Irrigating cotton early and often may not be best

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When Brian Leib came to the University of Tennessee in 2006, he brought some experience with irrigating perennial crops in the desert. As he explained to attendees at the UT Cotton Tour at the West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson, he wasn’t sure if early irrigation with high rates of water would always pay dividends in cotton.

What Leib found, he said, was that growers could produce the same yields with about half the irrigation water. In some years, such as 2007, more water was needed because of extended periods of droughts, and irrigating more paid off. In other years, he found less water could be applied to achieve consistent yields.

Cotton pickers in formation

The first four years of research were conducted on a deep silt loam soil at the station in Jackson. Since then, Leib and the UT researchers have been testing different irrigation schedules and amounts of irrigation on soils with higher sand content.

Leib was one of a number of speakers at this year’s tour, which attracted about 150 farmers and industry members.

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