Thursday, May 30, 2024

Fine-Tune Plans Before Planting Begins

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda,
Texas A&M

I hope 2021 started out right for you. Here in the Texas High Plains, we have finally been blessed with some moisture, even if in the form of snow. The first half of January brought anywhere from 4 to 9 inches to much of West Texas. After melting, that may not amount to much, but we are certainly grateful for what we got, especially if you consider how dry it was last year.

Generally speaking, according to the West Texas Mesonet, areas west of Interstate-27 (between I-20 and I-40) received less than 10 inches of rainfall in 2020. Areas to the east received an additional 4 to 5 inches.

There are some places, however, like Brownfield in Terry County just 45 miles southwest of Lubbock that accumulated a grand total of 5.95 inches of rainfall in 2020. Needless to say, it was a challenging year — even for producers who have irrigation — but water availability is limited.

Regional large-plot variety trials have been harvested and fiber quality data has been analyzed. By the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, the final RACE trial report for the Southern High Plains, as well as the Panhandle, should be available at our variety testing website If you do not see a trial near your location and/or you would like to host one at your farm, please let us know.

Our county/regional meetings will also be in full swing during February. Extension is working hard to adapt to the new scenario, and most of these meetings are scheduled to happen online at this time. I suggest you contact your local county agent to confirm dates and times. We look forward to “seeing” you in these meetings. As always, feel free to reach out if there is any specific topic you would like addressed.

seth byrd
Seth Byrd,

Last month, I mentioned three characteristics beyond lint yield and fiber quality that may factor into 2021 variety selection — seedling vigor, maturity and storm tolerance. However, in recent years many have prioritized traits, specifically herbicide traits, when selecting varieties.

Beyond herbicide traits, there are now various Bt packages, as well as options to address bacterial blight, Verticillium wilt, root-knot nematodes, and most recently, reniform nematodes. This creates a large number of potential variety options. Even after potential varieties are narrowed down to a specific package, there is still an array of trait options from which to choose.

For many areas, not all variety traits may be necessary. Many parts of Oklahoma and other similar production environments may not put as much importance on three-gene Bt traits or varieties that contain resistance or tolerance to nematodes. Where these pests cause yield-limiting damage, those traits can offer solutions.

To help ensure the increased investment in varieties with more complex trait packages is worth it, farmers are encouraged to evaluate them on a small number of acres. Compare them to other varieties that may not contain the same trait package but are proven to perform well in that production environment.

Seed is typically one of the most expensive inputs for cotton production. As trait packages become more complex, this cost will only rise. It is critical that farmers make sure the various aspects of a trait package provide a positive return on investment.

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The meeting season this spring has been a big change from the past. While a poor internet signal is a challenge for some in Arkansas, many feel they are about “Zoomed” out.

Regardless, the tight cash margins for our commodities is one thing that has not changed. Land-grant universities will continue to fine-tune the process to deliver unbiased information to stakeholders. Producers must continue to improve getting the most out of their inputs. Watch costs, yet provide necessary inputs to protect yield potential.

Variety selection for yield and quality as well as desired technology traits is an important first step in establishing yield potential. There are several resources available to assist in selecting new varieties. A useful tool is the University Variety Testing Program. Results from the Arkansas trials conducted by Dr. Fred Bourland may be found at

County demonstrations are another good source of information and are included with this data set. It is also appropriate to evaluate variety performance trials from neighboring states in the Mid-South.

Other practices to protect yield potential include matching nutrient applications to crop requirements, using integrated pest management tools to manage pests, fine-tuning irrigation scheduling, and using tools like Pipe Planner that can increase efficiency.

Following end-of-season termination guidelines coupled with variety selection and appropriate planting dates to get a picker in the field by mid-September is another important consideration. This will help to hold onto yield and quality potential while meeting our harvest completion goal of Nov. 1.

Contact your local county Extension agent to obtain information or to get assistance in improving efficiency and profitability.

