When Should I Park My Cotton Planter?

Darrin Dodds, Extension Cotton Specialist
By Darrin Dodds, Extension Cotton Specialist May 26, 2017 17:04

When Should I Park My Cotton Planter?

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It may be the understatement of the year to say that this spring has been very challenging for the agricultural community in Mississippi.  Cool, wet weather seems to disappear then return, wind and sandblasting has caused severe damage to emerged cotton in many areas of the state, and as we approach Memorial Day there are a number of acres that have yet to be planted.  Numerous questions have been fielded this week about when is it too late to plant cotton.

Historical data would suggest that the prime window for cotton planting in Mississippi ranges from April 15 to May 15.  However, over the past 6 years less than 50% (at best) of the Mississippi cotton crop has been planted by May 1.  In the worst case scenario over the past six years (2013), no cotton was planted as of May 1.  Percent of planted acres ranged from a low of 34% (2013) to a high of 97% (2012) by the last week of May.  The chart below illustrates planting progress in Mississippi over the past 6 years.  It is important when examining planting progress during this time to also consider yield during each of those years.  Yields during this same period were as follows:  2011 – 952 lbs; 2012 – 1014 lbs; 2013 – 1203 lbs; 2014 – 1232 lbs; 2015 – 1024 lbs; and 2016 – 1228 lbs.  With the exception of 2012, at least 9 – 17% of Mississippi acreage remained unplanted at the end of May.

Several factors must be considered when deciding to keep planting cotton or to switch to soybeans or to not plant at all.

Varietal maturity – if you choose to continue planting cotton consider planting an earlier maturing variety if you are not doing so already.  I am including a cotton variety maturity chart in a subsequent blog post.  Keep in mind that maturity typically differs by 10-14 days for early to late maturing varieties.

Nitrogen rate – do not over apply nitrogen as this will delay maturity and push harvest deeper into the fall.

Insect management – certainly treat on establish thresholds; however, excessive damage from thrips and/or fruit loss from plant bugs can result in delayed maturity as well.  Keep earliness in mind when managing these pests.

Irrigation management – do not be late on your first irrigation if weather conditions are dry until that point.  We have all seen squares piled up at the end of rows following irrigation events.  If rainfall is lacking and you are approaching bloom, consider irrigating in order to go into bloom with a full profile of soil moisture.  If using soil moisture sensors, trigger irrigation events based on established thresholds.

Insurance – if your insurance policy includes prevented planting this should be considered.

Having said all of that, I feel that we have another 7 days to plant cotton.  I am not much of a cotton specialist let alone a meteorologist; however, my experience as well as many conversations with others this week suggest this to be the case.  If the weather has not cooperated and you still have large acreage to plant on June 2 (or May 33rd), it may be time to consider your alternatives.

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Darrin Dodds, Extension Cotton Specialist
By Darrin Dodds, Extension Cotton Specialist May 26, 2017 17:04
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1 Comment

  1. Jack May 28, 08:22

    Interesting reading your columns from afar (NC). Much our cotton is in the same, potentially late, situation – but with a shorter growing season ahead.

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