Set Early Season Priorities

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

Among the specialists, I’m the new kid on the block, though I’ve been around the block several times and am no longer a kid. This is my 42nd crop, and I’m still learning… Alabama growers planted considerably more acres than normal in late April and early May. The aim is a half million acres and a million bales of cotton.

We’re now well into postemergence weed control. The race against Palmer amaranth and other weeds demands the right tools at the right time, and it helps if growing conditions are favorable. Some products are more finicky than others, and for many, the window for success is very limited.

Timing is everything with post herbicides. A two-day delay can be costly. Price of treatment — products plus application — is the same whether on-time or not. But the results differ dramatically. The auxin products are excellent tools but require vigilance in stewardship. On-target, timely applications make for good weed control and quiet(er) neighbors.

Off-target concerns linked to auxins include physical spray drift, volatility and spray tank contamination. Regarding tank system clean out, the No. 1 point (beyond following label instructions) is vacating, emptying the sprayer. Empty. Clean. Rinse (3x).

Last year, I witnessed contamination from a mixing vat, which back-siphoned into a large water tank. Unfortunately, dicamba from an earlier Xtend application was applied at low rates to Enlist cotton. While it was questionable initially, the Enlist cotton recovered nicely. Keep in mind that non-traited cotton is extremely sensitive to 2,4-D but less so to dicamba.

Conversely, the opposite is true (dicamba is harsher than 2,4-D) for non-traited soybeans, and to a lesser extent, peanuts.

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

A small percentage of our cotton was planted in April this season in Arkansas. As I prepare these comments, it looks like we could have some very late May-planted cotton. Our old rule of thumb that up to a 2 percent loss of yield potential may be experienced for every day planting occurs after May 20 still has merit.

The first 40 days in the life of a cotton plant sets the foundation for yield and fiber quality potential for the season. This includes the period from planting to squaring. A crop that emerges quickly and with good conditions for growth should be squaring 35 days after planting. Pest management issues are generally the greatest concerns for our young crop.

However, as we move into the next few weeks in June, other factors including fertility and soil moisture stress become more critical. In dry years, consideration for irrigating pre-squaring cotton may arise especially if new node production slows to five to six days. We generally do not irrigate cotton at this time in the Mid-South.

Research demonstrates the importance of avoiding stress once squaring begins. Irrigation water management is our next big challenge. There are many programs, tools and practices available to help improve irrigation water-use efficiency. Everyone who uses plastic tubing should be using computerized hole selection.

We want to go into squaring with a plant developing a new node every 2.5 to three days and have square retention greater than 80 percent. This puts us on track to having 9 to 10 nodes above white flower at first flower.

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

It has been an interesting spring planting season with significant weather events occurring throughout the planting window of April and May for most of the Arizona cotton crop. Predictions from the National Weather Service included forecasts for wetter and cooler than normal for the three-month period of March-May. Well, they did not disappoint.

Most of the crop was planted at least two weeks later than normal and, much of the planted crop experienced less-than-optimal conditions during stand establishment. This resulted in some re-plant conditions throughout the state.

Cool, wet conditions during planting season followed a wetter-than-average fall and winter. This increased precipitation was a welcomed change from previous years with very little winter precipitation. However, it has resulted in increased desert vegetation and weeds that have the potential to harbor higher insect populations. Some issues with false chinch bug have already been observed this season.

It is important to monitor young cotton for insect pest damage as it begins fruiting. Protecting early season fruit set is critical in setting the crop up for balanced vegetative/reproductive growth and realizing maximum yield potential. Monitoring fruit retention and vegetative/reproductive balance can be done in an easy and quantitative way. For instructions, go to and look under the cotton growth and development section.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Cotton planting got off to a good start in May and has good prospects this season so far. Most growers have a good plan for early season weed control and timely nitrogen applications, which usually occur about 40 days into the growing season. Timely management results in early fruiting and holding cotton to a reasonable height with growth regulators and adequate fruit loading.

