As input costs continue to escalate — especially for fertilizer and fuel — cotton producers are looking at all possibilities for maintaining yields while cutting expenses, and skip-row production might be an option for some.
In a recent paper, Auburn University Extension Specialists Dale Monks, Charles Burmester, Mike Patterson and Bob Goodman looked at some of the research comparing skip-row and conventional cotton, dating back to the 1960s.
Research on the utility of planting cotton in different row configurations has been well documented since the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1967, research from Georgia reported on the “skip-row” culture and how cotton responded.
In a study from 1959 through 1964, 2×2 skip-row cotton yielded higher when compared to solid-planted cotton on a planted-row acre basis — as compared to an area acreage basis. According to the research, bolls tended to be larger and fiber length longer in the skip-row cotton. But strength and micronaire were not affected when compared to the conventional row configurations.
Studies have continued through the years, say the Auburn specialists, in evaluating various row pattern systems.
Later research showed the potential benefits of skip-row cotton can include increased soil moisture and reduced stress during times of rain deficits, increased yield on a planted-row acre basis, enhanced fiber quality in some cases, increased air flow and light interception, and reduced input costs.
However, reducing the input costs by using skip-row patterns may not come without sacrificing yield on a land-acre basis. In Australian studies, the solid-row patterns yielded 18 percent higher than cotton planted in a 2×1 or 2×2 skip pattern in one year but was no different the following year when soil moisture was severely limited.
A Texas study conducted in 2005 evaluated the seeding rates in solid and a 2×1 skip-row planting in stripper-harvested cotton. In a low-yielding scenario where moisture was limited — Lamesa, Texas — the highest lint yields and net values per acre were realized in a 2×1 skip-row pattern with 40-inch row spacing.
There are many reports, say the Auburn specialists, where skip-row cotton yields were less than solid-planted cotton on similar row widths on a land-area basis. “The difference is that skip-row cotton will often yield higher on a planted-acre basis, but harvested land acres are the general comparison,” according to the research review.
Two studies were conducted in two locations in Mississippi in 2002 and 2003 on a silt loam soil comparing row width — 15, 30 and 38 inches — and skip pattern — solid, 2×1 and 2×2. Cotton yield per land acre was higher for solid plantings compared to skip patterns in all cases.
The range of yield decrease ran from 17 percent to 22 percent on 30 and 38-inch spacing with a 2×1 skip. Other Mississippi research reported similar results when working with the cotton varieties DP 555 BGRR in 2003 and 2004.
They reported that plant spacing within the row — 3, 6 and 12 inches between plants — had no effect on seed cotton or lint yield. However, the lint yields for solid-planted compared to a 1×1 and 2×1 skip were 1,474, 1,318 and 1,383 pounds per land area acre, respectively. This represents a decrease of 11 percent and 6 percent for the 1×1 and 2×1 skip, respectively.
When considered from a different viewpoint, however, lint yields for skip-row cotton are generally higher on a planted acre (not land acre) basis when compared to solid planted cotton. Information from north Mississippi research indicated there was a 13 percent increase for a 2×1 skip-row pattern compared to solid plantings when planted acreage was considered.
“Again, do not confuse this with results from a land area acre where yields were higher for solid-planted cotton. Similar results have been found in Alabama studies conducted in 2000-2001 and 1989-1991.