Planting time is upon us and, as of this writing, spring is shaping up to be a very good planting season. With warm temperatures and dry conditions, emergence and stand establishment should be uniform and swift. However, as you all know, things can change. I think it is important that we are reminded of what constitutes optimum conditions for cotton seedling emergence and stand establishment in an effort to avoid conditions that may lead to poor or “skippy” stands and increased incidence of seedling disease.
Conditions that the seed experiences during the first 24 to 36 hours after planting are critical to the eventual emergence of that seedling. Chilling injury during the first day will result in misshapen radicals (taproot) and enlarged hypocotyls also known as “thick shank.” These conditions will lead to slowed growth and emergence, leaving the seedling much more susceptible to seedling disease. Seedling diseases common to Arizona production systems include Rhizoctonia solani (sore-shin) and Thielaviopsis basicola (black root rot). Under heavy pressure, they can significantly reduce stands.
There are several factors that will lead to the aforementioned conditions besides cool soil temperatures, but a minimum soil temperature less than 55 degrees Fahrenheit is the largest contributing factor. Planting too deep, irrigation during cold weather, compacted soil and soil crusting from rainfall before emergence all can contribute to increased seedling disease and poor emergence. Some general guidelines for optimum planting conditions include a minimum soil temperature greater than 65 degrees F and a good, clear forecast free of precipitation for several days. Planting into minimum soil temperatures of less than 55 degrees F should be avoided if at all possible. In most Arizona locations, these planting conditions are reached in mid-March to mid-April. Early plantings have more of a chance to experience choppy weather and seedling disease.
Cotton planting in Missouri is drawing near. As the weather warms up, there is more field activity. It will be interesting to see how many acres we plant this year, but all indications are that it will be a larger crop than last year. I have heard estimates of 20 to 40 percent higher. Producers believe that they can make more money with cotton than with corn, soybeans, sorghum or alternative crops. With yields continuing to climb, I often wonder just how much yield we could make if cotton is planted earlier and we have excellent conditions during the season.
As far as weather conditions are concerned, it appears that as the El Niño system diminishes, the La Niña will take over. The forecasts that I have seen show higher temperatures this summer and an equal chance of above, below or average rainfall. Typically, a La Niña will result in dryer conditions.
This year it will be interesting to see how the producers who use reduced tillage and cover crops will fare. Some of the more experienced producers of no-till and cover crops have been able to get by with less irrigation due to the soil holding more water. Several of these producers indicate that their soil health systems have reduced their problems with resistant weeds.
Virginia cotton acreage should hold steady near 85,000 acres, despite the current market outlook. This is most likely due to other current commodity prices and nothing looking great economically. As we move closer to planting season, the most important environmental conditions to consider for planting cotton in the upper southeast coastal plain are soil temperature and nighttime temperatures for days immediately following planting. It is not uncommon in late April and early May to have nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s, which can be a detriment to early root growth. Any setback in root growth at this stage could have lasting consequences throughout the growing season. Wait for soil temperatures to hit 65 degrees Fahrenheit by 10 a.m. and planting (if possible) when temperatures are in a warming trend five to seven days after planting. However, variety selection is the most critical management decision in order to make high yields. This year, given the current market, selecting varieties that are proven yielders over multiple years with a good fiber package will be the key to success.
I’ve been asked whether to use starter fertilizer (2×2 band at planting). The primary benefit we typically see is a boost in early season growth in cotton, though impact on lint yield has been sparse in Virginia. Producers in Virginia want to use in-furrow insecticides for thrips control, but do not want to have multiple liquid systems on the tractor/planter. From our data, I would say there is a premium for adequate control of thrips during early season growth in Virginia (this is coming from a soil fertility guy) and the most bang for your buck would be in-furrow insecticide applications. In addition to thrips control, pre-emergence herbicides with residual activity are critical, especially if you are dealing with glyphosate-resistant weeds. Cotton producers who use these two management strategies in Virginia typically set themselves up for a successful year. Now let’s hope the market starts to come around!
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 overall plant health, which is critical in establishing high yield potential.