Cotton is mostly planted using strip tillage, and weed control is always critical during June before lapping over row middles. Frequent rains bring flushes of weeds. It seems like June is the month for war with weeds. Be prepared to control weeds as growers get behind in planting due to weather or other factors.

Planting may extend into June, delaying early season weed control and allowing weeds to get beyond the stage for good control.

Mark Freeman, Georgia
Mark Freeman

Growers in Georgia historically plant about 20 percent of the state’s total acres in June. Management strategies for late-planted cotton should differ slightly from our earlier planted crop. When planting late, there is much less room for error.

Establishing a good stand is crucial as there may not be time to replant. If available, irrigate to ensure adequate moisture and prevent soil crusting. A rotary hoe is another option to break up soil crusting and allow seedlings an easier emergence.

Seeding rates should also be adjusted. In Georgia, top-end yields can be achieved with final plant stands of 1.5 plants per foot, which is often accomplished with seeding rates as low as two seeds per foot. However, due to the compressed growing season for late-planted cotton, the crop does not have as much time to produce fruit on upper and outer fruiting positions.

young cotton plants, mississippiIn this scenario, one would likely benefit from a slightly higher seeding rate to help ensure a sufficient stand as well as add additional stalks in the field.

From a crop management standpoint, take all steps to reduce or eliminate crop stress. Proper irrigation and insect management will prevent fruiting gaps, and a sound plant growth regulator program will limit excess vegetative growth, enhance early node fruit retention and promote crop earliness.

Decrease nitrogen rates by 25-30 percent as excessive N can delay fruiting. Monitor plant fertility levels with tissue testing and apply additional nutrients as needed through sidedress or foliar applications.

As we get into the late planting window, farmers ask when to switch to an earlier maturing or short-season variety. In theory, it seems the early varieties would be a better fit in the shorter growing season. However, varieties with the highest yield potential are typically our best option in Georgia regardless of planting date.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

John Fogerty (of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame) penned the lyrics “….yesterday and days before, sun is cold and rain is hard…..” as part of the song “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Growers throughout the Mid-South have seen enough rain over the past seven months to last for some time.

As of this writing, very little cotton has been planted in Mississippi, and some of what has will likely have to be re-planted. In addition, for those in the south Delta affected by flooding, it may be some time before any field activities begin.

Given that nearly all of our crop will be planted after mid-May, a few management practices should be evaluated. Thrips: It is well known that thrips damage can delay maturity. Do not allow this pest to cause excess damage and potentially delay maturity.

Nitrogen fertilizer rates: Carefully evaluate how much nitrogen you apply. Extensive research has documented that excess nitrogen can delay maturity. Plant growth regulator applications: Most research suggests these applications have little impact on earliness and should be used to manage vegetative growth.

Making adjustments now may help alleviate delayed harvest this fall.

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

As of May 9, Louisiana cotton planting is only about 30 percent complete. Consequently, a significant portion of our cotton crop will get in the ground during the second half of May. In Louisiana, peak yields can be expected from cotton planted no later than the second week of May.

In past years, lint yields have been reduced as much as 20-25 percent in cotton planted after the middle of May until June 1. Cotton planted the early part of June can experience even greater yield reductions, and soybeans will become a better option.

LSU AgCenter entomologists recommend treating when immature thrips first appear on seedling cotton. Once cotton has reached the five true leaf stage and growing conditions are good, thrips control is no longer needed. When squaring begins, monitor fleahopper and tarnished plant bug numbers.

tarnished plant bugs
Be aware of tarnished plant bugs coming out of wild host plants across the Mid-South.

Cotton should be scouted for fleahoppers during the first three weeks of squaring. Detection can be difficult due to the flighty nature of these insects. Our entomologists recommend treating when 10-25 of these insects per 100 plants are found. These treatment levels may be adjusted to maintain between 70-85 percent first position square retention.

