Cotton Links


Earlier Planting Date Has
Many Benefits

By Amanda Huber
Southeast Editor

Cotton’s place in the pecking order is behind corn and soybeans and ahead of peanuts. But, if it’s possible, is there any benefit to planting cotton early, and what are the pitfalls?

“Generally speaking, the optimum planting time for cotton ranges from April 15 to May 15 in Mississippi,” says Darrin Dodds, assistant Extension professor and cotton specialist at Mississippi State University. “Keep in mind that weather conditions can impact this.”

The Mississippi specialist says the main considerations for optimum planting conditions are weather, soil moisture and soil temperature.

“We like to see soil temperatures at 68 degrees and a five-day forecast for warm weather,” he says. “In addition, consideration must be given to the amount of soil moisture in place and the forecast.”

Higher Yields In April

But researchers like Dodds and Bill Pettigrew, plant physiologist with USDA-ARS in Stoneville, Miss., have been successful in planting earlier than the typical time frame.

“My research has found that planting here during the first week in April can often lead to lint yield increases,” Pettigrew says. “This early planting can allow for the majority of boll setting and boll filling to occur prior to the onset of the hot and dry conditions of late July and August.”

Dodds also achieved higher yields planting in April.

“The data we have suggests that planting in April provided greater yields than planting in May, and defoliating at 90 percent open in the April planting versus 50 percent open provided the best yields,” he says.

Pettigrew says planting the crop a month earlier, around the first of April versus the first of May, will result in an initiation of blooming about two weeks earlier.

“With the cooler temperatures and fewer growing-degree hours, it only nets you about two weeks,” he says.

Avoid Late-Season Problems

Pettigrew says more producers in the Delta are starting to plant earlier, weather permitting, than they did 10 years ago. The idea behind planting earlier is to shift the growing season in order to avoid the late-season issues of hot temperatures and dry weather.

“It’s really just a shifting of the risk,” he says. “You are dealing with the risk of stand establishment by planting into slightly less than desirable conditions.”

But Pettigrew says there are good tools available to mitigate those risks.

“Improved seed treatments allow us to plant earlier, while not totally eliminating the possibility of seedling disease,” he says. “If germination is delayed, the seed will sit there and be exposed to soil pathogens a lot longer.

“With my experience in the past, seed germination has not been that much of an issue.”

Adjust Seeding Rate, Planting Depth

Pettigrew says an issue he is more likely to encounter occurs during the time just after planting.

“Occasionally, just after planting, we will get a pounding rain, and our silt-loam soils will crust if situations are just right,” he says.

Cotton is one seed that struggles more with breaking a crust.

Dodds says producers should consider weather conditions and adjust planting depth accordingly.

“If the forecast is calling for heavy rains in the next few days, it may be of benefit to plant a little shallower, especially in soils that tend to crust,” he says. “However, some folks will ‘dust in’ cotton into dry soils because of the calender date or weather and hope for a rain to help emergence.”

Pettigrew says for earlier planting, producers should go with a slightly higher seeding rate to ensure getting an adequate stand.

Whether getting seed in the ground a little earlier or in the typical planting window, producers have to decide what the optimum planting and defoliation timing is for their operation.

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

Benefits of Early Planting

• Boll setting before hot weather.
• Less late-season insect pressure.
• Better harvest efficiency.
• Possible yield increase.

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