Four Takeaways from a Difficult Planting Year

If it’s true that you reap what you sow, then it also stands to reason that you must manage what you sow prior to reaping. Put more plainly – planting season impacts everything that comes after. And in 2019, that meant headaches for wide swaths of the Cotton Belt.

In the Mid-South, heavy, frequent rains throughout May and June flooded fields and caused multiple replant scenarios. Meanwhile, farmers in the Southeast were battling a lengthy drought that left fields dusty and inhospitable for planting. Both regions would go on to see disjointed, uneven fields later in the year.


“It doesn’t matter where you are, the weather situation at planting time has been driving decisions all year,” says Scott Asher, eastern region agronomic service manager for BASF. From his position within the company, Asher has surveyed cotton from the Mississippi River east this year. He’s seen every manner of disjointed field.

“I would say that earlier in the year it causes more of a problem – that unevenness across the field,” Asher says. “That affects decisions in terms of just getting a stand and then making decisions on weed management, pest management and then making decisions on PGRs and harvest aids.”

As farmers prepare for harvest, uneven growth across the field seems like it would be tailor-made for variable rate defoliant application. But cotton agronomists say that is often not a worthwhile option.

“From a Pix standpoint, there’s not really a good option as far as trying to even that out,” says Tyson Raper, University of Tennessee Extension cotton specialist. “Unfortunately, stressed areas are generally going to remain stressed and shorter for most of the season.”

Instead, as growers begin to apply PGRs, Raper says they should plan to manage for the average plant in the field.

“That is generally the most economic approach,” Raper says. “Find that typical plant that would best represent the field, and that’s the one you want to manage for. Ignore the really low area or the really high area, and just manage for the average.”

Lessons Learned from 2019

While growers may be handcuffed in terms of correcting the problems caused by difficult planting in 2019, there are always lessons that can be applied in the following seasons.

One early decision – seed selection – plays an important role in managing a difficult planting season.

“I think the weather really highlighted the importance of seed quality this year,” says Asher, noting that seed quality is an important issue for BASF’s seed brands Stoneville and FiberMax. “Picking the correct varieties with an eye on seed quality is something growers will be more aware of based on their experiences this year.”

Root development is another topic that will be front of mind as cotton producers look to 2020. Raper notes that an abundance of water early in the year can stunt root development, leading to nutrient deficiencies later in the season.

“This year, likely, is going to be the wettest year on record, and it’s following one of the wettest falls we’ve had on record,” Raper says. “So we’ve started to lose color – a function of a shallow-rooted crop because we’ve had so much rainfall that we’ve kept the roots up high and pushed nitrogen and sulfur down in the profile.

“So now we’ve got this very good yield potential, tremendous boll load, but the plants just can’t quite fill what they might could’ve if we’d had a dryer June and a little larger, more effective rooting zone.”

Raper says the lesson here is to adjust fertilizer applications in the coming years, where similar wet weather is present.

“If you feel like you’ve leached nitrogen or sulfur from the profile, consider delaying that application in-season where you can keep it in the effective rooting zone during the time in which the plant is taking it up. That can really increase the efficiency.”

Finally, when it comes time to defoliate a crop that has been challenged since planting season, Asher says farmers in the Southeast should not delay. In a region where cotton defoliation and harvest can take a backseat to more vulnerable crops like peanuts, waiting too late to defoliate cotton can rob a crop of quality and yield.

“In some areas we have been challenged all year with weather, and the best thing they can do is get the cotton out of the field on a timely basis, and don’t let it deteriorate out in the field,” says Asher.

From Cotton Grower Magazine – August/September 2019