Last Minute Planting Considerations

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight
Texas A&M

As of mid-February, many of the cotton producing regions of Texas have not seen adequate relief from dry conditions. They persist in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Coastal Bend and parts of the Blacklands.

Hopefully, some relief is headed to these areas by early March as we get closer to planting.

As I write this on Feb. 12, much of Texas is experiencing, or will experience, several days of well-below-average temperatures. Freezing weather will likely affect the state all the way to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. This will put any early plantings on hold until favorable planting temperatures return.

Keep in mind that soil temperature greater than 60 degrees Fahrenheit increases the rate of emergence as well as cotton seedling vigor. As soil temperature falls below 60 F, emerging cotton plants will be at risk of chilling injury that can result in weak or dead plants and potentially affect maturity. Additionally, a favorable five-day weather forecast following planting is critical for successful emergence and seedling establishment.

Cottonseed quality greatly affects seedling establishment and should be an important consideration as we get closer to planting. Warm and cool germination information for every variety and seed lot can be requested from seed companies or distributors.

Adding the warm and cool germ percentages will produce a number that can be compared with the vigor index. A vigor index value less than 120 is considered poor, 140-159 is considered good, and 160 and higher is considered excellent. Where the quality of your purchased seed falls within this index should be considered when thinking about planting timing and conditions.

The 2020 Replicated Agronomic Cotton Evaluation (RACE) trial results for all Texas cotton production regions have been published at I encourage everyone to spend some time looking through the results to identify varieties suited for their region and production operation.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

As I write this in mid-February, low temperature records are being set across the state. While it is undeniable this will cause problems for many, we remain grateful for what little moisture we can get in the Texas High Plains. Coming out of 2020 in a bad drought and with the 2021 season right around the corner, we hope to continue receiving moisture leading into our planting season.

According to the National Cotton Council, Texas growers intend to seed 6.4 million acres of cotton this season. Despite representing a 5.7% reduction in acreage compared to last year (6.8 million acres), this still represents approximately 55% of the estimated 11.5 million cotton acres for the entire nation.

With uncertainties in the global market, and despite a recent price runup, we continue to suggest remaining cautiously optimistic. Recent news indicates a significant uptick in fertilizer prices, both dry and liquid. As of the second week in February, all eight major fertilizer prices were up by at least 5% within the same week. Urea, for example, was up by about 16%, being quoted at $429 per ton on average.

As always, keeping a close eye on inputs will be critical. On the seed side, consider what technologies (insect, herbicide, etc.) you need. As new technologies are added, or stacked, the cost of seed tends to increase. With many commercial varieties from which to pick, the Replicated Agronomic Cotton Evaluation trial may be a good resource.

Dr. Jourdan Bell, Extension and research agronomist in Amarillo, tests early to early-mid varieties suitable for the shorter growing season in the Panhandle, while I tend to focus on mid- to mid-full season varieties in the Southern High Plains. The final RACE trial report for the Texas High Plains is available online at our variety testing website

We will continue to keep our growers in South Texas in our thoughts and prayers as they deal with the potentially devastating effects of record-low temperatures to their orchards and crops.

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

Planting intentions for 2021 are still up in the air as everyone is following the markets for grain and cotton. Current and predicted weather patterns are also playing into the equation. Cash margin information being discussed by our economists are all tight and have little margin for mistakes.

Regardless of the commodity we plant, we must get the most out of our inputs. Watch costs yet provide necessary inputs to protect yield potential. Variety selection for yield and quality is an important first step in establishing yield potential.

Match nutrient applications to crop requirements, apply integrated pest management and use tools like the Pipe Planner irrigation program. These can represent real cost savings, preserve yield potential, and help improve efficiency and conserve natural resources.

Cotton burndown programs hopefully will be put in motion soon. Those who planted a cover crop likely did so with the objective of improving soil health and helping with pigweed control. Many of the early season cotton pests overwinter in broadleaf weeds.

