How Late Is Too Late To Plant Cotton?

Darrin Dodds, Extension Cotton Specialist
By Darrin Dodds, Extension Cotton Specialist May 29, 2015 08:49

Given the excessive rainfall this spring many have inquired about how late is too late to plant cotton?  The answer will likely vary depending on who you talk to; however, I would offer the following things to consider when making this decision.

1.  Have you applied any herbicides that will lock you into cotton?

2.  Has the preventative planting date passed?  Yes – May 25

3.  What is the yield potential of cotton on your land compared to soybeans planted in late May/Early June?

4.  Is irrigation available?

5.  What will the weather be like in September, October, and November? If you can tell me this with 100% accuracy I would like to go into business with you.

Having considered the above questions, I would offer the following on late-planted cotton.  In 2013 & 2014, well over half of the Mississippi crop was planted between May 15 & June 6.  In both of those year, we set new state yield records.  Does this mean we can do so again in 2015?  The answer depends on many factors.  We had relatively cool summers in 2013 & 2014, we had extended hot weather in September, and we have very favorable fall harvest weather.  If those things were to happen again in 2015, cotton may still be planted and excellent yields achieved.  However, most of the state is currently wet planting will likely not resume in many areas until Monday if we miss the 60% chance of rain for the next 10 days.

If you do decide to plant cotton when it dries, consider the following:

1.  Watch your nitrogen rates – if you are on mixed to light soils, do not apply more than 80-100 pounds of N.  If you are on heavier soils, increase this to 120 pounds of N.  Excessive nitrogen can delay maturity.

2.  Do not let thrips over take your cotton.  Often times thrips do not cause yield loss; however, the can delay maturity.

3.  Be slightly more aggressive with plant bug management.  The goal is to retain as many fruiting forms as possible.  We routinely harvest great yields at 60-65% retention; however, when cotton sheds fruit, it attempts to compensate by adding fruit on upper and outer positions.  This can also delay maturity.

4.  Be more aggressive with plant growth regulators.  Do not get heavy handed and end up with cotton that is 30″ tall but do not allow excessive vegetative growth.  Yield response to PGR’s is all over the board as is the effect of PGR application on crop maturity.  The goal is to keep the crop from developing excessive vegetative growth which can hinder insecticide applications, harvest aid applications, etc.

5.  Do not wait on every boll when making harvest aid application decisions.  Extensive research has shown that 1st position bolls and bolls on lower portions of the plant contribute up to 80% of your total yield.  I understand with cotton at $0.65 per pound that we need everything we can get.  Having said that, if the heat is gone and we are getting deeper in the fall, knock the leaves off and harvest the 90% of the crop you can get.  Don’t sacrifice the 90% waiting on 10%.

With all of the above said, planting date data tells us we “typically” lose yield on a daily basis after May 15 but yields in 2013 and 2014 contradict that to some degree. If you are not able to get in the field and plant by June 5 and have already made the decision to not take preventative planting, I would give serious thought to planting soybeans.

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Darrin Dodds, Extension Cotton Specialist
By Darrin Dodds, Extension Cotton Specialist May 29, 2015 08:49
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