Sunday, June 23, 2024

Last-minute Tips To Get Primed For Planting


Guy Collins,
North Carolina

As I write this Jan. 29, we are preparing for our winter cotton meeting season (aka “the BBQ circuit”), which begins next week. Thankfully, most growers are coming out of another good year for cotton with some reporting record yields, others reporting well-above-average yields and some reporting average or slightly less. 

Despite noticeably higher input costs, there were plenty of opportunities to book last year’s crop at high prices. When considered along with a “good” year in many places, most growers had another good experience with cotton in 2022, with a positive outlook for cotton in 2023. We have yet to see exactly how expensive this crop will be to produce, but cotton prices have fallen somewhat, so these two things will influence acreage decisions as we approach our planting season.

Although March is well before planting season, it is a great time to start inquiring about seed quality and the NCDA & CS Cotton Seed Testing Program. As seed arrives in North Carolina, the NCDA inspectors will be actively testing seed lots they find. However, the inspectors only collect samples from lots in which they were notified of arrival — or ones that they happen to find. Therefore, any growers wanting their seed tested should know that it is the grower’s responsibility to ensure the inspectors are notified for testing the grower’s seed. This should be done well ahead of planting season, as it is difficult to process seed through the lab in time for planting once we get to mid-April or later. 

It is important to remember the difference in official versus service samples, in that official samples must be collected by inspectors from unopened bags or containers. Anyone can collect a service sample from opened bags and submit it for testing, but it holds no merit in any official complaints if one were to arise. It is important to know the difference in the two types of samples — especially for any seed to be treated at the dealer level — if an official sample is desired by the grower.

TENNESSEE |Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Conversations lately have focused on input prices and how to pencil out a profit in the 2023 crop.  Over the past several years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time visiting with several people in the industry and testing approaches that might reduce financial risk associated with our crop.  

First, I believe several of our mid-maturing varieties perform better when seeding rates are selected to target two plants per row foot on 38-inch rows. This represents a substantial reduction in seed cost, often increases first position fruit retention, reduces PGR needs and lowers first fruiting node relative to thicker stands. Ultra-wide row has generated some press over the past few years. I would argue those on 38-inch to 42-inch row spacing can create the same plant response and similar cost savings observed in the 60-inch to 76-inch spacings by dropping seeding rate in a solid planting scenario.  

Second, on most of our silt loam or heavier soils, there may be an opportunity to maintain yields with slightly less nitrogen. In addition to reducing N cost, this reduces needs for PGRs, can increase first position fruit retention low on the plant, supports earliness, reduces disease pressure, increases penetration of insecticides and eases defoliation.

I would challenge you in 2023 to re-evaluate seeding rate and N rate on your operation. I believe you may just find savings on these two inputs domino into greater returns by the end of the season.

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

It is hard to believe we are getting ready for another growing season. The weather yesterday (Feb. 5) had me itching to plant something, so I planted potatoes and asparagus in my garden. I hope I didn’t jump the gun!

As I look forward to my third crop in this position, I am grateful to be in Georgia working with some of the best county Extension agents and growers in the country. 

We are in a much different situation coming into 2023 than we were this time a year ago. Unfortunately, inputs are still high. This time a year ago, December futures for cotton climbed to $1.25 or $1.30 per pound, but now, we are hovering between $0.80 and $0.90 per pound. We are in a tighter spot, and I think there is less room for error this go-round. 

We need to ensure we are maximizing the inputs we are using and not cutting things that are going to help us out. Big things that come to mind are early season investments that help us in the long run: preemergence residual herbicide, insecticide seed treatments (if not using AgLogic), preplant fertilizer, nematicides, etc. Many of these inputs are vital to our success as cotton producers, and cutting them might save a little bit on the front end and cost us on the back end. 

One of the best things I think we can do this time of year is ensure our equipment is ready to go for the upcoming season. It is easy to park a piece of equipment and forget about it until it is needed, but now is the time to make sure everything is tuned up and ready to go. Of course, the most important piece of equipment to growers at the beginning of the season is their planter, so a good run through of that isn’t a bad idea. Drs. Wes Porter and Simer Virk here at UGA have published a row-crop planter checklist to help get your planter tuned up. It can be found here: To make three-bale cotton, we have to get off to a good start and get a good stand, and I think this resource is helpful with that. 

As always, your local UGA county Extension agents and specialists are here to help! Reach out if you have any questions. 

MISSOURI |Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson

Low temperatures in southeast Missouri make me feel like we are still a long way from planting, and this is particularly true as the planting window is generally from late April to late May. Recently, our planting window has been even shorter due to the wet spring conditions in late April.