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

As 2021 races toward planting season, we can rest assured there will be challenges facing cotton growers in Mississippi and across the Cotton Belt.

In light of accepting this fate, it has been refreshing to see cotton market prices tick upward. Although this is great news for cotton farmers, cotton will likely compete with corn and soybean for acreage due to upward trending markets.

There is ample time to evaluate budgets, consider crop mix and make variety selection decisions. There are many useful resources to aid in making these important choices. Results for both Mississippi cotton official small-plot variety trials and Mississippi cotton on-farm variety trials can be viewed at and These websites also include yield performance and fiber quality data.

Variety selection influences agronomic management practices throughout the growing season. Attempt to match a variety’s growth habits to the proper location/environment, soil texture and irrigation practice.

Also, consider varietal response to plant growth regulators, with respect to aggressive/passive treatment regimes, previous crop, nitrogen fertility, and integrated pest management strategies.

Recently, cotton seed quality and planting populations have been hot topics of discussion. In Mississippi, planting populations vary from 30,000 to 55,000 plants per acre with little effect on lint yield. With rising seed costs, it seems like a no-brainer to plant fewer seed.

The kicker is to have uniform seed distribution with an end population of 3 to 3.5 seed per foot of row. Easier said than done. Typically, factors influencing emergence are random and non-uniform, which further complicates issues.

Also, pay attention to both warm and cool germ on the seed bag. While most of the seed we plant is premium quality, I would check the warm and cool germ of any variety I am planting, especially if considering a reduction in planting population.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

High-yielding cotton varieties with good lint quality are important to economical production. Florida had one of the best early season cotton crops for two to three months in 2020 that we have seen in several years. It appeared to have the potential for a record state yield as of mid-August.

Numerous hurricanes and tropical storms (so many we lost count) started about this time, so fields stayed wet. As cotton began to open in the bottom of the canopy, we saw hardlock and seed sprouting in the boll.

As harvest neared, many cotton growers were delayed in getting their peanuts out by two to three weeks, which pushed cotton harvest even later.

florida cotton and peanut harvest
“Being ready to harvest cotton and peanuts at the same time can help prevent potential yield and quality loss,” says Florida cotton
specialist David Wright.

Some non-irrigated fields that had 2- to 3-bale yield potential were zeroed out and not harvested or yields were reduced along with quality. What we thought may be a state average yield of 950 pounds per acre ended up at about a 675 pounds-per-acre yield at the end of harvest.

It is still important to follow variety trials within a range of your farm and look for varieties that are near the top of all trials over a range of management and soil types. As most fields have a lot variability, finding varieties that yield well fieldwide and over locations indicates yield stability.

Being ready to harvest cotton and peanuts at the same time can help prevent potential yield and quality loss. This also is a good plan for making a profitable crop even if it means hiring a custom harvester.

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

The first fork in the road of variety selection is technology; specifically, herbicide management traits, either Enlist or Xtend. These provide tolerance to the auxin herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba, respectively. The associated trait packages also confer tolerance to glyphosate (Roundup, etc.) and glufosinate (Liberty, etc.).

Obviously, the “fork” exists because the two auxin technologies are not cross tolerant for the other category of varieties. Both help deal with problem weeds.

The Enlist fork has PhytoGen varieties while the Xtend group includes Deltapine, Americot NexGen, Armor (formerly Cropland), Dynagro and Stoneville.

Both auxin technologies require SPECIAL (might we say EXTREME!) care to prevent or minimize off-target problems. I’ve seen off-target issues with both, including physical drift, inversions, unusual wind patterns and tank contamination. Of the two, 2,4-D is much more injurious to non-Enlist cotton than dicamba is to non-Xtend cotton.

The reverse is true for soybeans. Dicamba is more volatile than 2,4-D, and the latter currently has some tankmix advantages, especially with glufosinate. Choices on surrounding farms matter, too.

