Planting Considerations


Randy Norton AZ
Randy Norton e-mail

Deciding on the appropriate time to begin planting cotton in the spring can be a difficult decision. Warm, early spring days will sometimes provide an “itch” to get into the field and start planting. However, warm spring days can also be followed by very cool nights that lead to less-than-optimum soil temperature conditions for seedling germination and emergence.
Cool soil temperatures result in slow germination and increased susceptibility to seedling diseases caused by soil-borne fungi. A cold front moving through an area can dramatically slow seed germination and seedling emergence, making them more susceptible to seedling diseases from pathogens such as Rhizoctonia solani (damping off) and Thielaviopsis basicola (black root rot), both soil-borne fungi.

Cool soil temperatures result in slow germination and increased susceptibility to seedling diseases caused by soil-borne fungi. A cold front moving through an area can dramatically slow seed germination and seedling emergence, making them more susceptible to seedling diseases from pathogens such as Rhizoctonia solani (damping off) and Thielaviopsis basicola (black root rot), both soil-borne fungi.
The most effective way to avoid seedling diseases is to plant into conditions that promote rapid germination and seedling emergence. Research shows that a soil temperature greater than 65 degrees Fahrenheit at 8 a.m. is optimum for planting. The range of 60-65 degrees is good, 55-60 degrees is marginal and below 55 is considered poor.

The three-day forecast following a proposed planting date is also important to consider. If inclement weather, such as precipitation or a cold front, is expected during those first three days post planting, it might be better to delay planting and wait for better weather. Conditions experienced by the seed in the first 24-48 hours after planting are critical to proper germination and seedling emergence. Real- time soil temperatures for each of the Arizona Meteorologial Network weather stations can be found on the AZMET website ( by following the “Agricultural Stations: Current Conditions” link on the home page.

More than ever, economic realities pressure us to make the most efficient and productive planting decisions possible. Increased cost of seed in recent years provides incentive to avoid replanting situations by monitoring soil temperatures and weather forecasts and planting into conditions as close to optimum as possible. Find additional information related to optimum planting conditions and related early season topics at


Bill Robertson AR
Bill Robertson e-mail

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 and weed pests. Variety selection and seed quality have a lasting effect on the crop’s early season vigor and overall plant health, which are critical in establishing high yield potential.

In Arkansas, history generally tells us 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 optimal. And 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.

Producers should try new varieties on some of their land. However, planting the entire farm in new varieties is not recommended. They should be limited to no more than 10 percent of the farm.

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 season long if we do it right the first time.


David Wright FL
David Wright e-mail

Most of the early season management has been decided as far as varieties, planting methods and planter configurations by this time. Growers like the spring that follows the planning they have done to get things set up for the year. Most make changes to a planter or some piece of equipment to fine-tune their operations.

It is challenging to complete planting before moisture runs out. Farmers also hope to have enough good planting weather to get planted on time. Both cotton and peanut are planted from mid-April to mid-May. There are often days when the soil is too wet or too dry and winds are too high to apply herbicides. If seedlings emerge before a residual herbicide is applied, it complicates weed management.

It is important in today’s resistant weed environment to apply residual herbicides, which often do an excellent job of controlling a wide range of weeds. They also reduce costly over-the-top applications when weeds have gotten ahead of weed management. Extension specialists and consultants are always ready to help if problems do occur. Every year is a new and exciting year with different challenges!


Dan Fromme LA
Dan Fromme e-mail

Currently, cotton acres are expected to increase compared to last year in Louisiana. As we proceed into planting, cotton farmers have experienced abundant rainfall and wet soil conditions during 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-$25 savings of seed cost and technology fees. Plant 2.75 to 3.25 uniformly spaced seeds (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 30,000 plants per acre. Planting less than 2.5 seeds per foot can significantly delay maturity.

Once planting is complete and cotton seedlings have emerged, 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. 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 valuable role in getting off to a 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 circumstances, foliar sprays are needed even though a seed treatment was used at planting. However, 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.


Darrin Dodds MS
Darrin Dodds e-mail

Cotton planters will soon be rolling through fields in Mississippi. There are a few things that justify particular attention with this year’s crop. Almost everyone is aware thrips control has become increasingly difficult with insecticide seed treatments. While we have seen a shift toward imidacloprid seed treatments, we are also seeing slippage in thrips control with these products.

