Saturday, April 20, 2024

Preparing For Potential Challenges

ALABAMA | Steve M. Brown

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve M. Brown,

Our suggested topic for March is “Preparing for Potential Challenges.” Without question, in every production year, “CHALLENGES” arise. Obvious sources include weather, pests, labor, equipment, finances, personal matters, etc. Two words come to mind relative to dealing with challenges: ADJUSTMENTS and MARGIN.

My wife and I are sports fans. She goes to games, while I watch at home on the TV where I can give advice to and holler at players, coaches, officials and even commentators. In many competitions, ADJUSTMENTS win the day.

As in sports, a farmer starts with a game plan for a crop based on experience, past successes and mistakes. But no two seasons are identical, and what you should have done last year is not exactly what is best at the same point this season, especially as things change. “Things” invariably happen. Assess the challenge or threat, think about it, maybe get some (good) advice and ADJUST. Alter the plan to meet the unexpected. Change inputs and management to meet changing conditions unique to this season.

A second suggestion is to build MARGIN into your operation. My daddy would approach a project and avow, “This will only take 30 minutes.” Actually, he said “thuty minutes” in his Hurtsboro accent. Two hours later…

“Things” happen. Yes, they do. Filling a 12-hour day with 15 hours’ worth of work doesn’t work. Even scheduling every 12-hour day with 12 hours of hard work doesn’t work. “Things” happen. Stuff breaks. It rains. People can’t show up. It takes longer to do this and that; it takes more time to go here and there. Interruptions deter us from the best-laid plans and tight schedules. So build into plans some cushion or MARGIN and time to repair and regroup, time to allow for and address the unforeseen. Recognizing the need and implementing MARGIN in what we do relieves some of the stress and pressure of doing it.

I recognize these are corny words and platitudes… and for cotton people, no less! I confess I’m preaching to myself and maybe my grown sons.

GEORGIA | Camp Hand

camp hand
Camp Hand,

When we get the email to begin working on these columns, there is always a suggested topic. This month’s is “Preparing for Potential Challenges.” When I saw this, my first thought was where do I even begin? Of course, a major challenge right now is cotton price, but I can’t control the world market unfortunately (if I could I probably wouldn’t be working at the University of Georgia).

My wife and I are fairly fresh parents. Our little boy is 14 months old, and in his short life, I have learned a couple of things. First, what works for him today may not work tomorrow, and second, the importance of being flexible. It reminds me a lot of growing a cotton crop. What worked last season may not work this season, and we have to be flexible. Over the past few years in Georgia, we have had a variety that has been outperforming everyone else, and not by a little. But in 2023, that variety fell to the middle of the pack. This is a prime example that what works in one year (or a few), may not work every time and illustrates the importance of not putting all your eggs in one basket.

As for remaining flexible, I can’t predict the challenges we will face in the 2024 crop. Who could have predicted that 2023 would be the worst year for tarnished plant bugs in Georgia, likely ever? Who could’ve predicted that statewide in 2023, we would likely have the best stands we have gotten in a long time, only to have them robbed from us by deer? There are certain things we can control and certain things we can’t. Control the things you can, and remain flexible for the rest.

So, how do we prepare for the challenges we will face in 2024? Know that what worked last season may not work this season and remain flexible to correct the challenges that we do face. As always, if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to reach out. Your local UGA county Extension agents and specialists are here to help!

MISSOURI | Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson, Missouri

In Southeast Missouri, environmental conditions or weather events can always be a potential challenge in the early stages of cotton development, mainly emergence through second to fourth leaf. Impacts from these conditions usually result in sandblasted cotton in fields where seedlings are not protected by some form of cover. This is something many producers in our area typically prepare for by planting a cover crop in row middles and terminating just prior to planting.

In cases where stand loss is observed, producers need to be ready to decide on replants or spot planting in impacted fields. Some data we have collected at the university is showing that plant stands below 17,000 plants per acre will generally trigger a replant situation.

Weed pressure may also be a potential challenge in the early part of the growing season, so starting clean with a burndown and preemergence herbicide following planting can reduce competition for growth during early development.

It is not uncommon to have cooler temperatures that sporadically move in for short periods of time following the planting window impacting early season growth. In this case, it is important to remain vigilant to insect pressure (thrip) as cotton growth will be slowed under these conditions. This was not the case in 2023; however, these conditions were observed in 2022. Producers in the Bootheel know every year can be different, and they need to be able to adapt to weather challenges that can impact them in the early development stages of cotton.

