Cotton Links

Manage For Earliness

‘Wiggle Room’ Is Limited In Late-Planted ’08
Mid-South Cotton Crop

By Carroll G. Smith
Senior Writer


As many farmers across the Mid-South sat in their pickup trucks staring at sheets of rain drenching the cool soils during the optimum cotton-planting window this spring, well-known nur-sery rhymes and old clichés, such as: “Rain, rain, go away; come again another day” and “A day late and a dollar short” were probably running through their minds – among other unprintable things.

Just getting the crop planted in those areas was a struggle. Now farmers have to manage the late-planted crop a little more intensively than usual in looking toward harvest. Local cotton experts offer the following tips:

Missouri Bootheel Heads Up

Mike Milam, Missouri Extension cotton specialist, says, “Although our cotton planting was behind schedule, it should be noted that we have been in this position before.”

To help late-planted cotton reach its potential, he makes these suggestions:

  1. Keep the crop on track with irrigation and insect control. Pay particular attention to plant bugs and spider mites during hot and dry conditions.
  2. Use plant growth regulators for square retention and earliness.
  3. Consider applying foliar fertilizers where nitrogen (N) and sulphur may have leached out of the soil as a result of excessive rainfall.

Manage For Harvest

As of May 15, 20 percent of Mississippi’s cotton acres were planted compared to a five-year average of nearly 75 percent, according to Mississippi cotton specialist Darrin Dodds.

“With late-planted cotton, everything should be done with earliness in mind,” he says.

The Mississippi specialist offers this advice to help achieve earliness in late-planted cotton:

  1. Consider cutting back the N rate to avoid a lot of vegetative growth that can lead to problems down the road. This is especially true for fields that have a history of rank growth.
  2. If the plants are growing off, and the situation calls for a plant growth regulator, apply it as soon as possible to keep vegetative growth in check. “We don’t want to delay maturity by letting the plant grow vegetatively instead of putting some of those resources into fruit,” Dodds says.
  3. Control insects well and keep a good fruit load on. “The best plant growth regulator is a good fruit load, and part of that is managing insects,” he adds.

Late-Planted Arkansas Cotton

According to Tom Barber, University of Arkansas Extension cotton specialist, “There are many Arkansas producers (this year) who have planted cotton later than they ever have.”

To prevent further delays into the fall, he recommends managing the late-planted cotton more intensively.

  1. Apply enough N to make the crop but be careful where there is field history of rank growth. Overapplying N in those fields tends to make the crop later and more vegetative.
  2. Set fruit early and hold it. “In a normal year, we want at least 80 to 85 percent square retention going into bloom,” Barber says. “This year, I would like to see 90 percent or higher because we’re late.”
  3. Watch plant bug and other pest populations closely.
  4. Don’t stunt the cotton crop or set it back by applying too much plant growth regulator.
  5. Timely irrigation is crucial. Turn the water on when needed to avoid slowing down the crop. “We don’t want to increase the chance of fruit shed during pollination by not watering on time,” he explains.

In summing up, Barber says, “We want to do what’s needed for the crop, but we don’t have as much time to play with this year, and we certainly don’t have time to make it up in the end.”

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.


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