Follow Planting Guidelines

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As we move into spring, there appears to be widespread optimism for cotton in North Carolina. The 2017 season was successful for most growers, and with the new program and higher prices, the outlook for cotton is strong.

With that said, we all remember the lessons learned from the challenges of recent years, one of which is how to plant and manage cotton through difficult planting weather. Although most of our cotton is planted in May, a few folks always seem to get itchy and begin planting in late April if conditions are somewhat suitable. As I write this on March 8, we have no idea how planting conditions will be yet, but there are a few important considerations to keep in mind if they are less than ideal.

First, it is always wise to document information about your seed. Keep a record of the lot number, seed size (number of seeds per pound), where it was grown, the specific seed treatment, warm germ and most importantly, cool germ. Cool germ is not printed on the bag; therefore, your local dealer and/or the seed company can provide that information. Additionally, it is wise to save a sample of each lot number of seed you purchase in case additional testing is warranted.

Newsletters that provide planting guidance as it relates to heat unit accumulation will be provided on the North Carolina State University cotton portal website ( Remember the importance of planting in ideal conditions (>35 DD60s accumulated within the first five days after planting) and into adequate moisture. Temperatures are especially important within the first two to three days following planting. We don’t always have the luxury of forseeing heavy rains in the forecast, but try to avoid planting when they are expected, regardless of temperatures.

If you are forced to plant cotton in less-than-ideal conditions, consider increasing the seeding rate to 45,000-47,000 seeds per acre. Be sure to plant shallow (no more than 0.5 inch deep as long as you achieve good soil coverage), plant your larger seed lots with the highest cool germ ratings, avoid planting in soils that tend to crust or where you have a field history of seedling disease, and possibly hill-dropping.

Also, it is important to avoid other factors that might negatively impact seed germination, such as applying starter fertilizers in-furrow.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Along the northern edge of the Cotton Belt, we are often forced to plant in less-than-ideal conditions; the delay associated with waiting for “perfect” conditions may cut short heat unit accumulation at the end of the season and subsequently reduce yields.

When planting in stressful environmental conditions, seed quality is extremely important. Good cool-germination rates can help, but slight differences in seedling vigor can be the difference in a profitable and unprofitable stand. Several of my colleagues and I rate early season vigor in commercial lines, and we occasionally cover these ratings during our county meetings. But there are other ways to gauge vigor.

One of the easiest methods is to look at seeds per pound reported for each variety. Fewer seeds per pound (4,000-5,000 per pound) represent a relatively large seed. These varieties will typically have more energy stored in reserve and will be able to better cope with stress. Smaller-seeded varieties (>5,000 per pound) will have less energy stored and will be more sensitive to stress.

For more information on seed size typically observed by variety, take a look at Also, read Dr. Guy Collins’ and Dr. Keith Edmisten’s article titled, “Tips for Successful Cotton Planting” posted on the North Carolina State University blog April 13, 2017.

Mike Milam, Missouri
Mike Milam,

As we approach planting season, we have finally had enough rain to get out of the abnormally dry to moderate drought. This certainly bodes well for producers. We do have rainfall forecast over the next several weeks, but it does not appear to put us into the surplus moisture situation. The planting intentions survey shows a 3.8 percent acreage increase. I have talked with producers and dealers who think that it will be higher than that.

Looking back, the U.S Cotton and Wool Outlook has kept last year’s yield at 1,172 pounds per acre. This easily surpasses the 1,117 pounds per acre achieved in 2014. Although producers ran out of time to get all of their cotton planted due to rainfall, they had a phenomenal year related to temperatures, rainfall and sunlight. Harvest season was also better than usual.

Going into 2018, producers are optimistic. We have tools to control resistant weeds, adequate fertility recommendations and better varieties than we had even five years ago. We will probably have 80 to 85 percent ExtendFlex varieties planted as we did last year. Many producers who grew ExtendFlex did not use any dicamba. They planted for the sole purpose to prevent injury from drift or volatilization.

All of the in-person dicamba training sessions have been completed. However, anyone using dicamba can still take the
training on-line. You can register at

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The first step toward a successful season is establishing a healthy stand. Cotton does not tolerate difficulties encountered during its first weeks of growth nearly as well as most of our insect pests and weeds. 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.