MISSISSIPPI | Brian Pieralisi

brian pieralisi
Brian Pieralisi,

As I write this Jan. 26, it’s hard to believe we are talking about planting the 2024 cotton crop. We just came off a week of snow and ice followed by about six inches of rain. I heard a local news anchor jokingly ask the meteorologist, “who ticked Mother Nature off in Mississippi?”  All jokes aside, we desperately needed moisture to help charge our soil profile.

The latest drought monitor does show some relief from the drought; however, portions of central and southwestern Mississippi are still in a drought, and it will take quite a bit more rainfall to flip the needle on this one. I am hopefully optimistic that we will be in the black in terms of moisture by May planting season.

Cotton prices have bumped slightly in favor of mid $0.80s, which is a positive factor to hopefully incentivize growers to plant more cotton. With input prices high and market prices below where most growers pencil in a profit, it is likely that Mississippi acres will remain relatively flat in the 400,000-acre range. I have visited with fellow cotton specialists in other states as well as local growers, and slightly reducing both seeding rates and nitrogen rates is a way to reduce costs on the front end. This also creates a scenario that could ultimately influence other management practices such as PGR and insecticide applications, or possibly increase defoliation efficacy.

It is all about devising a plan that works for your operation and a management strategy that you have full confidence that it will work. I hope 2024 is a great year for all stakeholders in the cotton industry! Best of luck!

TENNESSEE | Tyson Raper

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

It appears we will, at a minimum, begin the year with higher interest rates than we would like. As you are building your budget for 2024, I would again encourage you to think critically about nitrogen rate, seeding rate and all value-added products. Over the past couple of years, the market has seen a range of new products that promise, if applied, to allow you to reduce certain inputs. Unfortunately, I believe several of these products are capitalizing on the fact that we may be able to reduce some inputs without seeing a decrease in yield.

When investigating a new product, run strips across the field the same width or slightly wider than your picker. Label these strips and follow them through harvest. If you have a yield monitor, you should be able to clearly see these strips on the yield map; while it is best to wrap these strips separately and weigh to determine seed cotton yield per acre, most products worth applying will generate a strong visual on the field yield map. Most importantly, if you decide to also reduce certain inputs where you apply the new product, also include an additional check plot, which consists of the reduced inputs without the new product. This will really provide insight into the new product’s return on investment.

Finally, keep in mind we can mine nutrients like phosphorus and potassium from the soil with the chance of not initially seeing yield penalties, but ‘mining’ is not sustainable. In an outstanding presentation at the Cotton and Rice Conference a few weeks ago, an excellent grower shared test data where he stopped applying K on a 1,500+ pound field. Although year one of no K also resulted in 1,500 pound cotton, yields had declined to just over 500 pounds by year two.

VIRGINIA | Hunter Frame

Hunter Frame
Hunter Frame, Virginia

As we move closer to cotton planting in May, producers need to be aware of cotton seed quality and variety performance. Weather during the month of May can be unpredictable with cool temperatures and a poor germination environment in Virginia.

In 2023, May was one of the coolest on record, and very few growing degree days were accumulated. Producers need to select cotton varieties with high yield potential across environments by evaluating data across years and sites.

Once varieties have been selected, producers need to inquire about cool and warm germination data for each lot of seed that was purchased. Cool germination is a key characteristic that needs to be evaluated as this will give some indication on how the variety/lot will perform if conditions turn unfavorable during planting season.

Under adverse emergence conditions, cotton that has emerged can be extremely vulnerable to thrips, so scouting is key for timely thrips control to minimize stress on seedling cotton. Hopefully, May is closer to “normal” in 2024 and we stay on schedule for growth in Virginia.


Guy Collins,
North Carolina

Getting the crop off to a good start is one of the earliest goals we always want to achieve in any given cotton season. This starts in March by being timely with burndown, tillage and/or repairs to fields, fertility, etc. Successful planting and stand establishment is largely contingent upon weather during our planting season, but there are a couple of things we can do that may increase the odds of successful planting.

One of these things is making sure that high-quality seed is planted. Cotton seed quality is important, of course, but we must also understand that seed quality varies from year to year, over time during the course of the spring (depending on how it is stored) and varies from lot# to lot#.