A thin or skippy cover crop stand will often open the door for broadleaf weeds. Early termination may be needed to address these weeds to decrease issues related to setting up a green bridge from the cover to cotton.

Our immediate goal for the 2021 crop is to start with a good stand of healthy fast-growing cotton plants. This requires the fields to be weed-free at planting. A timely and effective burndown program is the first step toward this goal. Contact your local county Extension agent for more information.

seth byrd
Seth Byrd

As we enter March, most activities surrounding the upcoming cotton season involve preparing the ground for planting later in May. For growers who use strip-tillage, many started those operations in February. Others will begin ground prep in March, along with making fertilizer and residual herbicide applications to combat weeds that may germinate in the weeks prior to planting.

A common recommendation is to base fertilizer rates on soil tests and realistic yield goals to ensure efficient use of nutrients and finances. Many make these preplant applications to lay their fertility foundation, with the option to come back before the second week of bloom to apply additional nutrients in a split application program. Or their goal may be to meet increased yield potential for a dryland crop in the case of favorable weather conditions.

It is also common to use the early application windows to address nitrogen needs, while waiting to apply potassium and other nutrients closer to planting. Thus far, it has been a dry winter in terms of rainfall. But growers are encouraged to have a plan in place in case a rainy spring causes concerns about where some of this winter applied fertility is located in the profile by planting time.

Many of the residual herbicides require mechanical incorporation, such as tillage, to get proper soil contact and provide control. As of mid-February, the vast majority of precipitation received across the Oklahoma cotton production region has been of the frozen variety. These arid conditions challenge the ability to properly use tillage to incorporate these herbicides, although there are other options that allow for incorporation with irrigation.

The window for using these residual products in our region is generally through the month of March, so hopefully an opportunity will present itself before the month is over. A proper preplant residual program will lessen the chance of weeds removing moisture and other resources from the soil prior to planting. It also will take pressure off the preplant burndown or preemerge applications and give us a strong start to a weed-free season.

For more information and resources for Oklahoma cotton producers, including the results of the 2020 on-farm variety trails, visit

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Growers are getting equipment ready and choosing cotton varieties since planting season is only a few weeks away. There is more optimism for cotton this year due to higher prices and the need for it as a rotation for peanuts in the Deep South.

Cotton does better in dry weather compared to most other row crops without irrigation, and the weather forecast into planting season predicts warmer and drier conditions. However, growers saw a potential record yield for Florida in 2020 evaporate quickly from seven named tropical storms or hurricanes that occurred from mid-August to harvest.

This has happened often in recent years. Too much rain with high winds reduced yield and blew cotton from open bolls.

Continued wet weather caused seed to sprout and hardlocked bolls, further reducing quality and yield.

When cotton follows winter grazing, less fertilizer is needed. More nutrients recycle and cotton roots double compared to cotton planted into cover crops without grazing or on conventional-till fields. Cotton often yields 150 to 400 pounds per acre more following winter grazing. Growers are finding less fertilizer is needed as well as 40% to 60% less irrigation when they include cattle grazing ahead of cotton. This results in $150 to $250 per acre increased income.

If cotton is to be planted in late April, cover crops or winter grazing should be terminated in late March or early April. For cotton planted in May, terminate cover crops by mid-April.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

Cottonseed quality has been a subject of interest recently, and 2021 is no different. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Cotton Seed Quality Testing Program began as a pilot program in 2020. It gained significant strides during the planting season as growers became more aware of the program and how it can affect their decisions, especially during periods of challenging planting weather.

One of the goals of the program, which will continue into 2021 and beyond, is to test as many seed lots of cottonseed that are sold in the state as possible and provide an official test for both warm and cool germ. An “official” test is one where seed samples are collected from unopened bags or containers by NCDA inspectors, per their protocol, and tested in the state lab according to a specific national testing protocol.

A “service sample” is one that is collected and submitted by anyone, and/or from previously opened bags or containers or after downstream seed treatment has been done. Both are good for the grower to have on hand to make better planting decisions, but only official tests hold any merit in arbitration or seed complaints.

