Sometimes it takes me longer to get around to answering a question than it should. I recently saw some things about cotton planting and a light bulb went off reminding me I had promised to answer a few questions from my friend Kevin at The Cotton Boll Conspiracy. He asked:
What’s the planting range for cotton in a specific area? I know growers don’t want to have to harvest all their crop at once, so how far apart do they spread out the planting? Or is the equipment so advanced today that they can get to it in time and it doesn’t have to spaced out?
Since it is broadly planting time, I figured now is a good time to talk about how cotton farmers are already thinking about harvest.
Balancing Crops & Maturities
It is important to realize that while many of the farmers who grow cotton consider themselves cotton farmers first and foremost, they usually have other crops as well. In fact, with acreage drops, I’ve known some cotton farmers who don’t actually have cotton that year… but the crop has a grip on them! The reason? Cotton is so different from grain.
When it comes to planting crops, sure the weather is a big part of it but farmers generally also think across the various crops they are planting to stagger some of the work for the year. They want to have planting and harvest done optimally and for most that means scheduling what types of crops and then looking at the various maturity ranges within those crops. For cotton, farmers have several factors to consider when choosing cotton varieties.
Cotton Farmers Talk Timing
First step in answering Kevin’s questions was to touch base with a couple of cotton farmers! I got in touch with two friend who farm in very different places — Barry Evans from the Texas High Plains and Travis Fuggitt of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Here are a few of the points they felt are important to know about how harvest is already on their minds.
On my no-till farming, I want to make sure I don’t get old grain stalks in the cotton, so I will attempt to knock them down or at least push them over. Timing is a factor. Hate for everything to be ready for harvest at once, but with cotton, usually handle that with harvest aids. But never forget about marketing! Plans for marketing next year’s crop star even before planting begins.
Ya, for cotton, we watch the plant, we wait for 70% of the bolls open on their own then apply harvest aid defoliant to drop the green leafs. Some times if the weather is looking bad we will rush that process and need to make several application if the plant is lush green.
So…. after deciding what crops to plant and what maturities to plant of those crops, cotton farmers will pay close attention to growth and development of the crop. There are things farmers can do while the crop is in the ground. Mind you, they are an extra cost as is the trip across the field with expensive equipment so farmers weigh whether they want to use them or not:
- Irrigation — If the farm has the benefit of irrigation, farmers can “push a crop” by timing water or drought stress.
- Plant Growth Regulators — There are products called plant growth regulators. They can help a cotton plant focus on growing bolls instead of leaves. Sometimes those are useful.
- Harvest aids — In a year where there has been a lot of rain, harvest aids are critical. They also can make a difference if there was variable growing conditions that make it hard for the other things they had done to fine-tune maturity. And the way cotton plants work, you really want all the bolls to open around the same time to be able to pick once and get the highest quality finer too. If you wait for the plant to mature over a long time, the fiber in the bolls that open early are losing quality.
How does this year’s weather compare to “normal” (whatever that is)?
There has been a lot of commentary about the weather with snowstorms striking late in the spring. Well I wondered how different parts of the Cotton Belt are doing.
On the High Plains, Barry says:
Well, it is dry, but not the first time it has been dry in west Texas! The cold weather has caused me to delay planting for about 10 days to 2 weeks later than normal.
In California, Travis says:
This year feels a bit off, weird weather patterns here. We are thinking that it will be an early fall so we will be pushing the crop to finish early as possible. We will use Plant Grows Regulators to keep the plant short. The crop is looking good so far no bug pressure yet we are in a drought but we have enough deep wells to pump. North of us won’t be planting much row crops. They will use all their water to keep the trees alive
In the Mississippi Delta, farmers have had a lot of rain and been getting in the fields when they can. Soils are crusting a bit cause it’s so hot but things are looking okay. Shea Whitlock shared this great photo with me showing his cotton seed beginning to emerge from the seed coat on Sunday! (Please note, farmers will uncover a few seeds as they monitor seed growth & emergence, then they put the soil back over them to give the seed a chance to keep doing its magic.)
On Tuesday Shea took this one in the same field — love seeing that difference in a couple of days!
And in Georgia, Steve Bullard has kept a string of photos coming on Twitter showing how planting there has moved into early season plant management already! Here’s one that really grabs my eye, but you should check them all out!