There are several factors to remember before any potential planting. Variety selection is always important, as variety performance can differ across various soil types in the Bootheel. Making our variety selections early will provide us confidence that we will have our preferred selections at planting. 

Another factor to consider is weed management prior to planting. Starting out weed free is essential to a great start, as competition with weeds can reduce stand establishment, growth potential and harbor insect pests following planting. Therefore, pre-plant burndown applications need to be made at least four weeks prior to planting to ensure clean fields. 

Early planting is a key component to producing adaquate yields in a short-season environment. However, planting into poor conditions or reduced soil temperatures in an attempt to get the crop in can rob potential yield increases. It is important to remember soil temperatures should be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit at three to four inches with a positive five-day outlook prior to any potential planting. 

In 2022, we were forced into later planting situations, and an early frost had an impact on several acres. If we are forced into planting late or replant situations in 2023, it may be wise to reduce our nitrogen rates to 80 or 90 pounds to account for the possibility of a shorter season.

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

As I write this Feb. 3, there is still a lot of uncertainty around 2023 cotton in Mississippi. However, we thrive in a world of uncertainty, which makes this situation somewhat normal. Cotton market prices are lower than last year, input costs remain high and acreage competition between corn and soybean is in favor of the grain crops due to those market prices. Another curve ball to anticipate is Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow. If this prediction holds true, and we experience six more weeks of winter, it could compromise some corn acreage.

Now is a good time to finish any tillage practices that were left undone in the fall. Obviously, weather and field conditions limit easy access to tillage this time of year. Also, with more cover-cropped acres in Mississippi, paying close attention to cover crop biomass production could aid in an effective termination. Almost every grower has a different practice and reason for their timing, but knowing what works for your operation and timing it right is key.

Lastly, we did some work in 2022 to rate the number of days of control from preemergence herbicides in the absence of dicamba. Across multiple locations, the top performers were Brake, Caparol, Cotoran, Cotoran + Caporal and Diuron. In 2022 — a dryer year — we saw 28 days of control from these products. Best of luck!

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

At the recent Beltwide Cotton Conference in New Orleans, I had multiple conversations with current and former seed company representatives about the critical importance of seed quality. Obviously, companies are keenly aware of the need for a quality product, but I was pressing the issue. 

For producers in the Lower Southeast, the actual cost of seed — that is just the seed, not associated technologies — represents no more than 15% to 20% of the total cost of the bag. The total includes seed, plus technology, plus seed treatment. 

Since the mid-1990s, total seed costs in the Lower Southeast have risen from about $35 per bag to more than $700 per bag. For the price, Alabama specialist Steve M. Brown says we should receive a quality product that enables predictable, consistent stands.

Since the mid-1990s, total seed costs in the Lower Southeast have risen 20-fold, from about $35 per bag to more than $700 per bag. Yes, we’ve gained some incredible technologies, but still the seed — that little rock-like kernel coated with Q, Y, Z and with B, W, T, F, E, X traits built in genetically — is the delivery means for the traits. Hundreds of dollars of traits are delivered on a carrier that consumes less than 20% of the cost. That carrier, the seed, NEEDS to be exceptionally good. We pay a BIG price and should receive a quality product that enables predictable, consistent stands.

Seed are a biological product subject to quality variations from the field, gin and seed house as well as in delinting and packaging. Each of these potentially influence seed “performance” in the field. Companies go to great lengths to deliver the best possible product, and while there is no perfect measure or absolute assurance of quality, we currently recognize warm and cool germ data as a good, reasonable estimate.

As an aside, the Extension Cotton Specialists Working Group, which consists of peers from across the Belt, discussed our on-going, Cotton Incorporated-sponsored Seed Quality Project. The efforts led initially by Murilo Maeda of TAMU and now by Camp Hand of UGA, along with work by Lori Unruh Snyder and others at NC State, have increased the focus and understanding of seed quality.

All this to say, Buyer Be Aware. Know what you’ve got. From your supplier, use the seed lot number to obtain data on warm and cool germ, and, if it’s not printed on the bag, seed count per pound. The seed is where it’s at.

LOUISIANA |Matt Foster

matt foster
Matt Foster,

With cotton planting just around the corner, now is a great time to review a few, key recommendations to ensure the 2023 season gets off to a great start. In Louisiana, cotton is generally planted mid-April to mid-May, but planting decisions should be based on soil temperature and not the calendar. Early planting is a key component of successful cotton production; however, if planted too early, yield potential can be reduced. Before deciding to plant, it is important to consider factors such as soil temperature and heat units (DD60s). 

