This percent estimate of planted acreage seems to be an accurate representation, as we finish off double crop fields or close out with a little more cotton due to the recent market increase or lack of remaining peanut seed. With another 50-75 thousand acres left to cover, I wanted to spend a little time on a few considerations for our very late May-style cotton. Although we will still have ample time to finish out a June planted crop in central and east Georgia, there are still a few management strategies to adjust to ensure optimal yield potential and profit.
One of the first areas to address is our seeding rate. We often see numerous studies done in attempt to find the sweet spot between seed savings and highest yield. More times than not, the results suggest plants with 7-8" spacings or two plants on a 13-14" hill will provide what we are looking for. However, with a lower number of seeds pushing on the ever tricky sands and clays of central and east Georgia, we sometimes may be hesistant to take the risk. However once the calendar hits June, I'd really like to start cutting back my seeding rates 15-20%, and here is why:
When beginning to plant cotton, we are in search of moist soil that is at least 65°F, and need accumulated heat units (DD60s) over the next 5-day window to equate somewhere between 30-50. Although March, April and May can be up and down on the thermometer, once reaching June, our soils reside in the 75-95°F range and we can accumulate 50 DD60s sometimes in as short as a 2-3-day period. In other words, when planting in June, seeds are highly motivated to germinate and emerge if moisture is present from the exceptional soil temperatures. Seedlings that may have struggled in months previously now have a little extra pushing power to break through the crust and start soaking up sunlight. Our desired plant populations are achieved at a much higher success rate when planting later in the window.
But outside of just achieving a desired stand of cotton, we also want to ensure we have the correct number of plants to achieve the highest yield possible. I pulled the graph below for a couple reasons, one being that I believe it does a good job of illustrating yield potential as we get later in the planting window, but also because I am very familiar with the nature of the cotton crop that was grown and managed to generate these results over three years in 10 various sites as it was a major portion of my PhD dissertation work. This work was completed in the Midsouth with a early-mid maturing variety. I made relative adjustments to the plant date and population scales to fit central and east Georgia. As we can see, greater plant populations tend to provide better yield potential earlier in the planting window, but as we get later, the large gap differences in the amount of cotton lint able to be produced, matured, and harvested begins to close. We have to think back to the fact that simply put, cotton is a tropical perennial tree. When emerging in warm temperatures experienced in June, the cotton plant tends to rapidly build vegetative growth, attempting to catch up perhaps, before beginning to set fruit. In an effort to avoid the physiology, as we get later in the planting window, we shorten the time we will have or devote to completely maturing and finishing our crop.
In this later planting window, each cotton plant wants to become more competitive for water, nutrients, and sunlight, as its goal is to be the alpha within the field. I think we all can imagine what would happen if locking 20,000 alphas in a room for six months. While we have always heard having at least one plant per foot is acceptable for desired cotton lint yield, we usually avoid this seeding rate range from a fear of not getting a uniform stand. But again, having a reduced percentage of potential yield later in the window, we want to maximize on our seed investment, and growing more cotton with less seed will certainly help our pocketbook. Also being our last few acres, we now may have a little more time to try again if taking the risk with a very low seeding rate and not achieving an acceptable stand.
So now we have slightly curbed our yield expectation for this later planting window, but what else do we need to adjust to insure optimum returns? For many cotton growing regions across the Belt, choosing an earlier maturing variety will be one of the most crucial steps. To an extent, while this will help, it isn't as much of a concern in central and east Georgia, if we adjust management of these varieties. Later maturing varieties dropped in later in the planting window are going to want to tend to grow like a tree out of the ground before beginning reproduction. All ranges of maturities will tend to begin fruiting a position or two higher than if planted earlier. If at all possible, we want our cotton crop to start fruiting on lower branches, and these typically generate our "money bolls," or bolls with longer staple lengths, larger in mass and volume. Also by initiating fruiting sooner, we naturally start to keep the plant in check from a growth stand point, as resources are now being devoted to both vegetation and fruit, in comparison to just vegetation. While overall varietal maturity may not be as much of a concern in the coastal plains, ensuring we maximize every fruiting site and avoid rank vegetative growth is crucial.
If we have already reduced our seeding rate, providing more space for cotton growth to compensate and breath, we both help to promote fruiting on lower positions, but also establish an environment more conducive to handling the heat, humidity, shading, and moisture beginning to show up in early fall that historically likes to rot our money bolls. We also may want to curtail our nitrogen application rates and timings, cutting total in season use 15-20%, and shifting more of our product to be applied in the early bloom timing. We want our crop to utilize this input in setting more fruit instead of growing more vegetative plant early, moving a larger portion of our nitrogen application to the flowering period will allow for the plant to use more appropriately as demand arises. One final consideration is our plant growth regulator regimes. Again, we want that plant to fruit on lower branches and retain this fruit such that it keeps itself relatively in check. Applying a low rate of a mepiquat product around the 6-8 leaf stage, or first square, we essentially thump the cotton plant on the nose, letting it know who is in charge early. Most commercial cotton varieties do not have aggressive enough growth habits to grow away from you if checking up early with a low rate of PGR, this is especially the case when getting a crop started later in the window.
In effort to get a better understanding of which PhytoGen® cottonseed thrives in different planting windows, the central and east Georgia team established a large number of PhytoGen Innovation Trials across the region from late April to mid June. Along with our staples for central and east Georgia, PhytoGen brand PHY 350 W3FE, PHY 400 W3FE, PHY 500 W3FE, and PHY 580 W3FE, packed with PhytoGen Breeding Traits for resistance to root-knot nematode (RKN) and bacterial blight (BB), we also are evaulating yield and fiber quality of PHY 360 W3FE, currently grown in the Midsouth, and newcomer PX 5C45 W3FE, both of which also provided protection against RKN and BB. Even more exciting, we have our new root-knot- and reniform nematode resistant experimentals of PX 3D32 W3FE and PX 3D43 W3FE on full display. More times than not after putting our plots in, someone informs me that these particular sites are some of the worst nematode fields they have ever seen. Doesn't sound like a problem with native PhytoGen Breeding Traits, sounds like an opportunity to make more believers out of this incredible trait resistance!
To check out an Innovation Trial near you are garner more information, contact me or your local PhytoGen Sales Agronomist.
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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