Cotton Links


Exercise Caution On Seeding Rates

By Amanda Huber
Southeast Editor

With costs continuing to rise and prices being stagnant, every input must be scrutinized. Seed, which previously wasn’t an expensive item, is now one of the most expensive inputs as the value of the genetic technology grows.

In 2009, producers will be looking at seeding rate as a possible area to cut back. But this, too, has its consequences on the crop’s yield, and producers are urged to strike a balance and remember what it takes to get a good yield.

“Most of our producers have cut back as much as they can,” says Mike Jones, South Carolina Extension cotton specialist. “Most of them are planting two seed per foot.”

Ideal Conditions Required

Jones says the problem is that now you need all of those seed to germinate and that requires “ideal” conditions.

“As long as conditions are okay, they can get one and a half plants per row- foot,” he says. “But that’s if they can get most of those plants up.”

Jones recommends three to four seed per foot of row because conditions are so often not “ideal.”

“A heavy, packing rain, or if the seed doesn’t have good seedling vigor or if they encounter seedling disease, anything like that can reduce the stand population,” he says.

Craig Ellison, field crops agent for Northampton County, N.C., says he still likes to see producers stay around the 10 pounds per-acre range, “because of the soil. We have some soils that will crust over.”

Although Ellison says now that strip tillage is used more in cotton production, the soils aren’t as apt to form a hard, packing crust.

“But we do have a certain amount of clay,” he says.

Ellison says some producers are having pretty good success hill-dropping the seed, which means the seed are dropped in a cluster and the combination provides more energy to break through the soil.

“We may have some of our guys trying to push the envelope on seed just because of the price per acre.”

Wait For Optimum Window

In Ellison’s county, producers have reduced cotton acreage by more than half in the last four years.

“I’m guessing we’ll be around 27,000 acres this year,” he says. “Three years ago it was 62,000, then it went to 40-something thousand, then last year it was 30,000 acres,” he says. “But the infrastructure is still here.”

The reduction in cotton acres potentially means less pressure on planting during marginal times.

“When you don’t have quite as many acres, you can wait on the optimum planting window,” Ellison says. “I’m encouraging them to wait until May this year.

“With the price producers are paying for cottonseed now, it makes good sense to wait and take advantage of optimum conditions.”

The field crops agent says a plant that struggles at the beginning will never do as well as one that comes out and “just goes with it.”

Bare Spots Reduce Yield

South Carolina producers will start around mid-April, says Jones, with the optimum time being the last week of April and the first week of May.

“Cotton is good at compensating for missing plants, but you want to do all you can to make sure that the crop is intercepting all the sunlight possible,” he says. “The sun hitting bare spots on the ground means a reduction in yields, and it creates more of a weed control problem.

“As long as you are getting enough canopy from the crop, you should be able to make the yield. But anything that reduces that seedling vigor will hurt you.”

Waiting on optimum conditions and timing, making sure to plant enough seed to get good canopy coverage and doing everything possible to get the crop off to a good start are important considerations when reducing the seeding rate.

Contact Amanda Huber at (352) 486-7006 or ahuber@onegrower.com.

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