The advantage for Xtend is the multitude of brands and varieties available. These numbers and performance are aided by the time of introduction and the associated duration of breeding and development.

Can a farm employ both technologies? Only with special oversight. It’s often best done by production segregation; i.e. “fields south of the highway gets A, everything else gets B” or some other logical, easy-to-remember boundary or grouping. I’ve witnessed the expensive, painful error where the wrong cotton is sprayed.

Arguably, the farmer who grows cotton and peanuts uses two technologies and might even use a “peanut” sprayer through which 2,4-DB has been applied to treat Enlist cotton with appropriate 2,4-D products.

A second fork is Bt traits. Every brand is moving toward three Bt gene varieties. Yes, there are still some two-gene stars, most notably DP 1646 B2XF. Beltwide data shows emerging resistance to two-gene products. Still, in the Lower Southeast we’ve seen few worm escapes in recent years and have some good insecticide options. At the least, we need to be gaining experience with three-gene varieties.

Other forks can be chosen once you’ve settled the biggest choice(s).

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight
Texas A&M

The month of February ushers in the new growing season in Texas. As I write this on Jan. 18, we are about a month away from some of the first early plantings occurring in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Much of this growing region is in moderate to severe drought, and any rainfall prior to planting in the LRGV is certainly welcomed.

Recent precipitation in the Coastal Bend brought some relief to the area, which was previously in moderate drought conditions. Currently, soil moisture is good in much of the Rolling Plains after good fall and winter precipitation.

Early January winter weather brought 3 to 5 inches of snow to parts of East Texas and the Blacklands. The slow melting over a couple days was ideal for improving subsoil moisture ahead of the growing season.

Now is a great time to start thinking about what our early season herbicide programs are going to include. The addition of residual products to preplant burndown programs can often enhance weed control going into the season and help reduce early season competition.

Also, by taking weed pressure off the postemergence programs to follow, we are helping preserve the longevity of post-applied products and technologies. We also are doing ourselves a big favor regarding herbicide resistance management.

Keep in mind that each residual product has unique characteristics. The label provides directions addressing important considerations, including plant-back restrictions, crop rotation restrictions and herbicide activation requirements.

Variety selection and associated herbicide traits often influence how post-emergence herbicide programs are going to shape up. In areas where pigweeds and others are becoming increasingly difficult to manage with glyphosate, growers may consider planting LibertyLink, XtendFlex and Enlist varieties. In areas where glyphosate is still viable, Roundup Ready Flex and GlyTol varieties may be a more economical option.

Keep in mind that annual auxin training is mandatory for anyone planning to apply auxin herbicides on varieties with corresponding traits.

I also encourage growers to use the 2020 cotton variety results to identify which varieties are better suited for their areas and operations. Visit

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Based on the 2021 variety data from across the region, I believe the variety selection decision is getting easier. From the 2020 Tennessee data, it is clear that we have well over a handful of high-yielding, yield-stable varieties offered by a range of companies.

Better yet, several of these contain three Bt genes and have performed at a high level for several consecutive years. My variety mix still contains a large portion of the two Bt gene varieties, but I’m comfortable blending several of the three Bt gene varieties into the mix based on their recent performance.

cotton field
“When selecting varieties, remember that we need an early plant date and good fall to capitalize on mid-maturing cultivars,” says Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Tyson Raper. “Also, pay attention to plant growth regulator response ratings.”

Maturity remains a very important factor for those in the upper Mid-South. In 2020, we watched a few of our mid-maturing cultivars slip in performance compared to several early-mid varieties. Remember that we need an early plant date and good fall to capitalize on mid-maturing cultivars.

Also, pay attention to plant growth regulator response ratings. Our current commercial varieties vary drastically in their response (and need for) plant growth regulators.

Fortunately, bacterial blight has not been a widespread issue for us. However, use disease resistance to separate varieties — particularly bacterial blight and/or Verticillium wilt — if they have been issues for you in the past.

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