Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Execute To-Do List for the 2020 Season

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

Recently, I’ve been in meetings in which my colleague Eddie McGriff has preached to corn growers about high-end production. Among his points are planter maintenance and precision planting. My take (with a touch of humor) is that the yield heroes in corn will prescribe an exact seeding rate (example – 33,128 seeds per acre) and demand that every seed emerge within 10 seconds of each other.

Exact plant populations and emergence timing are not nearly so critical in cotton, although it probably is a good thing if most seedlings emerge within a day or so. Cotton has a tremendous capacity to compensate and produce comparable yields over a wide range of plant populations. What should motivate cotton growers to check planters and exercise care and precision in the planting process is the COST of seed. In the past 35 years, we’ve seen a 15- to 20-fold increase in the price of seed and what comes with it.

Since seed is such a critical and expensive part of overall production, it behooves every grower to make sure planters are working properly and accurately. Among other things, this means seed drop rates, singulation or hill drop patterns, depth control and coverage mechanisms.

As you finalize planter preparation and variety selection, you’re also making choices about seed treatments and in-furrow treatments. My No. 1 priority in most situations is to do something for thrips. Seed treatments are not great on thrips, but they do help. In-furrow options typically provide superior thrips control. But the bottom line is: Don’t do NOTHING.

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

Wet conditions have limited field preparations through much of the fall and into early February with little indication of a break in weather patterns. Cover crop plantings in the fall were delayed for most who put them in. Wet feet have certainly had a negative impact on the growth and development of covers.
Cotton burndown programs will hopefully be put in motion soon. Those who planted a cover crop likely did so with the objective of improving soil health and helping with pigweed control. They generally want to delay rye termination as long as possible to generate the level of biomass needed to provide good soil cover.

However, burndown programs should be timed ahead of the planter to address issues related to the “green bridge,” which can facilitate pest movement from a dying cover crop to an emerging crop. Remember that many of the early season cotton pests overwinter in broadleaf weeds. A high level of broadleaf plants or weeds in your cover crop will increase the potential that issues from the green bridge may occur.

Our immediate goal for the 2020 crop is to start with a good stand of healthy, fast-growing cotton plants. This requires clean fields at planting. A timely and effective burndown program is our first step toward this goal. Contact your local county Extension agent for more information.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

The U.S. cotton industry has had a challenging two to three years with low prices, and the southeast region of the United States has experienced hurricanes and droughts as well as potential new diseases. Florida farmers averaged 532 pounds per acre cotton lint in 2018 due mostly to Hurricane Michael and 822 pounds per acre statewide in 2019 because of almost 70 days of drought from mid-August to October.

Early planted cotton did extremely well in 2019. From year to year, early planted cotton (April 15-May 1) often does well as it sets fruit early in July and is ready to pick by late September or early October. It may miss late droughts or hurricanes that later planted cotton may have to endure.
There are management steps that can aid cotton earliness. These include:

  • Planting the last half of April.
  • Using starter fertilizer.
  • Using a thrips material at planting to minimize thrips damage.
  • Controlling growth with the right amount of growth regulator.
  • Applying nitrogen fertilizer from squaring to early bloom.

Nitrogen applied after the third week of bloom almost never increases yield and often lowers it. From a plant health perspective, planting after winter grazing has been shown to double cotton root mass, making it more drought-tolerant while enhancing nutrient uptake with yield increases of 150-400 pounds per acre.

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi
Darrin Dodds,

Normally, the words come easy for me when writing this column for Cotton Farming. However, on this Saturday morning they are coming out like molasses in the winter. Recently, I moved into a different role at Mississippi State University, and this will be my last Specialists Speaking column. I have sat and put words on paper (or whatever the digital version of that is) about 150 times for this column over the past 13 years. I have tried to pass along some small nugget of wisdom, and I will try to do the same this time.

March will bring renewed activity to many farms in Mississippi. Burndown will be going out, corn will be planted (if the weather allows), and thoughts will drift toward putting cotton seed in the ground. In the time leading up to planting season, I would encourage you to give as much attention as possible to budgets. I know things change at a moment’s notice on the turnrow, and a good plan today can be a terrible one tomorrow.