Producers should try new varieties on some of their land. However, planting the entire farm in new varieties is not recommended. Plantings of new varieties should be limited to no more than 10 percent of the farm. History tells us that generally in Arkansas, 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 the stands we want if conditions are less than optimum.
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 an accumulation of 25 or more heat units 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 methods used, it is important to remember that planting early does not ensure earliness. Getting off to a good, quick start will pay dividends season long if we do it right the first time.
Growers should use management practices necessary to maintain yields and avoid practices that may have the potential to increase yields but add significant cost to production. To potentially cut costs and increase yields, this is the year to consider applying variable-rate fertilizer and nematicides, etc., if maps are available.
Florida cotton acreage is expected to increase by about 22 percent this year to 105,000 acres. This increase is needed to get proper rotations with peanut back in place and help the yield of both cotton and peanut. Even though we are in a declining El Niño weather phase, growers should consider killing cover crops early since the last time we came out of a strong El Niño, we went into a very dry period. Many of our growers use strip tillage and should plant two to three seeds per foot of row as lower populations can result in lower yields and longer fruiting periods. Planting cotton behind winter grazing normally results in higher yields with about 30 to 50 percent less nitrogen and potassium needed as cattle recycle large amounts of nutrients. It looks like an early spring in the Southeast, and growers should consider starting to plant in mid-April if soil temperatures are favorable.
Hopefully, by the time you read this article, burndown herbicides will have already been applied. Depending on weather, we are likely to see some cotton planted during the last week of April. Acreage in North Carolina is expected to be down slightly. However, many growers in the predominate cotton areas of the state have indicated their acreage will remain stable, as cotton is one of our most competitive crops in North Carolina.
As we all know, cottonseed is a significant investment and requires careful attention to both weather and management so that optimal stands and seedling vigor can be achieved and the need for replanting minimized. Planting into adequate soil moisture when temperatures are favorable (25 to 50 DD60s expected within the first five days of planting) is ideal. Keep in mind that cottonseed is most sensitive to cool, wet conditions in the first few days after germination. If planting should occur during less than optimal conditions, adjusting the seeding rate slightly upwards will help account for suboptimal emergence or stand losses that may result.
With regard to weeds, it’s extremely important to start clean by applying pre-plant and at-planting residual herbicides. Monitoring for thrips presence and reproduction, and taking quick action with a well-timed foliar spray if needed, is important, especially if conditions, such as cool weather, herbicide injury, etc., aren’t favorable for rapid seedling growth
As we approach cotton planting in Louisiana, soil moisture conditions are very good. This is due to the ample amounts of rainfall that we received during the first part of March. Also, March temperatures have been a lot warmer compared to the past two years. If this continues, soil temperatures at planting in April should be conducive to the cotton plant being able to get off to a fast start. 2016 cotton acres across the state are expected to increase by about 20 percent.
Now is a good time to review a few key practices to help everyone get off to a great start. It is always best to plant according to soil temperature and not the calendar. If a field is planted too early, your cotton crop may suffer a stand loss and cold temperature stress, which reduces yield potential. Germination can begin when mean daily temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit at seeding depths, but growth will be slow. A soil temperature of 65 degrees F at a depth of 4 inches for three consecutive days and a favorable five-day forecast following planting is best. Also, nighttime minimum temperatures should be forecast to be more than 50 degrees F for the following five days. During the critical germination period, soil temperatures less than 50 degrees F can cause chilling injury to germinating cotton. Emergence will generally occur after accumulation of 50 to 80 DD60s or heat units after planting. Planting should be delayed if the five-day forecast predicts the accumulation of less than 25 heat units after planting. The minimum plant population in the final plant stand should be no less than two healthy plants per foot.
Creating a pest-free seedbed is critical to avoid problems from cutworms and spider mites. Pre-plant, burndown herbicide applications should be made at least four weeks before planting to ensure that no green vegetation is present in the field for these pests to survive. It is equally important to eliminate weedy host plants on field borders to reduce insect pest problems later on that might move into adjacent cotton fields.
Corn planters are already rolling in Mississippi, and cotton planters will not be far behind. Nearly all farmers who are planting cotton in 2016 have made variety selection decisions by now. However, keep in mind when you are selecting a variety that you are selecting an entire package, which contains varietal genetics, trait technology (unless you are a conventional grower) and a seed treatment.
