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First 40 days critical for cotton production

Experts agree on the importance of a good, vigorous start with a cotton crop.

To get the crop off to a healthy growing season, the National Cotton Council and Cotton Foundation say the most critical period in cotton production is the first 40 days. They note the crop’s early-season vigor, and overall uniformity and plant health depends greatly on that time period.

With that, the cotton crop’s ultimate yield and fiber potential begin with variety selection and seed quality at planting.

Gaylon Morgan, Texas AgriLife Extension Service state cotton specialist, College Station, agrees with the importance of early-season decisions and says it starts with variety.

“Variety selection is the most important decision made during the year,” Morgan says. “Unlike herbicide or insecticide decisions that can be changed during the season to address specific conditions and pests, variety selection is made only once, and variety decision dictates the management of the field for the entire season.”

Key Points

Variety selection is the most important decision a grower must make.

Yield and fiber quality also are key considerations.

In 2011, 86% of Texas acreage was planted in transgenic varieties.


He says variety selection should be based on genetics first and transgenic technology second.

In fine-tuning cotton production, Morgan advises focusing major attention on agronomic characteristics including yield, fiber quality and maturity.

The council suggests choosing varieties that yield as the ultimate measure, with fiber quality a close second in priority.

Fiber quality has become increasingly important today as more than 70% of the annual U.S. cotton crop is exported. That means that staple length, strength, micronaire (fiber thickness), uniformity and leaf grades all are important factors to consider.

Best for your farm

The council says that after yield and fiber quality as the first two priorities, consider crop maturity and specific traits that fit your farm.

Also consider planting three to four varieties to determine which cottons and trait combinations perform best for you. But always look at more than one year of variety data prior to devoting a large acreage of cotton to a new variety.

Remember high-quality seed is critical for that early success and the crop’s ultimate performance. Rapid germination and emergence is best because it both narrows the window for seedling disease and minimizes pest impact on cotton.

In addition to the standard warm germination test, a cool germination test is recommended for seed. A warm and cool vigor index of 160 is best (e.g., 90 warm germ plus 70 cool germ score equal 160). Anything below a 120 index is poor.

7.1 million acres in 2011

According to Texas A&M University, producers in Texas planted 7.1 million acres of cotton in 2011, about a million more acres than the year before, and 2 million acres more than two years earlier.

Morgan and his colleagues noted 86% of the state’s acreage was planted in transgenic varieties in 2011. As high as that percent is, the percentage of transgenic cotton acreage actually was down from 94% in 2010, and was the first percentage decrease in transgenic acres since the technology became commercially available.

With the worst stretch of drought in Texas history, roughly half of the state’s 2011 cotton crop eventually was abandoned for record abandonment.

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Decisions, decisions: Variety selection is the most important decision in aiming for good cotton.

This article published in the February, 2012 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.