In some years, the quality of seed is what it is, and we must live with what is available. In most cases, we can easily do just that, since there is often a range of quality, where some lots need to be planted in nearly ideal conditions whereas some others (large seed with very high cool germ, for example) can possibly be planted during short spells of “marginal” or “adequate” planting conditions. Frequently monitoring conditions on your farm using the Cotton Planting Conditions Calculator ( can help navigate growers through the planting season.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Cotton Seed Quality Testing Program continues to bring value to North Carolina cotton producers, and we thank them for their efforts in this program. The first step in ensuring that you know the quality of seed you are planting is to have it tested by NCDA & CS. Their inspectors and seed lab work very hard to test in as many seed lots as possible that they can find or know about, but don’t assume that they are aware of all seed lots that enter NC.

In some cases, growers may need to submit their own service samples for evaluation. Details regarding this process will be included in our newsletters found on, but growers should monitor the NCDA & CS Cotton Seed Quality Database ( to see if NCDA has already tested your particular seed lots.

TEXAS | Ben McKnight

ben mcknight
Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

As I write this Feb. 1, drought conditions have eased in many areas of Texas following rainfall over the fall and winter months. Additional precipitation across the state leading up to planting would help to further recharge the soil profile with additional moisture and help get the 2024 crop off to a strong start. The current drought monitor map indicates that around 43% of Texas is either abnormally dry or in some form of drought conditions, and most of these areas still impacted by dry conditions lie outside of regions with heavy cotton production. At this time in 2023, approximately 80% of Texas was experiencing dry conditions.

By the time you read this in early March, I anticipate cotton plantings in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to be in full swing. Mid-March typically is about the time growers in the Coastal Bend are finalizing preparations or have already begun getting the cotton crop in the ground with favorable weather conditions.

As producers begin to put together a plan for getting the crop in the ground for 2024, I’d like to share a few reminders on ideal planting conditions for cotton. Environmental conditions including soil temperatures at planting and the time until seedling emergence are strongly correlated. If marginal conditions are in store for the week following planting, waiting until more favorable temperatures arrive can ensure young cotton gets off to a good start with timely emergence and seedling establishment.

Warm and cool germination values can often give us a clue as to what type of seed vigor we can expect. I encourage growers to start their planting activities by planting seed with the highest vigor as indicated by warm and cool germination tests first, and hold off planting seed with lower warm and cool germination values until more favorable conditions are present.

TEXAS | Ken Legé

Ken Legé, Texas

Growers across West Texas were more than ready to turn the calendar from 2023 to 2024 in hopes that the new year would bring moisture and better cotton crops. While the area typically does not receive a lot of rain during the winter, our rainfall amounts match the long-term average, which is also reflected in the majority of the area with no drought status in the U.S. Drought Monitor. The much-anticipated El Nino weather pattern apparently did not develop as strongly and perhaps may not last as long as we had all hoped.

We will need more rainfall to fill the profile before planting. I suspect if I polled West Texas growers today, we would see lower-intended cotton planting acres compared to 2023; however, the reality is that the southern High Plains has few options for crops beyond cotton, and if we experience a good “planting rain” in mid-May, we will see cotton planting return to at least 2023 levels, if not a little more… again, highly dependent on rainfall at planting time.

Field work has begun for the 2024 season, with many fields being listed and prepared for the upcoming season. The occasional rainfall the area has had has reasonably supported cover crop growth that will help protect the cotton crop from blowing sand.

Weed control programs are beginning to come up in conversations with growers. To have successful weed control for the entire season, the majority of your herbicide program cost should be spent prior to planting and should be based on residual chemistry. If we continue to receive moisture, this will not only help those PRE herbicides activate, it will also elevate the moods and optimism of the entire industry.

We have seen quite a bit of interest from growers surrounding wide row configurations, be it 80” or 60” or even various patterns of skip row. The major factor, of course, is cost savings on seed; however, many factors have to be considered, including how to control weeds in a 60”-80” space, whether a cover crop is necessary in that space to minimize evaporative water loss, and if there are differences in fiber quality between solid 30” or 40” rows versus these wide-row configurations. Texas A&M AgriLife is actively working on the agronomics as well as the economical aspects of wide-row cotton.

The next item on a grower’s to-do list should be variety selection. This is a great time to gather information at county Extension meetings, as well as meetings that retailers and seed companies conduct. Use every opportunity to gather data from your area and in as many agronomic scenarios as possible to make an informed decision as to what varieties to plant. This is also a great time to talk to your neighbors about which herbicide technology they plan to use, as this may alter on what set of varieties you should focus.

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