Most are aware of the issues we have seen in Mississippi with thrips resistance to thiamethoxam-based seed treatments. As a result, the vast majority of cottonseed will be treated with imidacloprid-based seed treatments in 2016. However, data collected by Mississippi State University entomologists in 2015 suggests that slippage in thrips control is occurring with imidacloprid seed treatments. Having said that, do not automatically assume that all seed treatments will fail with respect to thrips control this year. However, also do not assume that because you planted seed treated with imidacloprid that you are immune from thrips issues in your cotton. Regardless of the insecticide seed treatment that is on the seed, spend time in your fields scouting for thrips and be prepared to make a foliar application if thrips populations exceed established thresholds.
We have just wrapped up our county meetings throughout Tennessee, and I can confidently say one of the most talked-about issues this year has been price. Although I am not an economist or a financial consultant, I do have a good feel for practices that tend to pay and those that do not. It is extremely important, in times like these, to focus on the basics. From conversations with a few of my colleagues and my recent personal experiences, a few too many jugs of “magic” have been poured into the tank at a premium.
As we look forward to a potentially challenging marketing year, keep a few things in mind before making that purchase. First, ask how it works. Most products worth incorporating have been thoroughly tested by the scientific community and the outcome from applying the product is clearly understood. Second, ask for data on the product from an independent study. Most companies with a working product quickly find institutions or independent companies to thoroughly evaluate the product through laboratory and field research. If the results are positive, you probably won’t have to ask for the data; it will likely have been provided during the pitch. With that said, it isn’t a bad idea to follow up with an online search to vet the testing source and to make sure the results were correctly reported.
If you decide you want to try the given input but aren’t terribly convinced with the answers to the above questions, establish a strip trial on your farm to evaluate the product. Most county agents would be more than happy to assist in the effort. Vetting products in this manner should keep you from making a potentially costly mistake in 2016.
According to the Nation Cotton Council Planting Intentions survey, cotton acreage in Texas is expected to increase 5 to 6 percent from 2015. However, it is likely that most of this increase will occur in the southern part of the state where wet conditions prevented planting last year. It is at least expected that acreage on the High Plains will remain relatively stable. A slight increase could be seen with the low prices of other commodities leaving no attractive alternatives and the sugarcane aphid posing problems in sorghum.
As we approach the start of planting, pre-season weed control will be key to avoid issues later in the season, particularly from glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth. Starting clean, using residuals and making applications so that we’re overlapping the windows of activity will help keep the weed pressure down. Although rain in March added some moisture to the soil profile, take care not to chase the moisture too deep during planting. This could result in poor germination and emergence, particularly if cool nighttime temperatures less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit are present.
Cotton planting in the Rio Grande Valley started early with a portion of the cotton now in the cotyledon-1lf stage with low pest pressure at this point. Some much-needed rain occurred the second week of March, and planting will wrap up promptly after the planters can reenter the fields. Planting in the Coastal Bend will begin when the fields dry after a big March 9 rain and will likely proceed quickly to take advantage of the planting moisture and warm temperatures. Some folks will be tempted to plant earlier than usual in the Blacklands due to warmer-than-usual air and soil temperatures and good soil moisture. However, we need to remember that late frosts are common in the Blacklands, and pay attention to the warm, long-term weather forecast and sufficient soil temperatures, above 64 degrees. The Rolling Plains is still 1.5 to 2 months from planting, but the soil moisture situation is promising at this point. Many producers are still trying to decide on varieties and should view the cotton variety results for the Rolling Plains, West Texas and Panhandle, which are available at Cotton.tamu.edu.
Regarding weed management, our guys know what needs to be done to manage glyphosate-resistant weeds, but the economics of the situation are tough to justify. They will start strong with a good pre-plant burndown program followed by a PPI or pre- herbicide. However, I am afraid the economics of weed management on the farm will fall apart in the mid- to late-season programs, especially if yield potential is low. We must remember that a few surviving weeds can lead to major weed problems for years to come. The weed management recommendations in Texas can be found at Cotton.tamu.edu.View More in our Archives