We have a number of growers who have chosen to overtreat seed with acephate or spray acephate in-furrow. The complicating factor in this situation is that once a bag is broken and overtreated, it cannot be returned. Regardless of how you attempt to manage thrips, timely scouting and subsequent insecticide applications when thresholds are reached are vitally important.

Herbicide-resistant cotton varieties have certainly been the talk of the winter/spring meeting season. There are a multitude of strategies for growing and managing these varieties and all of the associated aspects of that process. However, several points should be considered, including yield potential, ability to control weeds in a convenient and cost-effective manner, protection from misapplication or off-target movement, applicator clean out, and application restrictions.

There are certainly other considerations; however, this list should provide a good starting point. Once you address these and other areas of your management strategy and determine how a given technology may or may not fit your system, you will likely have the answer as to what technology you should purchase.


Mike Milam MO
Mike Milam e-mail

As I am writing this, we are experiencing a warmer-than-normal winter. I would guess we are two to three weeks ahead on the development of our trees and shrubs. However, the weekend forecast is for rain, snow and a hard freeze. Since wheat is earlier this year, it is vulnerable to freezing conditions. We are expecting increased cotton acreage this season, and producers are eager to get started.

My best-case scenario would be for earlier planting rather than later. We need warm soils, and I would like to see the cotton emerge in five to 10 days. We had some issues last year with cool, wet conditions after planting. We also had to replant some fields with cover crops, because the fields did not dry down in a timely fashion.

Producers need to read the dicamba and 2,4-D labels very carefully. Cleaning out equipment will also be more important this season. As far as pre-plant, pre-emerge and residual herbicides are concerned, we recommend rotating modes of action to help avoid resistance. A chart for the different modes of action is located at

With provisional labels for the new products, we essentially only have a brief time to get the technology right. Dicamba and 2,4-D are both tools. Keep in mind that glyphosate resistance took about 10 years to develop. We must be better stewards of our technology to make it last longer. Producers cannot afford to make the same mistakes they made with glyphosate.


Guy Collins e-mail
Guy Collins

As I write this on Feb. 27, the outlook for cotton in 2017 appears to have shifted to the positive since December, likely due to the uptick in prices. Attendance throughout our winter county meetings was the highest it has been since I returned to North Carolina, which I hope is a good sign for cotton acreage intentions. Many farmers have said they are getting back into cotton this year, and/or will increase their acreage from 2016.

By the time this is published, variety decisions will have been made and seed ordered. The end of April usually triggers cotton planting in North Carolina, depending on weather. There are several things that producers should consider to protect their seed investment. First, it is always wise to document each lot number of seed, any seed treatment, seed size (number of seeds per pound as seen on the bag), and both warm and cool germ values.

Warm germ values and seed size are generally printed on the bag. Obtain cool germ by contacting your dealer or seed company. These values provide an idea about seedling vigor and likelihood of successful stand establishment under marginal conditions. Farmers should adjust seeding rate and planting depth accordingly. Avoid planting in marginal conditions, especially if cool germ values are low.

As we observed in 2016, farmers should watch the weather forecast for likely heat unit accumulation during the planting season. Avoid planting in poor conditions (wet, cool, etc.) when possible, especially within the first two to three days of planting into good moisture. One of the more common errors we encounter is planting too deep. Planting depths greater than 0.75 inches generally result in an unnecessary burden on seedlings, which prolongs emergence and decreases the likelihood of adequate stand establishment. This is especially true for smaller-seeded varieties or if cool germ is low. Planting deeper than the optimal depth only works in warm, moist soils where conditions are ideal and a surface crust does not form.

Lastly, it is generally a good practice for producers to save 2-3 pounds of seed for each lot number they purchase. Store this seed in a cool, dry place at least until a stand has been established, or even longer, in case you encounter problems and need to re-evaluate seed quality.


Tyson Raper TN
Tyson Raper e-mail

Given the increased cotton acreages forecasted for 2017, picker capacity has been a topic of conversation over the past few weeks. Many within the Mid-South sold basket equipment several years ago with plans to purchase a module-building picker if cotton made its way back on the farm. Now that cotton is coming back, how much cotton can you typically feed through one picker in Tennessee?

