The trend is clear. The cost of growing cotton isn't going to get cheaper. While frugal producers can find ways to shave a few cents here and there and maintain a high-yielding crop, research at the Delta Research and Extension Center at Stoneville, Miss., shows cutting seeding rates is more risk than reward
Steve Nichols, cotton agronomist at DREC, reduced seeding rates on his research plots. While cutting one or more seed per foot in many instances yielded the same lint per acre as traditional seeding rates, the risks should be carefully considered.
“Seeding rates are a hot topic around the state with most of the discussion centered around how low they can be cut without reducing yield,” says Nichols, who evaluated seeding rates under various row spacings.
“My preference, based on three years of research in ultra-narrow row cotton production, is to achieve 80,000 to 100,000 plants per acre in ultra-narrow row production. With 80 percent germination, a seeding rate of 100,000 to 125,000 seeds per acre would be required.”
In conventionally-planted cotton, he says, growers can get away with a slight reduction, but again, reducing rates increases risks.
“A seeding rate of four to five seeds per foot is typical (in conventional row spacing), but the high price of cottonseed has many producers lowering the seed rates.”
Results from studies at Stoneville and other locations across Mississippi indicate a seeding rate of three to four seeds per foot is still desirable for optimum yields with the transgenic varieties being planted.
“In some instances, cotton planted at lower seeding rates yielded nearly equal to cotton planted at standard seeding rates,” Nichols says. “However, as seeding rates are reduced, growers risk skips down rows and overall poor stands, which increase the potential for replanting. My recommendation is to maintain a seeding rate of two and a half to four seeds per foot — depending on seedbed preparation, date of planting and variety.”
Once this year's cotton research plots at the DREC are harvested, Nichols and other researchers will be more precise on their seeding rate recommendations in relation to variety response, hill-drop versus drill-planted cotton, and seeding rates in wide-row cotton.
“Growers are producing crops on rows as narrow as 10 inches apart to as wide as 40-plus inches,” says Nichols. “Seed companies are releasing varieties best-suited for narrow row spacing, and equipment companies are improving equipment for planting and harvesting narrow row cotton.
“On the other end of the spectrum, some growers are going to 50- to 60-inch row spacings for cotton production.”
He says research at DREC indicates cotton is adaptable to each production schemes due to the high compensation capacity of cotton plants to row spacing and row configurations.
“Under prudent management, high lint yields can be achieved on narrow-row, conventional-row and wide-row production systems. Research shows cotton planted in a skip-row pattern yields about 80 to 90 percent of the cotton planted solid on a land-acre basis.”
In addition to seed reduction and alternate row spacings, growers also are turning to reduced tillage to reduce production costs.
“The economic and environmental benefits of no-till and reduced tillage production systems are attractive, but the bottom line is net returns need to be equal to or greater than conventionally-produced cotton,” says Nichols. “Reduced inputs associated with reduced tillage systems include less labor, less fuel and less equipment maintenance. Environmental benefits include reduced soil erosion, improved water quality and water conservation, improved wildlife habitat, reduced soil compaction and improved water infiltration.”
Cotton producers considering shifting acreage into no-till or reduced tillage should address soil fertility, evaluate and improve drainage where possible and use effective weed control programs.
“Use caution in cutting seeding rates in no-till and reduced tillage productions systems to insure a good stand,” says Nichols.
Eva Ann Dorris is a freelance journalist from Pontotoc, Miss. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.