Digging Out for Spring Planting

From Cotton Grower Magazine – April 2019

Social media has been awash (perhaps adrift) with comments and images regarding the near-Biblical proportion rains that have inundated most of the Southeast and Mid-South this winter. In fact, the Southern Farming group pages on Facebook offer photo after photo of flooded fields, deep muddy ruts, and tractors, combines and pickers buried to their hubs in mud.


Tires or tracks, it didn’t seem to matter.

But now, as time for field work and planting nears, all of that water and mud becomes more than an aggravation. It’s a ticking clock as traditional planting windows get ready to open.

“Growers in a conventional tillage system like the Mississippi Delta and parts of Arkansas are going to be really far behind in working up or tilling fields,” said Matthew Wiggins, FMC technical service manager, based in the Mid-South. “When you move farther north to the no-till areas of the Missouri Bootheel and Northwest Tennessee, growers are facing a lot of delayed burndown.

“We’re probably going to have some wooly fields that didn’t get any post-harvest treatments last fall,” he added. “We’re going to be faced with a time crunch.”

Here are a few things that growers should keep in mind as fields dry out:

Weed Management. Experts resoundingly recommending starting with clean fields at planting. But getting fields cleaned up in a timely manner will be challenging, especially in the Mid-South where marestail, giant ragweed and other bothersome weeds need some quick attention. Growers with cover crops, however, may be in better shape, since burndown for those fields are generally scheduled about 3-4 weeks before planting.

Wiggins cautions growers to watch temperatures closely and don’t rush to get in the fields when another day or two of waiting may be the best choice. “For burndowns, if it’s cool and wet, weeds aren’t actively growing,” he said. “And if they’re not actively growing, we can’t actively kill them. For growers to get more out of their herbicide dollars, they should wait until soil temperatures are around 40-45 degrees.”

Insects. Milder winter temperatures in the lower Mid-South usually create an opportunity for a larger insect run farther north as host plants start greening up. In fact, entomologists in the Mid-South began monitoring for red-banded stink bugs in late February and early March in anticipation of heavy activity this season. And for growers who may consider planting into green cover crops, a pyrethroid or in-furrow application may be needed for good insect control in the furrow. Growers should plan their insect management budgets accordingly.

Diseases. Cool, wet conditions are a recipe for disaster from root rot and other early seedling diseases. “They can really impact what can happen as we move into planting,” cautions Wiggins. “We have to be thinking about that.”

As seedbeds start warming up, the risk from soil-borne pathogens is reduced. But it’s likely not going to a year to skimp on fungicides. And, seed treatments are going to be more important than ever.