Soil temperature is the main factor influencing seedling growth rate. Cool soils (below 50 degrees Fahrenheit) can cause chilling injury to germinating plants. Chilling injury can reduce vigor and increase the likelihood of seedling disease issues. Good germination and emergence can be expected once the soil temperature at a four-inch depth is 65 degrees Fahrenheit or greater at 8 a.m. for at least three consecutive days with a good five-day forecast following planting. 

Once soil temperature is optimal, it is important to calculate the number of DD60s for the next five days to determine if conditions are optimal for planting. Emergence generally occurs after the accumulation of 50 to 80 DD60s after planting. If the five-day forecast after planting predicts the accumulation of less than 26 DD60s, planting should be postponed. Also, the low temperature for the next five days should remain above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Most commercial cotton seed will have at least an 80% germination reported on the seed tag. This is the result of the warm germination test. Field conditions typically are more adverse than laboratory tests, and cool germination test results are a good indicator of seedling vigor. For example, a seed lot with 85% cool germination is more vigorous than one with 65% cool germination. However, if the 65% cool germination lot is planted under ideal conditions, overall germination is likely to be as high as the 85% lot. Conversely, under adverse conditions, the 85% cool germination lot is likely to germinate at a much higher rate than the 65% cool germination lot. Growers are encouraged to request cool germination test results from seed companies. 

Remember, a cotton seed is a living organism that is used as a delivery mechanism for genetic traits, transgenic technology and even pesticide seed treatments. Care should be taken to preserve and plant high-quality seed to ensure adequate plant stands. Best of luck during the upcoming season.

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

By the time you read this in early March, I anticipate cotton planting in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to be in full swing if weather conditions are favorable. Early to mid-March is also the typical timeframe growers in the Coastal Bend get busy finalizing planting preparations or have already begun getting the cotton crop in the ground with cooperative weather conditions. 

As I write this Feb. 3, several regions in Texas have received recent rainfall that has eased drought conditions, but additional precipitation leading up to planting would certainly help get the 2023 crop off to a good start. The current drought monitor map indicates that around 80% of Texas is either abnormally dry or in some form of drought conditions.

As we turn our attention to finalizing plans for the 2023 growing season, I believe it is imperative to have a plan for management and production challenges that we see or know are coming. Depending on the year and growing region, insect pests and disease pressure can vary considerably. One of the constant production challenges we encounter every year is weed pressure. Weed species composition is often very similar between years in the same field. We know what weed species are most commonly infesting each production field and which are particularly troublesome. 

With this knowledge, we can start to plan our weed control strategies and herbicide programs going into 2023. Preemergence residual products applied and activated correctly can provide a tremendous amount of value during the early season timeframe when young cotton plants are most vulnerable to yield-robbing competition from weed pests. Additionally, reducing weed populations 70% to 90% with effective residual programs reduces the pressure we put on our post-emergence products applied later in the season. This strategy is a huge step in the right direction for preserving current technologies and minimizing herbicide resistance issues that may arise in the future. 

ARIZONA |Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

Planting season for 2023 will soon be upon us. In the far southwestern reaches of the state, some cotton will be going in the ground late February and early March. Regardless of the day of the year that planting starts, there are several things to keep in mind when deciding to put seed in the ground.

I had a very wise cotton farmer tell me once that if a grower gets the itch to plant and weather conditions are marginal, his advice is to go out to the field with the planter and start planting, but don’t put any seed in the hoppers! There’s a lot of wisdom in waiting for adequate, if not optimum, conditions for planting. The significant investment made in planting seed really deserves protection by providing the best opportunity for successful germination and emergence, resulting in a healthy stand of cotton seedlings.

So, what are the conditions that lead to successful stand establishment? The biggest single factor influencing germination and emergence is soil temperature. Soil temperature measured at planting depth around 8 a.m. in the morning should be above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees are marginal, and planting into soil with temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit should be completely avoided.

Adequate soil moisture is also critical for germination. The process of seed germination is initiated with the absorption or imbibition of water. Much of the cotton in Arizona is planted into dry soil, and irrigation water is applied to initiate germination. In those instances where cotton is planted into a pre-irrigated soil, placement of seed into moist soil with good seed-to-soil contact is critical for proper germination. This requires a properly prepared seedbed and proper seed placement.

A third factor is the conditions that planted seed experiences in the first three to five days after planting. Adverse weather conditions in those first few days negatively impacts seedling development and leads to disease and eventual seedling mortality.

In summary, adequate soil temperatures, proper seed placement in moist soil and a favorable three-to-five day forecast combine for a recipe that will help to ensure a good start to the season with a healthy, uniform cotton stand.  For more information on this topic and others, visit our website at

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