However, taking stock of where money spent (or not spent) puts money back in your pocket will never go out of style (kind of like a good mullet). Developing a plan today will help curb the emotion that often comes with decisions made in the heat of the moment. I’ve always said, “I don’t want to win the yield contest; I want to win the profit contest.”

THANK YOU to all of those in Mississippi and beyond who have helped me over the years. Your friendship, kindness and generosity are what makes agriculture such a rewarding way of life.

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

I hope by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you there has been some relief from the rain pounding the Bootheel since the fall of 2018. Looking ahead to the 2020 season, fieldwork will hopefully be possible soon. With the wet fall and winter, fieldwork has been extremely delayed.

This most likely means winter weed pressure will be high due to excessive moisture and lack of tillage. With burndown approaching, I encourage you to incorporate residual herbicides into your burndown program to ensure a clean start. With the rain we have been receiving, who knows when the fields would be dry enough to get in to spray again.

Also take a look at this seedling vigor presentation: Plan the planting order around the vigor of the varieties you have chosen. By the time this reaches you, variety selections will be a done deal. Although it is always best to plant according to soil temperature and not the calendar, if one of your varieties ranked in the bottom 10 for seedling vigor, you should plant it later in the planting window.

Missouri cotton specialist Calvin Meeks suggests growers try the online Cotton Conditions Planting Calculator from North Carolina State University. “It provides a forecast of planting conditions down to the individual field anywhere in the United States through Google Earth,” he says.

In general, the first plantings in Missouri have a greater threat of cool temperatures. This can lead to stand losses and cold damage, which reduces yield potential. Varieties with lower vigor will be affected more than those with high vigor. I recommend your first plantings be a variety from the top 10 list of seedling vigor to get a good start for the year. I also suggest you to try out this tool from North Carolina State University, It provides a forecast of planting conditions down to the individual field anywhere in the United States through Google Earth.

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

The benefits of planting quality cotton seed include a timely and uniform emergence, which in some situations can affect yields at the end of the season. Other advantages are:

  • Greater resistance to seedling disease organisms.
  • Tolerance to early season stresses.
  • Tolerance to deeper planting depths.
  • Reduced risk of replanting.
  • Improved chance of achieving an optimum planting date.
  • Achieving a stand at lower seeding rates.

Seed quality can be measured using the Cool-Warm Vigor Index, which combines information from two seed evaluations — the Warm Germination Test and the Cool Germination Test. The Warm Germination Test is conducted in an incubator for four days at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for 16 hours a day and 86 F for eight hours a day. For the Cool Germination Test, the seeds incubate at 64 F for seven days. Both tests measure the percentage of normal seedlings that have a combined hypocotyl and root length of 1.5 inches at the end of the evaluation period.

The next step is to add the percentage scores of the two tests together. Seed lots are then classified as poor, fair, good or excellent: Excellent = 160 or greater; Good = 140-159; Fair = 120-139; Poor = less than 120. The seed lots with the highest vigor index value may be planted at the earliest possible planting date, when less-than-optimum conditions are likely to occur. A producer can then follow with seed from a lower vigor index value level as the planting season progresses and soils become warmer. The results of the Cool-Warm Vigor Index are not printed on seed tags; however, cotton producers can obtain this information from the seed company or distributor. Knowing the vigor or quality of your seed helps you determine which seed lot will have a higher emergence and survival capabilities under adverse conditions.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

During winter cotton meetings, growers were informed about the new cottonseed testing program that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has launched for 2020. This was largely driven by the significant response from growers to last year’s seed quality issues. However, these issues have been occurring for quite some time involving multiple brands.

For 2020, this is a non-mandatory and voluntary cooperative pilot program in which seed companies and NCDA&CS have agreed to participate. As such, seed quality testing began in January. The program’s ultimate purpose is to provide a degree of third-party oversight for, and improve transparency of, the quality of the cottonseed to be planted in North Carolina.

The program will provide those involved in the state’s cotton industry confidence that they are receiving quality cottonseed. It also will allow cotton seed companies to demonstrate the quality of their product.

As part of the program, seed companies agree to notify NCDA&CS regarding the date and point of entry for their cotton seed lots to be sold and planted in North Carolina. NCDA&CS Inspectors will then collect seed samples, per the protocol adopted from the Association of American Seed Control Officials, and conduct both warm and cool germ tests. The goal is to provide test results for most, if not all, seed lots to be planted in the state.

