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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Assessing a Cotton Field’s Viability after Damage

                It has been an interesting spring trying to establish viable stands of cotton this season.  We have had ridiculously dry conditions, followed by cold fronts, followed by long periods of cool wet weather with heavy rain, followed by baking conditions, followed by more rain, hail, wireworms, and of course the wind.  I have met no one who would trade the blessings of the recent rains to be rid of the troubles it has brought to the always temperamental cotton seedlings. 
Many producer’s fields from Plainview north through Swisher have had irrigated cotton seed in the ground through it all while those producers though southern Hale were a little more timid in planting this season and avoided much of the early challenges.  With each successive adversity faced, our irrigated cotton seedling stands have dwindled and several fields have lost viability.  Whether your cotton has been through one nasty event or the 10,000 pinpricks of this spring, some serious evaluations of each field needs to take place.  Luckily, there is a wealth of research and experience to help us determine whether a field has the potential to remain profitable, or if it needs to be replanted to a secondary crop.
Stand counts are the primary tool in determining whether or not a field will make, or if it needs to be replanted.  With this comes a discerning eye about what makes a surviving cotton plant.  A minimum of 27,000 fairly evenly distributed plants per acre that have a healthy growth point on June 20 have proven to maintain their profit potential, assuming no more plants are lost throughout the remainder of the season.  Gaps in a field that are larger than a foot can cause significant yield loss regardless of plants per acre counts, but cotton can compensate for gaps shorter than a foot if they aren’t repetitive.
To gather stand counts from your respective fields, the following should be helpful:
40 inch rows: 13,068 row ft. = 1 acre
38 inch rows; 13,756 row ft. = 1 acre
36 inch rows; 14,520 row ft. = 1 acre
32 inch rows; 16,334 row ft. = 1 acre
30 inch rows; 17,424 row ft. = 1 acre
I recommend measuring 1/1000 of a row ft. acre for your actual stand counts.  All surviving seedlings within this 1/1000 of an acre should be counted, and if possible, health needs ascertained if the field is viable.  I suggest taking these counts at least 4 to 5 times from across your fields taking into account stronger and weaker areas.  Often many more counts are required for borderline stands or stands that are highly variable.  When finished, simply average all stand counts for that field, multiply by 1000, and make your decision about the future of that field this season.  The 27,000 plants per acre mark is a pretty good yardstick.  Other factors such as field history, water availability, expected pest pressure, current pest pressure, root health, rotation needs, weed pressure, and nutrient availability are just a few factors that could come into play.
Most producers would like to know a damaged field’s potential immediately following damage.  This is almost impossible to ascertain and giving the fields 2 to 7 days, situation depending, following damage will be helpful.  Many times seedlings can look healthy, or at least have a respectable “re-growing” point shortly after any new hail or wind damage, but seedling disease, additional blowing conditions, or some other factor will inevitably and unpredictably finish many off.   By the same token, seedlings that look to be little more than sticks can recover quite rapidly if there are any soft and active growing points left on the plant and the root system is not ravaged to severely.  
I hope this short blog has been helpful for your decision process.  Please call or come by with any questions,
Blayne Reed