Tips To Establish A Good, Healthy Stand

Bob Hutmacher
Bob Hutmacher

The good news of more rain and snow and an improved water supply situation has been a highlight of the year so far. However, rainy weather patterns that were holding through most of March had many wondering if we were going to get some decent cotton planting conditions this spring.

It finally looks like the rain and snow have started to shift, so drying out, warming up and planting can happen.

The scenario that includes delays in getting some fields planted and chances for a few more rainstorms has a potential down side. It could set us up for worse-than-normal pest pressure during squaring and early bloom.

We will have to see how May and June shape up. Green, weedy roadsides and plants that can potentially host lygus will likely persist well into May and even beyond in range and open land. Be vigilant in looking for early problems with lygus populations and resulting square losses this year.

If you want to set early fruit successfully and strive for high yields, monitor plants early (about the seventh to eighth leaf) to assess whether growth is progressing. Also evaluate the presence of beneficial insect populations and developing pest pressure, particularly early lygus populations.

A wide range of crops neighbor your cotton fields, including safflower, vegetables, and continued tree and vine plantings that often include weedy middles. There also are more roadside and field edge weeds due to late rains.

Consequently, there are many possible situations that could significantly affect the number of beneficials and pests as well as the timing related to when they show up in your cotton fields. Twice or at least once-a-week field evaluations starting at or before very early squaring can help give advance notice of developing problems warranting your attention.

If mid-April weather warms up considerably, both cotton and weeds will start to grow rapidly. This is because soil surface layers will start out with a higher water content to get plants up and growing. In this type of year in certain rotations, glyphosate-only weed control approaches may be hard pressed to stay ahead of some weed species.

Consider timely mechanical cultivation and additional chemical controls for problem fields.

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

Fusarium wilt in cotton is caused by a soil-borne pathogen, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum (FOV). Many different races of FOV can occur across our cotton producing regions of the United States, including Arizona.

Cotton infection by the more common FOV race 1 is dependent on a simultaneous infection of root-knot nematode. However, a more recently discovered race of FOV in California and West Texas/eastern New Mexico (FOV4) does not require the presence of RKN for infection.

The disease can be introduced into a field through infected plant debris, water and soil. In some instances, it may be seed borne.

Continuous production of susceptible cotton cultivars allows the buildup of inoculum in the soil, eventually leading to populations that can completely decimate a cotton crop. Disease severity depends on the amount of FOV in the soil and the susceptibility of the cotton variety.

From former University of Arizona pathologist Mary Olsen, we have the following description of symptomology. “Symptomology of infection is manifested in seedlings at the one- to two-leaf stage as wilt and/or defoliation and collapse.

Severely affected plants will die. Symptoms are similar to those of other seedling diseases that occur in Arizona, and their cause should be determined in the laboratory. In plants with four to 10 nodes, symptoms may include pale yellow to tan patches on the lower leaves.

When the root and lower stem are cut diagonally along portions of the root and lower stem, dark brown discoloration is observed in the vascular tissue.

“Plants may be partially or totally defoliated. Recovery depends on susceptibility of variety and the amount of the fungus in the soil. At this stage of growth, cotton in Arizona usually has no other disease problems except root-knot nematode, so new symptoms are especially worrisome.

“Disease may appear in small areas that will not be observed later in the season as infected plants recover (although usually stunted) and unaffected plants fill in the gaps.”

If you encounter symptomatic plants, contact your local county Extension office to determine the appropriate course of action for sampling and laboratory analysis. Extensive surveys across the Arizona cotton regions have been conducted over the past three years with no documented cases of FOV4.

We definitely want to remain FOV4 free by being vigilant and responsive to any suspect conditions.

Galon Morgan, Texas
Galon Morgan,

The Lower Rio Grande Valley is expected to have about 175,000 cotton acres in 2019 with the last of the planting wrapping up. Some much-needed rain in the region has removed the LRGV from the drought monitor, and fleahoppers are beginning to appear in some areas.

The Coastal Bend will be nearly finished by mid-April, with some replanting required in fields planted just prior to the March 30 cold weather. The Upper Gulf Coast planting was just getting started in early April, which is slightly behind due to wet conditions.

Growers in the Blacklands will be one to two weeks behind normal in getting planted due to cold weather and poor seedbed conditions. But planting should be at full speed by mid-April.

Overall, we are expecting an acreage increase of both XtendFlex and Enlist varieties across Texas as the Flex varieties are phased out.

With these technologies, optimizing plant stands is more important than ever. The diversity of soils, tillage types and planters makes it difficult to make any specific recommendations on the best planting method, which varies by individual operation and field.

