managing late planted cotton earliness

Six steps for helping late-planted cotton mature earlier

• Manage for earliness! • This includes a whole slew of things including variety selection, proper fertility and irrigation, and good insect management.

Mother Nature has not been cooperating this spring (geez mom!). 

It looks like there may be some opportunity for one more flurry of cotton planting when we dry from this last bout of rain, after which most folks will probably make the switch to soybeans. 

Below are some thoughts to consider when managing late planted cotton. Manage for earliness! This includes a whole slew of things including variety selection, proper fertility and irrigation, and good insect management. 

Don’t make a late crop even later unless you enjoy racing the frost and battling late-season insects.

• Larry Steckel already made the suggestion in a previous article to switch towards early maturing varieties such as AM 1550, DP 0912, FM 1944, PHY 367, PHY 375 and ST 4145. Although there are a couple of decent non-Bt varieties out there, they are not a great fit for later plantings.  The vast majority of your acres should be planted in Bollgard II or WideStrike varieties.

• Avoid the over-use of nitrogen. Previous research has shown that 80 pounds of nitrogen is very adequate for the vast majority of fields in Tennessee, and you should consider lower rates in good bottoms that tend to be wetter, have better soil, and a propensity to be later maturing anyhow.

• Except in special circumstances, irrigation prior to bloom should be avoided. Research by Brian Leib indicates that more harm than good often comes from this. It delays maturity without the yield reward in many cases. With high water levels in our soil profile, the need for early irrigation would seem pretty minimal at this time.

Tends to fruit higher

• Late planted cotton tends to fruit higher and grow more vegetatively. I don’t think this means we necessarily need to be more aggressive with the total amount of growth regulators we use, especially if we do all the other things. However, consider making a split application and starting a little earlier than usual. I typically do this anyway on “strong dirt”. Think about 4-8 oz/acre of mepiquat chloride or 1-2 oz/acre rates of Stance (cyclanilide) at match-head square followed by full rates near first bloom. Full rates would equate to 16-20 oz of mepiquat or 2-3 oz/acre of Stance. My personal opinion would be to start with Pix (mepiquat chloride) and use either Stance of Pix at the later timing.

• Be alert for insects to avoid any delays caused by excessive, early-season fruit shed. This does NOT mean reducing thresholds or targeting 100 percent square retention. It does mean thorough scouting, using appropriate treatment thresholds, and making necessary applications with recommended insecticides at the proper rate and in a timely manner. A pile of research indicates that maintaining early season square retention at or above 80 percent in plenty good to maintain yield potential and earliness.

• We can often make a good crop with late May and early June planted cotton if we follow good management guidelines. Historically, you should expect problems with late-season plant bugs when we have a wet spring, less cotton acres and a relatively late crop. I hope, but do not expect a reprieve. 

Keep in mind that late planted corn and soybeans also are at greater risk to several insect pests and some diseases. The good news — Bt cotton, boll weevil eradication and some good insecticide tools give us opportunities to make a later crop than in years gone by.

Below are some links to UT cotton management recommendations that you should find helpful.

Cotton Production in Tennessee

Insect Control Recommendations

Weed Control Manual



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