This information is then searchable in the NCDA Cotton Seed Quality Database, which can be found on our NCSU Cotton Extension Portal ( under “Calculators and Decision Aids.” Once users create their own usernames and passwords, they can log in, click on “Seed Reports,” then click on “Cotton Test Results”….not “Cotton.”

A lot number can be entered, keeping in mind that the number “0” should always be used when entering lot numbers, versus the letter “O.” If a sample has been collected from that lot number and the warm/cool tests are completed, the results will be listed. If no results are found, a grower should contact NCDA immediately so an inspector can collect an official sample from unopened bags prior to downstream seed treatment.

Growers are strongly advised to express their interest to both the seed company and their local seed dealer in having their seed tested by NCDA before downstream seed treatment and well before planting. Given the time required for inspectors to collect samples and the 12 days needed to complete the tests, this conversation needs to occur as early in the year as possible.

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

I’m not an economist — for which I’m thankful — but an agronomist. PRODUCING, growing stuff thrills me. My fundamental understanding of economics is that all hinges on SUPPLY and DEMAND … and meddling.

The latter involves the artificial influences of government policies, currency manipulation, trade barriers, etc. But even with interference, supply and demand ultimately and eventually rule.

On Dec. 23, 2020, I received an email from a government agency, “Our projected price for 2021 is 70 cents. Your thoughts on the projection are greatly appreciated.” My first response, “Guesses are free … [and then] I believe we’ll see prices slightly above your estimate, probably 75 cents and perhaps a little towards 80.” The reply, “We definitely know a projection is just that. I wouldn’t be working here if I could predict the market (followed by a smiley face).

Asked for justification, I supplied this Jan. 4.

• Current Dec 2021 futures price is (today at 8 a.m. ET) 75.45.

• Prices for corn and soybeans are particularly strong, and in order to “buy” acres, the market will need to bid higher than in recent years. I realize there are places where producers can’t economically grow grain, but the Mid-South and North Alabama have that flexibility.

• Cotton economics have been generally unfavorable for Alabama producers in the past several seasons primarily because of weather — late season hurricanes and mid-season droughts. The farm economy is thus somewhat depressed. The pressures of a high-input crop like cotton compel growers to look elsewhere … unless price looks more attractive.

I realize if we planted ZERO cotton, that would have almost no impact on price. But I still hold to the idea that with price-attractive alternatives in soybeans and corn, the market will have to bid higher to get U.S. acres.

• The on-going pandemic and its effects on economies and DEMAND pose negative pressure on price. If we or the world retreats into shutdown mode, we could see disastrous impacts on demand … and a significant drop in price.

Well, we’ve passed 80 cents. Great! Even with a good price — might we hit 90? — we still need to make a good crop. And maybe we need to secure some price protection.

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

With planting season a few short months away, it is time to consider last-minute items before it goes full swing. January and February are typically spent allocating your budget and attending meetings to find the latest relevant cotton production information.

Obviously, 2021 is off to a very different start as we prepare for planting. To help with variety selection decisions and best management practices, visit for a wealth of information.

As with every year, it is a good idea to service equipment including do-alls and planters. Make sure do-all blades and teeth are in check, planters serviced and the sprayer is ready to go to field to reduce any downtime. Planting days are critical because often we crunch everything into a couple of short windows.

If you are planting behind corn or soybeans, be sure you have the correct plates in the planter. This seems like a no brainer, but it can be overlooked. With a precision planter, double check for the correct plates and make sue the correct selection is made inside the cab on the monitor. Having the wrong number of holes for a selected plate can throw off planting populations.

Speaking of planting populations, there have been a number of discussions about reducing plant population and achieving 90-plus % yield potential. In Mississippi, cotton populations can vary greatly depending on geographic region. In southern Mississippi, populations go as low as 30,000 plants per acre.

Most locations plant in the vicinity of 40,000-45,000 plants per acre. It is worth noting that lower planting populations can achieve similar yield potential as higher populations with the luxury of reduced seed costs.