Given the time required to conduct these tests (12 days assuming seed can be immediately tested), seed can be sold, distributed, downstream treated or planted as soon as the inspectors collect the samples without having to wait on test results. The test results will be publicly available for North Carolina cotton producers via

A link to this database will be provided in our planting conditions newsletters during the spring. Growers should be certain they are included on our email newsletter list. Contact me at, and we’ll be happy to add your name.
Growers are encouraged to take a proactive role in this program. For test results to be readily available for producers to make appropriate planting decisions, growers should request relatively early arrival of seed (within reason) and account for the time required to complete warm and cool germ testing. Late arrival of seed just before, or during planting season, will not allow time for tests to be completed before the grower can plant.

As such, growers should make final variety decisions as early as possible and commit to those purchases the best they can. Growers should then crosscheck the lot numbers they purchased with the NCDA&CS database (updated daily) to see if test results are available or if that lot number has been sampled.

In cases where a lot number has not had a sample collected, growers should immediately contact Brian Bowers at or 919-707-3756, so he can send an inspector to collect a sample in a timely manner. Lastly, growers should immediately contact their county agent and/or us, as well as their seed company, if there are issues with seedling emergence.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

March marks the time of year that preparations for the upcoming cotton season are in full swing. Early March is typically the middle of the window to apply yellow herbicides to provide control until either burndown or at-plant herbicide applications are made. Product selection will greatly depend on cultural practices, as either cultivation or irrigation will be needed to incorporate them. There may even be some fertility applications beginning in this timeframe, particularly for producers in a late termination cover crop scenario who are aiming to increase biomass before planting cotton.

The past two springs have been opportunities to observe incredibly dry (2018) and wet (2019) planting conditions and the toll they take on stand establishment. Starting weed-free with adequate fertility and planting varieties with good seed quality will help mitigate these risks. There are several county meetings scheduled for March in Oklahoma. To find the meeting closest to you, contact your local county Extension office.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

Cottonseed has continued to increase in price, and there is no indication that trend will change over the coming years. With cost-savings in mind, we have concluded a multi-year study evaluating seeding rates and planting dates with an early to mid-maturing variety and found some interesting trends that should be considered before you pull your planter out this year.

Based on our data, the upper Mid-South region may only require somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 plants per acre in late April through early May to achieve 95% yield potential. However, as we move into mid- and late May, the number of plants required to achieve maximum yields for a given planting date decreases substantially. As few as 20,000-25,000 plants per acre may allow us to reach 95% yield potential for a late May planting date.

Before cutting seeding rate, it is extremely important to understand your seed quality. I would not recommend cutting seeding rates when planting into adverse conditions. I’ll be posting some of this data on over the coming weeks with a little more narrative for those who are interested.

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

Early February brought with it some welcome precipitation to most of West Texas. Total amounts have been rather on the light side, but we’ll take any moisture we can get for the coming planting season. While 2019 was certainly disappointing in many ways for folks up in the Texas High Plains, much of South Texas saw good yields despite the rough start. We do hope 2020 brings with it a little gentler weather for our crop.

By the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you, the final report for the large-plot Replicated Agronomic Cotton Evaluation (RACE) trials will be posted at Available reports provide results for trials conducted across the state and include the major cotton-growing regions — Rio Grande Valley, Coastal Bend, Upper Gulf Coast, Rolling Plains, Concho Valley, Southern High Plains and the Texas Panhandle.

In March, AgriLife Extension and Research personnel will be traveling the region to present at county meetings. If you haven’t been to one yet this year, check with your local Extension office to find a meeting near you.

Also, training is again required for everyone who intends to use the auxin herbicide technologies — both Enlist and Xtend. This is an annual training requirement, which means even if you attended a session last year, you need to attend one again this year. Extension is conducting several meetings where training is provided. Once again, I encourage you to check on times and locations in your county.

Also of importance is the new paraquat training requirement. If you plan to use paraquat in your operation this year, online training is required. All certified applicators must successfully complete an Environmental Protection Agency-approved training program before mixing, loading and/or applying paraquat. You can access the training module at:

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