in cotton for Virginia producers and can delay crop maturity if not managed in a timely fashion. Any delay in maturity for Virginia cotton will be detrimental to lint yield in the shorter growing season of the upper southeast coastal plain. However, producers are encouraged to actively scout fields to determine the level of thrips pressure and whether a foliar application is needed.

While scouting for thrips, producers should also be scouting for weed populations for the first post-emergence herbicide application. Target weeds when they are small and actively growing to maximize control. Let’s hope that Mother Nature provides optimum weather for planting and cotton emergence. Although the economic outlook isn’t as great as we would like, I still believe 2016 could be a good year to grow cotton.


Seth Byrd TX
Seth Byrd e-mail

With favorable weather in the forecast for much of April, there will likely be some cotton seed in the ground by the time this issue reaches you. Of course, a few more rain events will help optimize planting conditions and early season growth. We typically observe seeding rates from 20,000 – 30,000 on dryland fields and 40,000 – 50,000-plus in irrigated situations. However, there will likely be some reductions in seeding rates with the state of the market and high input costs. Information on calculating seed costs, final planting dates for insurance purposes, and optimal soil temperatures for cotton planting is available at cotton.tamu.edu.

Closely monitoring early season growth, particularly up to the 5-leaf stage is recommended to ensure that we get off to a good start. Scouting for early season pests, such as thrips, is key to making decisions regarding insecticide applications so that the plant can reach a less sensitive growth stage as quickly as possible. It has also been shown that the negative impact of thrips can be magnified if herbicide injury or other stresses that result in slow growth are also present. This is particularly important if cool conditions are present, which will further delay growth.

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