With no deep soil moisture to access, cotton producers need to consider holding off on planting cotton, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialist.
“I think one of the biggest concerns we have going into this year’s cotton-growing season is the fact that we have no deep soil moisture,” said Todd Baughman, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Vernon. “I think that is one of the things we need to consider when we start looking at planting dates and when may be the right time to plant this cotton.”
Baughman said producers may want to wait until closer to the insurance deadline.
“Hopefully what we can try to do on dryland, knowing we are probably going to have to produce this crop completely with rainfall, is try to go into the first week of August with a fairly small plant that is not vigorously growing and get through this dry La Nina year.”
Then, he said, if the crop can catch an August rain and the plant is not already stressed, it will be possible to make a half of a bale per acre or even better, depending upon the weather from that time up until the time of harvest.
“I think that might be our best option,” Baughman said. “I just don’t think we have the deep soil moisture to maintain that crop throughout the growing season like we typically would have.”
Some other things that will help from a moisture-management standpoint, he said, is for producers who have been planting three to six seed per foot to back off on that planting rate to only two seed per foot, especially on dryland.
Spreading those plants out will allow all of those individual plants to better utilize the moisture that is there, Baughman said.
“And also, you are not spending as much money on that seed in a time when yields may be a little off,” he said. “That is one way we can budget our costs and manage it for this year.”
Baughman said they have done a lot of work with seeding rates and have noticed that by planting those lower seeding rates, more live plants come up than when the planting rate is increased.
“So there are some advantages to that, both from an economic standpoint, and I think really this year, from a moisture-management standpoint,” he said.
Baughman said the other fear he has this year going into the cotton season is the high likelihood of volunteer cotton problems. Cotton that was stripped last year and the seed left in the field had almost perfect conditions, almost like it was stored in a bin.
“We haven’t had the moisture or the weather to deteriorate that seed and reduce our volunteer cotton like we did last year,” he said. “We didn’t have near the volunteer cotton last year because of the heavy snows and moisture that actually destroyed and ruined the germination of that seed.”
This year, however, there will be good germinating seed in a lot of cases, Baughman said.
“It’s going to come up with the cotton crop that we have,” he said. “So we are going to have to take that into consideration when we look at managing our cotton crop: How we are going to handle that volunteer?”
He said one action to take on volunteer cotton that gets up before the normal cotton crop is either planted or is up is to look at products like Aim and ET to control that first flush of volunteer.
Those products do extremely well, Baughman said. They probably work as well as anything out there. The real key is getting it on small volunteer cotton where it works.
If a grower knows that he has a field he had a problem harvesting and really anticipates that he is going to have a tremendous amount of volunteer, he may want to look at the Liberty Link option of cotton as one of his varieties to select, Baughman said.
“The Liberty Link may not do as well initially on volunteer cotton, but where we can go in there with multiple applications of Ignite, we can do a pretty good job on Roundup-Ready cotton if we stay ahead of it,” he said.
“The key with any of this volunteer cotton is not letting it get too big. As I like to tell people, you know cotton that is first coming up is looking for an excuse to die; once it gets much size on it, you can hardly kill it, even with cold, hard steel.”
The real key is to manage it before the four-leaf stage, Baughman said. When it gets past the five- to six-leaf stage, it gets almost impossible to kill. And in a lot of cases, even trying to plow it can be difficult.
“So if you are looking at cultivation, that’s still a good option to take care of our volunteer, but we want to get in early and get that plowed out before it gets too big,” he said.
Aim and ET are good products that can be used under a hood, Baughman advised, but make sure not to get it on the cotton that is already up.
He said the most important thing for producers who know they are going to have a problem with volunteer cotton is to have a plan in place that they can enact as those problems arise.