However, we do know seed size has decreased dramatically over the past decades. This has several implications for stand establishment. In the past, seed was less expensive and seed size was larger. We had the flexibility to err on the side of planting deeper in search of soil moisture because of the high seeding rate and vigorous seeds that could push through.

To optimize our seed today, depth and other planter settings should be adjusted for each variety, seed lot and field conditions. When small-seeded varieties are planted more than 1 inch deep, the likelihood of the seedlings emerging drops. But the seedling also is using additional energy from the seed that could be directed toward root and shoot growth.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

Hopefully, by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, everything is looking good for planting. I know many in the Texas High Plains are itching to get out there since temperatures have started to warm up a bit.

By now, you should have made the decision of what to plant based on previous experiences, RACE trial results, yield potential, fiber quality, disease tolerance and traits needed.

When to plant becomes an important decision that will affect the rest of the season. There is a lot of good information out there to help us, but we often get into a “hurry-up” mode when planting season comes around. While speed is necessary to cover all those acres in a timely fashion, good seed-to-soil contact cannot be overstated.

We do not always check the planter and its settings unless something is broken. But making sure opening discs are in good shape, pressing wheels are properly adjusted, and the planter is doing a good job closing the seed trench can go a long way in establishing a good, uniform stand.

Also check to see if the bushings on the row units are in good shape, and do not have excessive play in them, especially for those planting circle rows around center pivots.

Check planter settings and planting depth as you move from one field to the other and adjust as needed. A cotton seed is fairly insensitive to cold temperatures when dry but becomes very sensitive to chilling injury at soil temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit once it absorbs water.

This can lead to delayed germination, weak plants (more susceptible to early stage disease and insect pressure), as well as some plant death.

Under less-than-favorable conditions, deciding when to plant based on seed vigor index (warm and cool germination test values) and adjusting seeding rates based on current field and weather conditions can help achieve acceptable stands. Always remember at the end of the day, uniformity improves input-use efficiency, optimizes productions costs, and improves yield and quality potential.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

Planting season in several parts of Oklahoma will be underway by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you. For other areas, it will likely begin before the month is over.

While much of our early season success is governed by factors such as heat, moisture and avoiding extreme weather, there are some things we can control to benefit cotton and help it get off to a good start. And these are mainly minimizing the effect of early season pests.

Hopefully, you have already used some sort of residual herbicide in your weed control program — a yellow earlier in the spring or a white or other residual product just prior to or at planting. Continuing to apply residuals will help keep weed pressure down while the proper selection of products with post-emergence activity targeting the weed species that are present will help eliminate competition for young cotton plants.

The cotyledon — two-leaf stage — is a good scouting window for weeds and making an early post application.

Early season insect pests can severely damage cotton and lead to delayed maturity if not controlled in a timely manner. Scouting for and controlling thrips is particularly important for cotton, and more so as we move north in Oklahoma where we encounter more host crops and shorter production environments.

Scouting for thrips and targeting an overspray window around the first true leaf stage will bridge the gap after seed treatments have worn off to typically provide thrips control until the plants reach the four- to five-leaf stage.

At this point, the plants are typically big enough and are producing new leaves at a quick enough rate to be out of the susceptibility window for thrips.

We hope the weather is favorable and pest pressure is minimal, and good luck in 2019!

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

The Prospective Plantings report released in March by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated cotton plantings in Arkansas at 580,000 acres, up 20 percent from the 485,000 acres planted last year. Many believe this number could grow with favorable planting conditions in southwest Arkansas.

Oftentimes, we feel the need to plant as early as possible. Our data show we can still optimize yields with planting delays. The optimum planting window in southeast Arkansas historically is April 20-30.

Locations at and north of Interstate 40 see their optimum window shifting to as late as May 9. Weather varies from year to year. However, the most important thing is to do it right the first time.

When pushing the limit on earlier-than-advised planting, replanting is sometimes necessary. When planting into cold soils, it is imperative to use the highest quality seed. As seed size decreases, seed quality becomes more critical when planting in marginal conditions.

When determining if replanting is necessary, many factors should be considered. First, evaluate the current stand of plants that will survive. Establishing the occurrence of skips greater than 3 feet in length, especially when this occurs simultaneously in adjacent rows, is critical.

Cotton’s ability to adapt and maintain yield potential at lower plant populations is often underestimated. If the replant decision is difficult, it is usually best to keep what you have.

The period from planting to first square is a critical time for the cotton plant. While water and nutritional requirements for the plant are low, cotton is not a good competitor. Allowing weeds or other pests to overcome pre-squaring cotton will affect yield potential.