For tarnished plant bug control, pre-bloom threshold levels are 10-25 plant bugs per 100 sweeps. Adjust pre-bloom treatment levels to maintain between 70-85 percent first position square retention. The Louisiana threshold for bloom to harvest is two to three tarnished plant bugs per 5 feet of black drop cloth, 10 plant bugs per 100 sweeps or 10 percent dirty squares.

Occasionally, clouded plant bugs are found in Louisiana cotton. Pre-bloom and bloom threshold levels are the same as for tarnished plant bugs; however, each clouded plant bug should be counted as an equivalent to 1.5 tarnished plant bugs when determining treatment.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

The cotton-planting season in the Bootheel has been wet, and fieldwork has been slowed by rain and cool weather. Some cotton was planted earlier in April in less-than-ideal conditions and should be observed closely. Later plantings toward the end of April into the first of May are soggy with flooding in many fields.

Stand issues need to be caught early. With tight seed supplies, there may not be seed for a replant situation.
Because of issues surrounding thrips control with seed treatments, producers with early planted cotton in Missouri should keep an eye out for slippage and be prepared to make foliar applications if populations exceed thresholds. Adequate scouting is critical if seed was planted with just a base seed treatment.

Prevent early season weed pressure with residual herbicide applications. Even with the changes for 2019 applications of FeXapan, XtendiMax and Engenia, residual herbicide applications are needed to reduce early season pressure.

They also will help preserve the technologies, especially after reducing total 2019 applications from four to two. Enlist growers should also incorporate residual herbicides. Be mindful of off-target movement and complete mandatory training.

With the wet weather during April, cotton acreage may increase due to delayed corn planting. The U.S. Department of Agriculture planting predictions have the Bootheel at nearly 400,000 acres, and it looks like acreage may set a record in 2019.

We’re all hoping for a successful and safe start to the season and more cooperative weather during the month of May.

Keith Edmisten
Keith Edmisten
North Carolina

June is a busy time for cotton growers to sidedress nitrogen, apply layby herbicides and begin growth regulator applications where needed. At this writing, we have had decent weather for planting this year, which means the crop should, on average, be earlier than the past few years.

Therefore, these applications need to occur earlier, based on growth stage rather than calendar date. We recommend applying sidedress nitrogen about two weeks before first bloom. Hopefully, this allows plenty of time for rain to move the nitrogen into the root zone.

This is also a good time to consider starting mepiquat-based growth regulator applications. The cotton should have nine to 10 nodes two weeks prior to bloom if we have had normal rainfall. Height and potential earliness advantages from growth regulators can best be managed at this stage.

It’s difficult to be timely with early bloom mepiquat applications if you have a lot of spread-out acreage. Applications made after early bloom are rarely helpful in terms of height control or offering earliness advantages.

With an early crop, growers should keep in mind that mepiquat applications will not likely be helpful in making the crop earlier to avoid cold weather or frost in the fall. The likely value of earliness this year is to get pickers in the field earlier for the portion of the crop you will harvest first.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

As of early May, the 2019 Oklahoma cotton season has been defined by two words — cool and wet. In some areas, rainfall from late April through the first 10 days of May delayed fieldwork related to preparation or planting.

Overnight low temperatures from the Panhandle stretching east across the northern border increased the risk for cotton planted in late April or early May, particularly if not emerged. These conditions also put a hold on any planting progress in areas dry enough to get equipment in the field.

On the bright side, hopefully the moisture will allow rapid germination and emergence once seed goes in the ground.

By the time this issue reaches you, we should have a better idea of cotton’s status across the state. Ideally, we will avoid significant replants due to chilling injury. As a result of our May weather, we will likely see some issues with stand establishment due to low temperatures or cotton planted later than planned because of wet conditions.

As we move to the southwest areas of the state, the longer season length will help mitigate some of these issues. The ability to irrigate further lessens the damage. In the primarily dryland northern areas or extremely short-season Panhandle area, enhancing early season growth, minimizing stress and managing maturity become even more critical.

