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3 tips to maximize cotton profitability in a dry year

Cotton development specialists share three tips to maximize potential when planting in a dry year.

Did you hear about the winner of the Lubbock spelling bee? When asked to spell “resilient,” the winner correctly answered C-O-T-T-O-N-F-A-R-M-E-R.

Long on optimism by necessity and nature, Southwest cotton producers are finalizing their plans for the 2022 season, even in the face of severe drought and much uncertainty.

“Cotton producers are inherently optimistic, so they're moving forward and doing what they can to maximize potential with the conditions we have at planting,” said PhytoGen Cotton Development Specialist Ken Legé, Ph.D. “We’re all watching the weather, and we want to help producers have a solid game plan going into the season.”

Legé and the team of PhytoGen cotton development specialists across the Southwest work with producers to help them navigate the inherent challenges of growing cotton in a semi-arid environment. Consider these tips from the PhytoGen team going into the 2022 season.

First, make the most of the moisture you have with strong early season vigor. Whether you’re taking advantage of a planting rain or using irrigation to get the crop up, cottonseed with strong early season vigor will help you get a stand the first time. If some cottonseed varieties struggle in a more typical year, you’ll have even bigger problems when planting with less rainfall.

Legé said PhytoGen® cottonseed is known for its early season vigor, and third-party university data support that fact. In 2021 Texas A&M Monster Cotton Variety Trials in South Texas, the top three varieties with the best emergence rates were PhytoGen W3FE varieties.* Variety emergence was measured across four locations, and seven of the top 10 varieties were PhytoGen W3FE varieties. 

“Those trials confirm what we hear from Southwest customers year in and year out: PhytoGen sets the standard for excellent emergence and stand establishment,” Legé said. “The first 40 days is always a tenuous time for cotton plants, and that is even more true in years when we’ve had less rain. You may not get a second chance at a planting rain, so you want to get it done right the first time.”

Second, root systems matter even more than usual. With less subsoil moisture, plants need root systems that dig deep and wide to optimize moisture uptake. Young plants need water to survive, and moisture brings vital nutrients to help plants thrive. You can make in-season rainfall and irrigation go further with a healthy root system.

In many Southwest fields, nematodes — especially root-knot and reniform — are public enemy No. 1 for the root systems of cotton plants. Legé recommends choosing varieties with season-long resistance to root-knot and reniform nematodes to protect root systems. Several  PhytoGen W3FE varieties provide in-plant resistance to root-knot and reniform nematodes, and third-party trials confirm that they deliver high yield potential and reduce nematode populations.

PhytoGen W3FE varieties showed dominant performance in a 2019 cotton nematode trial conducted by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.1 In the Dawson County root-knot nematode trial, the six highest-yielding varieties were PhytoGen W3FE varieties with root-knot resistance. The reniform trial in Lubbock County showed similar results: PhytoGen W3FE varieties with reniform resistance took the top four positions.

Scott Fuchs is a PhytoGen cotton development specialist south of Lubbock where nematode populations are high and dryland cotton acres are prevalent. In that geography, Fuchs said his customers have seen major yield improvements due to newer PhytoGen W3FE varieties with nematode resistance.

“For dryland producers with high reniform or root-knot nematode populations, these PhytoGen W3FE varieties offer a game-changing solution that is even more important during seasons with less annual rainfall,” Fuchs said. “When water is limited, a robust and healthy root system is critical for plants to get the water and nutrients they need to fruit and make fiber.”

Third, look for ways to manage input costs without impacting yield potential. With fertilizer prices reaching record highs, it’s even more important that these nutrients actually make their way into plants. And you don't want to use any more fertilizer than is necessary. That’s another reason early season vigor and strong root systems are essential: They allow better uptake of nutrients to maximize your investment in the crop.

Another way to manage input costs is to consider one of the RELIABOLL varieties from PhytoGen cottonseed. These varieties, such as PHY 480 W3FE, are selected for low irrigation response plus excellent weed control and yield protection— to address the challenges of farming Southwest dryland acres.

“We’ve seen greater interest in our RELIABOLL varieties this season due to the lack of rain. And customers get the excellent genetics and early season vigor of PhytoGen cottonseed, plus benefits such as root-knot nematode and bacterial blight resistance, all selected to help manage risk with the dryland production system,” Fuchs said. “As we head into planting, we expect even more producers to take advantage of this opportunity to manage input costs while keeping the door open for high yield potential if moisture is available.”

Would you like to discuss these options with a PhytoGen cotton development specialist or territory manager? Find and contact your local team at https://PhytoGenCottonseed.com/team