For the past two years, we have seen our later-planted cotton do better than the early crop, but history tells us that generally the earlier we plant, the better we do. Optimum conditions for planting include a mid-morning 68-degree soil temperature at 2 inches for three consecutive days, and a favorable five-day forecast. It is important to start with the best quality seed to increase the chances of getting a good uniform stand if conditions are less than optimum. Remember that as seed size decreases, the importance of having good soil temperatures increases.

Regardless of the calendar date, park the planter if heat unit accumulation (DD60s) is predicted to be 15 or less for the five-day period after planting. Good results are often seen with 25 or more heat units being accumulated during the five-day period after planting.

There are many signals or signs that people use to indicate the right time to plant. Regardless of your method, it is important to remember that planting early does not ensure earliness. Getting off to a good, quick start will pay dividends all season long if we do it right the first time.

Randy Norton

There are several different techniques for deciding on the best planting date for a specific area and how to best optimize planting given a certain set of conditions. Last month, I discussed the importance of monitoring soil temperatures and short-term weather forecasts for determining an optimum planting date.

The technique I would like to discuss this month is tracking heat units (HU 86/55 degrees F thresholds) for determining an optimum planting window, and then using this information to help guide variety maturity selection. The use of HU accumulated since Jan. 1 (HU/1 Jan) serves as an excellent measure of current conditions leading to an optimal planting window. Planting too early may lead to increased disease pressure, poor vigor stands and slow early season growth. All of these factors may have a negative impact on final yield.

Conversely, planting too late will often result in a crop that has excessive vegetative growth, delayed maturity and is lower yielding. A trial conducted in southeastern Arizona in 2017 showed significant yield decline as the planting date moved from April 10 to May 10 through four successive planting dates. The same variety was planted on all four dates, so selection of a more determinate (short-season) variety as planting windows move further into the spring will help reduce this yield loss response.

At least 300 to 400 HU/1 Jan are needed to adequately warm soils to an acceptable range for planting. The range of 400-700 HU/1 Jan is an optimum window for full-season varieties.
The range of 700-800 HU/1 Jan is an optimum window for medium-maturity varieties. For anything past 800 HU/1 Jan, a short-season, determinate variety should be planted to avoid the issues described above.

Heat unit accumulations for various locations in the cotton-producing regions of Arizona can be found at the AZMET weather website Follow the Crop Reports link and then the Cotton link to find the weekly cotton advisories and additional weather-related information for cotton.

Seth Byrd, Texas
Seth Byrd,

Another dry month has passed, and as cotton planting gets closer on the High Plains concerns over lack of moisture are growing. As I write this in mid-March, there is still plenty of time for much-needed rains to arrive and provide planting moisture. But rain now would greatly aid in tillage operations so that yellow herbicides can by more effectively incorporated.

Seeding rates have been a popular topic as of late, likely spurred by the increase in seed costs for many of the new varieties and traits. Although lowering seeding rates below what is typically thought of as the conventional amount needed is an easy way to lower input costs, take care to avoid ending up with too thin of a stand. This is particularly true early in the season as cool weather may inhibit germination and emergence to a greater extent than later in the planting window.

Seed treatments also should be considered and used where they can provide the most benefit. In fields with a history of early season disease and/or insect pressure, these treatments can aid in the survival and growth of seedlings. As with most things in agriculture, weather will impact the severity of early season stresses, so seed treatments alone may not provide full protection.

For example, in areas where thrips are an issue, such as Plainview north into the Panhandle, cotton producers may want to keep an eye out for early injury and be ready to make an insecticide application. It should target the first true leaf stage to provide protection until the plants have reached the four- to five-leaf stage and are out of the sensitive window to thrips feeding.

Planting in cooler conditions, herbicide injury early in the season or other situations that slow early season growth will exacerbate the detrimental effect of thrips feeding by leaving cotton in the sensitive growth stage window for a longer period of time. Avoid compounding stresses early in the season to allow cotton to get established and escape that sensitive period between cotyledon and the four- to five-leaf stage more rapidly.