Sometimes it is easy to overlook the importance of early season weed control when we have the tools to clean up a weedy mess down the road. It is important to place a high priority on early season weed management to avoid losing yield potential early in the season that is difficult to regain and can be very costly.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

I hope by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, field conditions have improved and planting is in full swing. Only 2.1 days were suitable for fieldwork as measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in March. I expect this will be an extremely busy planting season as the Missouri acreage prediction is 380,000 acres for 2019, an increase of 17 percent over last year.

This acreage increase makes it difficult to stay timely with early season management due to the additional area to be covered in a short time period. Due to cotton’s slow growth early in the season, I encourage you to consider applying an in-furrow material to help control thrips and reduce the threat of cutworms.

This is especially critical if you burn down at planting instead of three to four weeks before. Thrips have demonstrated some resistance to imidacloprid so keep a close eye on cotton at the first true leaf stage to determine if a post application will be needed to control this pest.

Regardless of when burndown is done, apply residual herbicides to prevent early season weed pressure and don’t rely purely on the auxin technologies. It is also critical to determine if a replant is needed in this time frame. Skips less than 3 feet that aren’t excessive should not be yield limiting, and keeping the earlier planted stand would be preferable to a replant at the end of May.

Also, new rules are in place for dicamba in Missouri this year. No applications are allowed more than 60 days after the cotton is planted with a maximum of two applications.

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

As we proceed into planting, cotton growers have experienced abundant rainfall and wet soil conditions during the first part of April. Once planting is completed during the month of May and cotton seedlings have emerged from the ground, producers will want to concentrate on early season thrips control.

Yields can be reduced by 200 to 300 pounds of lint per acre from severe thrips damage.

In Louisiana, thrips species are usually a mixture of tobacco and western flower thrips. Tobacco thrips adults are black while western adults are amber to yellow in color. Immature thrips are small versions of adults that lack wings.

Immature thrips from both species appear yellow to orange. Thrips species can dictate how well an insecticide seed treatment holds up. Westerns are still susceptible to Cruiser (thiamethoxam) while tobacco are resistant. Both species are susceptible to imidacloprid.

Depending on the species present and environmental conditions, seed treatments may not last long enough to protect the plants until they are safe from thrips damage. Under these conditions, foliar sprays are needed even though a seed treatment was used at planting.

Thrips are an economic pest in cotton from the one- to four-true-leaf stage. In years when cotton plants are growing slowly due to cool temperatures and thrips pressure is heavy, foliar sprays may have to be applied at the five-true-leaf stage.

Once the plants are past being susceptible to thrips damage, they become an important natural control agent that will help keep mite populations in check. Therefore, avoid automatic or convenience applications if economic thresholds have not been reached. Such practices can create pest problems, particularly from spider mites.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

The weather cooperated enough in late March and early April to plant a portion of our corn crop and get some spring tillage operations performed.

However, for those along the river, excessive water has created persistent issues. If the weather decides to cooperate, cotton planters will be rolling in Mississippi as you read this issue of Cotton Farming.

As with every year, we will race to get as many acres planted as quickly as possible. While the logic of this makes perfect sense, do not forget about lessons learned in the past.

On numerous occasions we have worked hard to get seed in the ground but run out of time and/or labor and not always gotten herbicides applied behind the planter in a timely manner. The end result has been a simultaneously emerging pigweed and cotton crop.

While we have options for postemergence pigweed control, the importance of including multiple herbicide modes of action, including residual herbicides behind the planter, cannot be overstated as part of a resistance management plan. Our past missteps should guide our future leaps in managing herbicide resistance and everything it entails.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Over the past several years, visual injury in XtendFlex (XF) cotton to foliar applications of glufosinate has been reported. While many in Tennessee are comfortable applying glufosinate to WideStrike RoundupReady Flex (WRF) (I’m talking about the old WRF technology, not the new Enlist technology) cotton and expect injury in those varieties, most are also used to noting little to no visual injury in LibertyLink (LL) varieties.

From 2015 to 2017, we applied sequential applications of glufosinate to XF, WRF and LL varieties in what has been nicknamed “the glufosinate torcher-test.” There are several interesting components of this data, but two will be of interest to those growing XF, WRF or LL cotton during 2019.

First, visual injury was greatest in WRF (10 to18 percent), substantially less in XF (4 to 8 percent) and even lower in LL (2 to 5 percent). Second, up to three sequential applications of glufosinate at 29 ounces per acre applied prior to first bloom did not significantly reduce yields in any tested variety.

Take home? Glufosinate, applied at labeled rates and timings to glufosinate-tolerant varieties, isn’t hurting our yields.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

It is hard to believe it is planting time again. The hurricane activity extended harvest into late fall and winter of 2018, and the cleanup is still going on in many areas to be able to plant this year. Florida planted about 117,000 acres in 2018, and the acreage will be similar for 2019.