Drs. Terry Griffin, Mike Buschermohle and Ed Barnes recently published picker and planter capacities relative to estimated days suitable for fieldwork. Their publication, “Planting and Harvesting Capacity in Cotton Production,” can be found posted to our blog site (, on the Cotton Cultivated website or on pages 10-11 in this issue of Cotton Farming.

The authors assumed a six-row, round module building picker would average 8 acres per hour, a six-row basket machine would average 7.3 acres per hour, and an old, six-row basket picker would average 6.2 acres per hour. Harvest time per day was calculated at 8 hours per day. Days suitable for fieldwork between Sept. 30 and Nov. 10 in Tennessee totaled 32 days.

The take-home message is to consider picker capacity now. It is unlikely the 2017 harvest season will be as favorable as 2015 or 2016. Numbers provided in the mentioned article serve as a solid starting point but should be adjusted based on your typical harvest window and acceptable level of risk.


Galon Morgan TX
Gaylon Morgan e-mail

Producers in the Rio Grande Valley started planting early this year, but it’s been slower than normal with recent rains. The Coastal Bend began planting the first week of March with about 20 percent planted by March 10. Unlike the previous two seasons, planting conditions have been more normal without extreme weather events, and so far not much replanting has been necessary.

Also because of good conditions, thrips have not been a major problem in these regions. The Upper Gulf Coast will likely be planting by mid-March with soils warming quickly and not too much rain. In the Rolling Plains, cotton was still being ginned due to late harvest and good yields. Fortunately, fiber quality was holding up fairly well.

Weeds, new herbicide-tolerant traits and their associated herbicides remain the primary discussion point among growers and a focal point at educational meetings by allied industry and Extension. Most growers are embracing the XtendFlex and Enlist Cotton and see the new herbicides as their best option for managing glyphosate-resistant weeds. However, others are sticking with Roundup Flex and GlyTol LibertyLink varieties because of lower risks and lower seed prices.
Regardless of the herbicide-tolerant traits, starting clean and overlapping soil residual herbicides are critical components for a successful weed management program in 2017. The latest products and application recommendations are available in the Weed Management in Texas Cotton publication posted at


Seth Byrd TX
Seth Byrd e-mail

As of mid-March, preparations for the 2017 cotton season are underway across much of West Texas. Tillage operations and preplant residual herbicide applications have already taken place in many fields. Although temperatures have been mild for much of the past several weeks, little precipitation has fallen across the region, and currently there’s no strong chance of precipitation in the short-term forecast. Dry weather appears to have kept many of the winter annual weeds under control, but some moisture heading into planting would be welcome.

It seems the new herbicide technologies have been rapidly adopted, and much of the cotton acres on the High Plains likely will be planted to varieties containing one of the new trait packages. Even with these traits, early season weed control will still be critical. By the amount of tillage activities and yellow herbicide applications observed already, it is clear that producers understand the benefit of starting clean.

Beyond weed control, soil fertility is another preseason focus. The results of soil sampling performed in the fall or winter can be useful to ensure appropriate fertilizer rates and products are applied based on requirements for the yield goal of each specific field. Splitting these applications into separate times of the season or growth stages will allow for efficient nutrient use by the crop. Planting will likely still be at least a month away by the time this issue reaches you, but we hope to start the season with clean fields, good fertility and, of course, some rain.


Hunter Frame
Hunter Frame e-mail

Moving into mid- to late April, Virginia producers are applying the last burndown treatments to kill small grain cover crops and winter annual weeds. Moving into the season, it is critical that air and soil temperatures are optimal at planting and at five to 10 days after planting to have optimum emergence and stand establishment.

In 2016, the end of April was marked with above-average temperatures, followed by the first two weeks of May having below-average temperatures and wet soil conditions. Cotton planted during the end of April suffered and did not start actively growing until the middle of May. In Virginia, temperatures can fluctuate drastically, so producers must watch weather patterns to ensure optimum performance to attain adequate plant populations and minimize delays in development.

In addition to early season weather, pre-emergence (pre) herbicides with residual activities are recommended for cotton in Virginia. However, weather can also impact weed control performance and crop injury. Virginia cotton producers should contact Charlie Cahoon (, Extension weed scientist, with concerns about pre herbicides and their crop safety, soil type and modes of action. Protecting cotton from early season weeds and dodging weather events is the name of the game in Virginia cotton during the end of April and early May.

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