However, reductions in seeding rate also reduce emergence potential if faced with adverse conditions. The only way decreased populations will sustain high yield levels is if the population is uniformly spaced. All too often, adverse factors affecting emergence result in erratic stands.

Finally, pay close attention to cold and warm germination on your seed, and only consider reducing populations if you are well aware of the germination percentage. If seed germination is 85% and you want 40,000 ending population, then you have to plant 47,000 seeds per acre (40,000 /0.85). Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Since we were unable to conduct our annual University of Tennessee Cotton Focus event in person this year, we decided to develop an online Cotton Focus Video Series. Fortunately, this format allows anyone to access the content at their convenience.

Over the past several weeks, we have had some excellent, relevant content presented by some of the best scientists in the Cotton Belt. We will continue to release videos through the month of March and plan to provide CCA and Tennessee pesticide recertification points at the conclusion of the Cotton Focus Video Series.

As you contemplate the 2021 decisions, I encourage you to review these presentations. To access the videos, check out our blog at or go to and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Bob Hutmacher
Bob Hutmacher

Winter weather patterns leading up to the 2021 planting season in the San Joaquin Valley have been unusual. We have not had much truly cold weather and only one series of major storms so far. With a relatively warm January and February and an extraordinarily dry winter season until recently, there are justifiable concerns about limitations in irrigation water supplies. Farmers also wonder how that will affect crop choices again this year.

With the high cost of seed, the need to avoid seedling diseases, and the desire to get plants off to good early growth, the best approach remains to look for solid five-day heat unit forecasts for planting. Also, consider soil temperatures that have been in the “acceptable” range (60 degrees Fahrenheit or more at 3 to 4 inches deep) for a week, if possible, rather than just barely reaching threshold temperature. Heat unit forecasts are available in multiple places, including the UC cotton website:

Cotton is known to be quite salt tolerant. If district water supplies are limited this year, growers with more saline groundwater wells may use some of that water for cotton while using lower salinity district water for their more salt-sensitive crops.

Cotton’s relatively high salt tolerance and ability to use poorer quality water are beneficial in keeping land in production rather than fallow. However, over the long haul, salt management and root-zone trace element monitoring will become much more important to maintaining productivity.

Growth restrictions are one of the most typical responses to moderate to higher accumulated salts in the soil. If you are planning to produce cotton in more heavily salinized or sodic ground, keep the plant populations relatively high (60,000 plants per acre or more) since growth will likely be reduced. If use of more saline ground is part of your plan, evaluating varietal response differences to salinity might warrant some variety strip tests.

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

The 2021 planting season will soon be upon us. In some areas of the state, fields are already beginning to green with small cotton seedlings.

When making decisions about cotton planting timing, consider minimum soil temperatures and the near-term three-day weather forecast to help minimize issues related to poor emergence and stand establishment. The most critical time for newly planted seeds is during the first 36-48 hours.

Soil temperatures above 65 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal and will result in quick germination and seedling emergence. Minimum soil temperatures below 55 F can result in decreased germination rates, slow emergence, increased susceptibility to fungal pathogens and generally reduced seedling vigor.

A warm, dry three-day forecast following planting is also key to establishing quick germination and strong emergence. For real-time soil temperature and weather conditions, visit

Proper seed bed preparation is critical to establishing a strong and healthy stand of cotton. Good seed-to-soil contact is required to properly initiate the germination process and seedling development. Planting depth is also important in establishing good germination. In moist soil, plant the seed deep enough to have sufficient soil moisture during the germination process so it does not dry out, but not too deep as to hinder emergence. Typically, between 0.5 inch to 0.75 inch is adequate.

In a dry planting situation, plant the seed shallower, between 0.25 inch to 0.5 inch. This allows for quick germination and emergence once the seed imbibes water that comes with the establishment irrigation. Proper soil moisture must be maintained during the germination and emergence process.

Consider and carefully monitor all these factors to increase the probability of a strong stand of cotton. For more on cotton production related topics, go to

Related Articles

Connect With Cotton Farming

Quick Links

E-News Sign-up