Key considerations for this year have not changed. Crops respond to rotation, and our studies indicate yields are often increased by at least 100 pounds per acre of lint for each year out of cotton. Two years out often results in 200 pounds per acre or more lint than non-rotated cotton. This may be due to nematodes and diseases that can affect cotton yields.

Fields with high nematode numbers will often respond with yield increases of 200 to 300 pounds per acre lint increase from Velum Total, Telone or AgLogic use over untreated cotton. These yield increases make it profitable to use nematicides.

The key to a good crop is to have a management plan for fertility and weeds, insects and nematodes.

Mark Freeman, Georgia
Mark Freeman

Good early season weed and insect control is the foundation for a successful crop as poor decisions in the beginning can have a big effect on yields. With 85 percent or more of Georgia’s cotton acres planted to dicamba-tolerant varieties, some growers have opted to not include a pre to try and skimp on costs.

This is NOT a recommended practice and can have a drastic impact on the sustainability of our programs. Currently, there are five potential pre herbicide tankmix options, each of which include two of the available pre herbidices: Brake, Warrant, Reflex and Diuron.

Thrips are the most common early season insect pest. Due to their predictability, thrips are the only insect in which a preventative insecticidal treatment is recommended on Georgia cotton. The factors that affect this predictability and risk include planting date, tillage practices and environmental conditions.

Thrips populations and potential impact to seedlings tend to be higher early in the planting season. However, this is not always the case. Growers are encouraged to both scout and use the Thrips Infestation Predictor for Cotton model.

Conventional tillage also increases the risk and severity of thrips infestations compared to reduced tillage. A rapidly growing seedling is better able to withstand thrips feeding compared to a slower growing stressed seedling.

With risk factors in mind, develop a control plan that best fits your needs. If risk is low, a commercial seed treatment may be all that is required. But if risk is higher, an in-furrow application of aldicarb, imidacloprid or acephate may be more beneficial.

Another option is combining a seed treatment or in-furrow application with a foliar application of acephate at the one-leaf stage. Cotton is generally “safe” from thrips once it reaches the four-leaf stage and is rapidly growing. For more detailed information, refer to the Georgia Cotton Production Guide or contact your local University of Georgia Extension agent.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

If the weather is suitable, planting will likely be in full swing during the first week of May. The last several years have brought significant challenges at some point during the planting season, and we’ve learned a lot in terms of planting management through challenging weather.

We hope the 2019 planting season will be more favorable. However, we do have a new tool to help guide our planting decisions when determining when to halt or resume planting to avoid poor planting weather.

In January, we launched the North Carolina State University Cotton Planting Conditions Calculator. This tool can be found on the NCSU Cotton Portal website ( or accessed directly at

This new online tool is a real-time calculator that uses National Weather Service forecasts to calculate a five-day DD-60 predicted forecast for the current day and the next two days. Each of those predictions will be color-coded to a rating chart with our recommendations for cotton planting, along with several warnings that may appear depending on planting conditions.

We all know how fickle the weather can be during the spring, and forecasts can and do drastically change within a short time frame. Growers should check this calculator every morning and evening during the planting season to make the best decisions possible.

Additionally, growers should also use the Thrips Infestation Predictor for Cotton, which is another tool developed by NCSU entomologists and launched last year. The Thrips Predictor can also be found on the NCSU Cotton Portal or accessed directly at This tool will inform users on their risks for thrips pressure during the planting season, allowing growers to make decisions regarding planting, control strategies and product selection.

Hunter Frame
Hunter Frame

Planting intentions for Virginia cotton are expected to be more than 100,000 acres for the first time since 2010. With this acreage, Virginia producers will need weather conditions that are optimum for cotton emergence and early season growth. This means warm soil temperatures (65 degrees Fahrenheit or greater), adequate moisture and nighttime air temperature to remain above 55 F to avoid replant situations.

Currently, preplant and at-planting soil fertility recommendations are 25 to 30 percent of total applied nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium applied at soil test recommendations, and 5 to 10 pounds of sulfur in preplant and starter blend with nitrogen.

Data collected from multiple soil potassium research trials indicate that though soil test calibrations are dated, the recommended potassium application rates are adequate for high-yielding contemporary cotton varieties.

Another early season management factor for Virginia growers is thrips control. I encourage our producers to contact Dr. Sally Taylor (field crops entomologist) with up-to-date recommendations for early season thrips management. I am looking forward to increased cotton acreage and hoping that Mother Nature provides environmental conditions favorable for high yields.

Also, the annual Virginia cotton field day will be held Aug. 16, so go ahead and put it on your calendars!

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