As we entered the week of May 10, USDA Crop Quality Report estimates 22% of cotton acreage planted. This is both behind 2020 pace and 6% behind 5-year averages. While none of us want to relive the year 2020, our '21 planting season is displaying similar trends to last spring.
As many of us have still yet to put the cotton planter in the field, or get down the row far enough to call it a start, we are yet again bouncing around weekly rainfall and lower-than-average temperatures. This will be a particularly important area to monitor, as last season much of our cotton crop never experienced an early stress, with adequate soil moisture and slightly less than average temperatures as we pushed into reproductive stages.
Not checking our crop early enough in many cases proved to be both limiting to yield and quality, with late rains, heat, and humidity taking much of our earliest set, first position fruit. But before I get ahead of myself on in-season management, I wanted to visit a few considerations as we wrap up or look to get started on cotton planting in the middle of May.
The first topic of discussion is overall general emergence. As the cotton planting window narrows for '21, the ability to generate a uniform, acceptable stand in one attempt becomes even more crucial, not to mention the added cost associated with an already overly tight market. Our planter is perfectly set, and we are creating fantastic seedbeds, so what else can we consider to obtain desired uniform emergence?
The answer is simple. Choose a large seeded variety with acceptable warm and cool germs, and expect exceptional seedling vigor. Positive relationships amongst seed size and seedling vigor have previously been determined (Snider, 2014), and large seed is particularly beneficial in cool germination conditions, as it has been demonstrated that large-seeded varieties can overcome low cool germination scenarios from excess carbohydrate storage space (Stewart, 2006).
Are you confident in your current 2021 varietal selections and establishing a stand? If in question, I have provided some emergence data from variety trials that have already been established in Texas this year. Although the three trials in which this data is compromised had minimal rainfall, many of these are the same products currently hitting retailer shelves or on the farm shop floor in Georgia.
Early acre reports from more southern states have confirmed similar emergence across field acres. Once we close the furrow in our first attempt, our year-long choice is set. Although we always have the ability to replant, we cut into our bottom line as soon as we drop seed the second time.
What if we already have selected a large-seeded variety, or simply stuck with our initial choice? What other things can we consider to promote uniform emergence? Seed placement, especially ensuring uniform depths between 0.5-1.25" (key word being uniform), is not only extremely crucial, but also a practice commonly discussed in the corn world that has equal implication on emergence, management, and yield potential in our cotton crop.
If selecting a large-seeded variety with vigor to truly stretch seedling radicals, we have an inapt ability to fluctuate our depths based on available soil moisture. In the event we do not plan to water our seed in with an irrigation or expected rainfall event, we must pay particularly careful attention to ensure seed is placed solidly below or above the moisture line to avoid premature seed swelling.
A common practice as we enter the week of May 40 is to "dust-in" our acreage. While it is preferred to sit deep enough to promote rapid development of a sound root system, laying seed just below the soil line at 0.25-0.5" and awaiting a rain can be remarkably successful. If mother nature throws a curveball from cool-and-wet to hot-and-dry, choosing a large-seeded variety that can withstand the scorching stresses may be the one factor resulting in an acceptable stand.
Some last resort efforts to ensure emergence are assisting in fighting pests and popping up with 2x2 starter fertilizers. If we remain cool and wet, selecting a premium seed treatment, or supplementing either on the seed or in-furrow with fungicide and insecticides to ameloriate soil-borne pathogens and thrips may be worth the investment. Highly vigourous, large-seeded varieties still also provide some aid in this regard, rapidly generating vegetative growth and pushing to stages of minimal economic impact from thrips feeding.
And while we are back on the large-seeded variety talk, we will discuss starter fertilizers. While these may be required for low vigor, smaller seed, passively growing varieties, heavily pre-loaded soils tend to cause rankness early season, especially on more full maturing varieties. We must always remember cotton is a perennial, tropical tree, and at the beginning of its life certainly thinks so. A starter containing above adequate amounts of N and P could result in us losing control of our cotton before we ever see our first flower.
In summary, closing, or maybe just finally making a good point, choosing a large seeded variety can help us make money on our cotton in 2021. As interest arises in reduced seeding rates, singulated seed, reduced pre-applied fertilizer, and overall cutting costs, simply selecting a large seeded variety (seed size larger than 5500 seeds/lb.) can lead to both reduced overall input costs, and potentially increased output.
When pouring in a bag of PhytoGen® brand cottonseed, we understand the PhytoGen Breeding Traits™ from nematode to bacterial blight resistance is loaded into our seed. But one thing we may need to give greater consideration to is maximizing the many benefits of selecting a large-seeded variety. At PhytoGen, we are very proud of our vigor, with seed size being an important selection criteria during the advancement process to live up to that reputation. After the #plant21 we have experienced thus far, way too much rain and way too much cold, I am highly confident in the quality of PhytoGen brand cottonseed being set in the ground this year. Seed size really does matter.
For more information about cotton production practices in your area, contact your state Extension cotton specialist. As always, your PhytoGen cotton development specialist also is available to discuss agronomic options.
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Snider, J. L., Collins, G. D., Whitaker, J., Chapman, K. D., Horn, P., & Grey, T. L. (2014). Seed size and oil content are key determinants of seedling vigor in Gossypium hirsutum. Journal of Cotton Science, 18:1, 1-9.
Stewart, A. M., & Siebert, J. D. (2007). Seed Size and Cool Germination Effects on Cotton Stand, Early Growth, and Yield.