Thin stands often lead to excessive growth as plants compensate for the sparse population. This often requires more vigilant growth regulation. In delayed planting situations, it is critical to meet fertility demands and monitor for thrips pressure to limit a slowdown in growth and development.

In both situations, weed control is key, as thin stands provide more opportunities for these pests to take over. Weeds also outcompete cotton for resources, making control in late-planted fields critical for enhancing maturity.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Warm temperatures and a few dry days in late April and early May allowed many Tennessee farmers to begin planting. As I write this on May 9, I believe we have more than a third of our cotton planted. While another rain is forecast over the coming weekend, I suspect we will be full speed ahead next week.

Most recently, calls have focused on seed quality and last-minute variety placement information. Fortunately, many of the earliest planted fields have emerged quickly. Planting windows have been nearly ideal. However, if conditions change and marginal stands are noted, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, we only need one or two plants per row-foot for profitable yields. Since we typically seed at three to 3.5 seed per foot, we can achieve profitable yields with as little as 50 percent emergence.

Second, skips smaller than 3 feet are often not yield limiting. But the number and length of skips larger than 3 feet are considered yield restricting and should affect the decision to replant. Finally, seeding rates can be reduced slightly at later planting dates without yield penalties.

Take a look at if you want to see that data. Hopefully, we will continue to have ideal planting conditions, and this information will not have to be applied during 2019. Keep up with us at and reach out to your local Extension agent if you have questions. Good luck!

Galon Morgan, Texas
Galon Morgan,

Temperatures are ramping up in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and the cotton is growing in response. The earlier-planted cotton is approaching bloom while the later-planted cotton will be early squaring. Heavy fleahopper pressure and some aphids are justifying insecticide applications.

Due to variable weather, the Coastal Bend has had to replant a substantial amount of cotton this year. This has led to cotton just emerging in early May to cotton at early squaring. Preemptive boll weevil spraying in the Coastal Bend has occurred due to the pest’s return to several counties in 2018.

These insecticide applications may lead to flaring of aphids in those areas.

With the wet conditions, weeds are getting ahead of farmers and stretching beyond the application window for Enlist and labeled dicamba products. Sequential applications are expected to obtain adequate control of these larger weeds. Despite the challenges, a full profile of soil moisture in the Coastal Bend is invaluable. Most of the cotton finally got planted in the Upper Gulf Coast but is weeks behind normal.

Thrips pressure was low, but fleahopper pressure is high this year. Although growers had good subsoil moisture throughout most of the Rolling Plains, planting moisture was needed coming into May. Cold weather and on-off rainfall delayed some early planting but it was expected to ramp up the last week or so of May.

With good soil moisture across most regions in Texas, we should expect increased weed management challenges. Growers need to do their best to target small weeds, use residuals and avoid off-target movement of the auxin herbicides.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

As I write these comments the first week of May, a few producers are planting in the Texas High Plains. Much of the area received a good rain May 7, with more in the short-term forecast. Hopefully, everyone is keeping track of soil temperatures and weather.

A handy planting conditions tool developed by Drs. Collins and Edmisten at North Carolina State University available at can be used to help make planting decisions. As the crop emerges, keep an eye out for early season pests. Scouting is always important and often overlooked during the busy planting season.

According to Dr. Suhas Vyavhare, Extension cotton entomologist in Lubbock, “Seed treatments are usually effective in controlling thrips and wireworms, but problems may still occur under high insect pressure. Thrips damage cotton seedlings until the plants reach the four- to five-leaf stage.

“The presence of immature thrips indicates at-plant treatments are running their course and an additional insecticide application may be needed. Treat fields when the number of thrips per plant equals or exceeds the number of true leaves per plant. The best foliar insecticide application timing for thrips control is the one- to two-leaf cotton stage for maximum economic return.

“Wireworms are not a widespread issue in the region but can seriously affect plant stand in some cases. Early season scouting is critical to assist in making timely replant decisions if needed.”

As always, keep in mind that a good planting season, adequate stands and robust early crop growth can pay dividends, assuming Mother Nature cooperates.

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