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Spring Weather Delays Cotton Planting

Spring Weather Delays Cotton Planting

By Katie Nichols

Alabama cotton producers find themselves scrambling to complete planting of the 2021 crop. Cool, wet spring weather caused planting delays and even some chilling injury to cotton seedlings.

Alabama Extension’s Cotton Agronomist, Steve Brown, said Alabama producers have reached a point where cotton planting needs to finish quickly.

“We are running out of favorable planting time calendar-wise, so it’s time to finally, completely get this year’s crop in the ground,” Brown said. “Over the last three weeks or so, we’ve planted a lot of cotton, but for those with acreage still to plant or replant, we’re facing the challenge of disappearing soil moisture. It has become extremely limiting in many parts of the state.”

He said some producers may want to ‘dust in’ at this point.

“That is going to put cotton in dry dirt and hope that when we get a rain it will provide sufficient moisture to bring the crop up,” he said. “Right now, I would still like to plant in moisture if possible, but producers are short on time so dusting in may be an option that producers consider from here on out.”

Late-Planted Cotton Management

According to Brown, it is time for producers to begin thinking about management changes for late-planted cotton.

“In much of the state, we’re dealing with a late crop,” he said. “So we probably do think about a change in strategy as we get into June and even plant cotton into June.”

His first suggestion is to be more conservative with nitrogen fertility.

“This is one of the most important things I want farmers to understand,” Brown said. “We need to limit vegetative growth and might want to reduce nitrogen by 20 to 25 percent of our normal application rate.”

A second thing to consider is a more aggressive plant growth regulator (PGR) regimen. Assuming the state has ample moisture for good growth, producers use PGRs early to minimize the plant canopy and possibly improved early fruit retention, with the aim of producing a quick crop. Currently drought conditions persist in parts of the state, so PGRs become less important at least until we see a turnaround in rainfall.

“The third management consideration in a compressed season is to be very vigilant in terms of insect control,” he said. “As a producer, I want to be very active in scouting and I don’t want to lose fruit to stink bugs and other pests. We might even be a little more aggressive with aphid control because aphids can stress the plant.”

Brown said he generally does not tell producers to worry about aphid populations because aphids do not usually affect yield or quality. However, in a late crop heavy aphid pressure may cause significant crop stress which may further delay maturity. Therefore, producers may want to treat for aphids on drought stressed cotton.

Planted Acreage

The final 2021 acreage is yet to be determined. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates have Alabama growers planting about 450,000 acres—which is approximately the same as 2020. Brown said it’s still a work in progress.

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