Galon Morgan, Texas
Galon Morgan,

The earliest planted cotton in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is at the three- to five-leaf stage as of mid-March. Many growers have just wrapped up grain planting and are now planting cotton in full swing. The Upper Gulf Coast region is just getting started with about 5 percent planted as of mid-March and with good soil moisture across the region. The Blacklands have not started planting and are in fairly good shape on soil moisture for stand establishment.

As South and East Texas have begun or are on the brink of planting cotton, there are several factors growers should consider to get the crop started strong. First, cotton planting should begin when soil temperatures have been steady at 60 degrees Fahrenheit at 4 inches and a favorable five-day forecast. Seed with a high cool:warm vigor index (over 160) has been directly associated with higher yields. This is especially important when planting under adverse conditions, such as cooler temperatures.

Additional information on the cool:warm vigor test can be found at, or ask your seed company or distributor to obtain the cool:warm vigor test values for a particular seed lot. If growers are pushing the lower limits on plant populations, seed quality will become more important, and fungicide and insecticide seed treatments will likely have more value as well. Seed size is another important factor to consider when setting planting depth. Although smaller- seeded varieties can be less forgiving for obtaining an adequate stand and should be planted more shallow, their yield potential is just as good as larger-seeded varieties.

If Topguard Terra is going to be applied for cotton root rot control, remember to minimize the contact between the fungicide and seed to minimize phytotoxicity that can result in reduced or delayed seedling emergence. Insecticide and nematicide seed treatments or in-furrow nematicides have proven to provide a positive return on investment when moderate to high pest pressure is expected.

In addition, cotton seedlings are poor competitors with early season weeds. It is critically important to start the season weed free to obtain adequate control and minimize yield loss to weed competition. Planting season is hectic for everyone, but taking a little time in advance of planting to know your seed quality, seed size, pesticide and herbicide labels, and ensure planters and sprayers are functioning properly can help minimize mistakes and avoid potential

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

With La Niña still in the forecast for early spring through planting season, it is important to kill cover crops three to four weeks ahead of planting in non-irrigated fields so that planting moisture will not be depleted. We have seen cutworm and other insects can be worse in green cover crops versus those killed a few weeks ahead of planting.

Many growers using strip tillage kill the cover crop early and strip rows to warm up the soil for cotton planting a few weeks later. Soil insecticides are often necessary with covers that are green at planting to prevent insect damage. Most modern planters have row cleaners that clear a path through debris for exact seed placement.

Many growers plant no more than two to three seeds per foot of row and many plant two seeds every 14 inches in the row. This seems to be adequate for 3 bale cotton or better if irrigated or if weather is favorable.

Seed treatments can help if conditions are cool and damp at planting, and the cotton is emerging slowly. These treatments are often cheap compared to seed costs and may be cost effective. Try different seed treatments on your farm to see how effective they are under your management conditions.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

April has not been conducive to planting cotton in Mississippi over the past several years. Although there have been a few exceptions to this, many growers have been forced by the weather to wait until May to put a planter in the field. Fortunately, we have had relatively good harvest weather in the fall over this time period that has resulted in some of the best yields on record.

Seed treatments have been heavily discussed through a number of forums this spring. Essentially, any upstream treated seed in 2018 will have imidacloprid for thrips control. We have advocated for overtreatment with acephate to further mitigate issues with thrips. Although nothing can guarantee you won’t have to make a foliar spray for this pest, overtreatment with acephate gives you the best chance.

There have been several other seed treatments being suggested to growers this year. Unless these products contain a known product such as imidacloprid, etc., ask to see reputable data with respect to these products. Side-by-side comparisons or split-field data should never substitute for replicated, multi-location data that is proven over time.

In addition, be very wary of claims of increased yield or other inherent benefits that are not supported by reputable research. Although we have made big crops over the past six years, they have been expensive. Unless demonstrated positive return on investment can be shown for these products, you may make more money by spending less money.

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

Louisiana cotton acres are expected to be slightly down compared to last year. As we proceed into planting, cotton growers have experienced abundant rainfall and wet soil conditions during the month of 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 percent savings in seed cost and technology fees.

Plant 2.75 to 3.25 uniformly spaced plants (drilled or hill-drop) with good seed-to-soil contact, warm soil temperatures and adequate soil moisture. Plant on 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 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. 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 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. 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.

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